2018 FIVB WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL NATIONS LEAGUE
In a decision passed 6-3 on Monday, the US Supreme Court struck down the 1992 federal law titled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA for short, which had forbidden the majority of US states from legalizing sports gambling. If you are going to commemorate this by betting on volleyball, then you must surely read our power rankings for the inaugural edition of FIVB’s VNL.
Role Players Tier
The following teams’ main goal will be to avoid relegation from the tournament, and give its youngsters a chance to experience international volleyball in hopes they develop into good players. Trust the process.
#16 – Argentina
The weakest of the challenging teams, Argentina’s sole purpose in this tournament is to give its young players some international experience. The team is desperately trying to reinvent itself, as long-time stars Emilce Sosa (middle-blocker) and Yael Castiglione (setter) have retired from international play. If it escapes relegation, there will be reasons for fireworks. It will be a very tough mission.
Soon to be 29-years-old, Julieta Lazcano, the team’s captain, is one of the few players on the roster with vast international experience. Playing in the French League since 2011, the 6’3″ middle blocker has played with Argentina’s national team since 2006, including 4 Grand Prix, 1 World Championship, and 1 Olympic Games. Her biggest task this season is to anchor the team’s defense and lift the spirits of her young teammates.
#15 – Belgium
Belgium is taking into NVL the competition’s youngest squad, with a roster of an average age of 20-years-old. The team, which would probably be better fit in an NCAA field, will have a very hard time surviving against the world’s toughest players.
6’2″ opposite Kaja Grobelna is one of the best young hitters in the tournament. Playing in Poland’s national league this season, she was the 2nd best rated attacker of the competition, hitting at 38% clip, although she did tend to get overwhelmed when the team tried to run its offense solely through her.
What can I say? Thank you Budowlani Lodz for this amazing 2 seasons in Poland. Because of you I had the chance to turn my dreams in to reality. I met a lot of amazing people who will be forever in my heart. Thank you for everything ❤️ Now it’s time for a new chapter. I’m very excited to announce that next season I will represent my new club Busto Arsizio! See you soon 🇮🇹! :))
#14 – Poland
The once super power of the European continent, it’s safe to say that Poland’s national team has enjoyed better days. With most of its stars long retired from the
national team, the team’s biggest focus now is on its rebuild. Fans should brace themselves, because it’s not going to be pretty.
6’5″ giant middle-blocker Agnieszka Kąkolewska, the team’s captain, is also its biggest rising star. After several seasons shining in the Polish League, she is now
being courted by Europe’s best teams, who see in the player amazing size and leadership. Although only 23 years old, she’ll have to carry a very heavy load for her squad. The VNL is the perfect stage for her to finally transition into a star and cash huge checks in Europe’s top leagues.
#13 – Germany
Since reunification, the German team has enjoyed only ocasional success in Europe, winning continental bronze in 2011 and 2013. Since then, it has oscillated greatly in performance in the following years. In Grand Prix play, the team enjoyed a few years of good performance in Group 1, but was relegated to group 2 in 2016. With most of its roster comprised of players from the German League, the team lacks firepower to pose as a danger to the competition’s best foes.
Louisa Lippmann is a natural born scorer. She led all scorers in Group 2 of last year’s World Grand Prix, and was also that year’s highest scorer of the Montreux
Masters tournament. Even though she is only 23 years old, she knows she’ll have to carry the team on her back.
Real Long-shots Tier
These teams have one thing in common: lonely superstars who can’t change their team’s fates by themselves.
#12 – South Korea
Easily the weakest of the core teams. Having enjoyed success in the early 2010’s, with a 2012 Olympic Games 4th place finish and a 2014 Asian Games gold medal, the team has just lost too many of its players, and now has no chance to contend. If South Korea is to become a power in volleyball again, it will have to start from
Kim Yeon-Koung is a superstar, but she will shine alone in the team. She is the team’s best hitter, receiver, and server, and one of its best blockers. She’ll be asked
to carry an absurd load in all of game’s fundamentals. But not even an Olympic Games MVP like herself can do miracles on the court. After all, volleyball is a team game.
#11 – Turkey
A third place finisher in last year’s European Championship, the Turkish national team has seen its roster be emptied since then. Star players such as Gozde Kirdar have retired, while superstar team captain Naz Aydemir has taken the year off to get pregnant. Needless to say, this will be a completely revamped Turkish squad. But with most of its players having never played in senior competitions before, it stands no chance against the more experienced teams.
Hande Baladin, the youngster from Eczacibasi, has enjoyed a lot of success in one of the world’s toughest professional leagues, even though she is only 21 years old. She won MVP honors in last year’s FIVB U23 World Championship, leading Turkey to the title. This will be one of her first chances to make her name now on the senior circuit.
#10 – Thailand
Thailand plays the perfect example of what many call Asian-defensive volleyball. It is a tough team to play against, often causing huge headaches for opposing coaches. However, as of right now it just lacks talent to actually contend with the best teams. Most of its players come from the Thai league, which isn’t know from its competitiveness. The fact that it is, along with Japan, the tournament’s shortest team, with an average height of 5’9″, doesn’t help much either.
Nootsara Tomkom is a superstar. The diminutive setter is one of the world’s best at her position. She knows, however, that the team doesn’t have much else besides her.
#9 – Dominican Republic
The Dominican team is brimming with young talent. Libero Brenda Castillo is one of the best in the world at her position, while Yonkaira Pena and Brayelin Martinez also have experience in the world’s toughest professional leagues. Add to that experienced veterans like Prisilla Rivera, Bethania de la Cruz, and Annerys Valdez to mentor them, plus a coach such as Marcos Kwiek, and you got yourself the recipe for a competent team.
21-years old outside hitter Brayelin Martinez is currently being tested in Italy’s Pomi Casalmaggiore, in what many consider to be the toughest female professional league of the world. At 6’7″ tall and with a spike height measured at 10’10”, she is sure to be a big headache for opponents’ defenses.
Darkhorse Candidates Tier
Although it is not to be expected, it wouldn’t be a total surprise if any of these teams ends up in the tournament’s podium.
#8 – Japan
Japan has been actively trying to once again become a volleyball superpower after completely dominating the sport in the 60’s and 70’s, a period which includes Olympic gold medals in 1964 and 1976 and World Championship gold medals in 1962, 1967, and 1974. Recently, it won the bronze medal in the London 2012 Games and finished 5th in Rio 2016. Japan has never, however, enjoyed Grand Prix success, as despite being only one of two teams, the other being China, to participate in all of the competition’s 25 editions, it only medaled in it once, a silver in 2014. In this edition, it will once again try to tire their opponents out behind their defensive prowess, forcing teams to adapt to their game volume.
Sarina Koga is the team’s biggest offensive weapon, having averaged over 15 points per game in last year’s Grand Prix. Japan’s chances at this year’s VNL will depend on her repeating that performance.
#7 – Russia
Including its years competing as the Soviet Union, the Russian women’s team are the most successful in the history of women’s volleyball, having won many Olympic and World Championship gold medals. However, the team’s recent performance has not been up to par to its amazing history, as it is coming off a season where they were 9th in the World Grand Prix, which was their lowest finish ever, and 6th in the European Championships, which tied for the same. This season, it seems fans won’t have many reasons to celebrate either, as they will be without star opposite Tatyana Kosheleva, as she will be rehabbing from an ACL injury until at least August.
Nataliya Goncharova, now 28 years old, is at the peak of her career. One of the best opposite hitters in the world, she will have to take it upon herself to try to get Russia out its major slump, although even her teammates know that the team depends too much on her.
#6 – Italy
You can never count Italy’s team out in any major competition. Last year, it surprised everybody with a second place finish in the Grand Prix, after having finished 9th in the Olympic Games only a year before. However, the field is much stronger this time around, and Italy’s roster has suffered some setbacks, such as the absence of Raphaela Folie and Caterina Bosetti due to injuries.
The Italian team is very young. Its captain, Ofelia Malinov, is only 22 years old, while its biggest offensive weapon, Paola Egonu, is only 19. Even though it may it may not seem fair to burden such a young player like Egonu with protagonist status, she has raised up to the challenge, as she ranked 2nd among all scorers in points in last year’s Grand Prix and was the most efficient hitter in the tournament by more than 2 percentage points (49.80%).
#5 – Netherlands
2017 EuroVolley’s silver medalists, the Netherlands is slowly coming into full force in the international scene. With players dominating in every one of Europe’s top leagues in every position of its roster, the Dutch is perhaps the favorite team in the field with real chances at upsetting the world’s best teams. The team is tall, athletic, and hungry to finally reach volleyball’s modern pantheon.
Lonneke Slöetjes is 27 years old but already has 230 caps for the Dutch national team. The 6’3″ opposite starts for the best team in the world, VakifBank, and is very effective in her attacks. She is in the best shape of her life and ready to give opponents a headache.
The cream of the crop.
#4 – Brazil
Champions at last year’s Grand Prix, Brazil is a force to be reckoned with. However, this year’s roster is plagued with injuries, as most of its players are slowly getting back to health, Like Natalia Zilio and Thaisa Daher. On top of it all, Fernanda Garay has unexpectedly asked coach José Roberto Guimarães for some time off from the team. Given the circumstances, even though Brazil is the oldest team in the pitch at an average of 28 years old, thus very experienced, a podium finish from the team would be an amazing effort.
Brazil’s chance at a medal goes through Natalia Zilio’s full recovery. When healthy, she is one of the world’s best passers and most efficient attackers. With Fernanda Garay out, she is perhaps Brazil’s only offensive weapon capable of going head to head with the world’s best.
#3 – United States
Team USA sports a solid roster, with very experienced players from all over the world’s best leagues. Experienced veterans like Jordan Larson and Foluke Akinradewo, both with more than 200 caps with the team and a lot of international experience will lead the field. The team enjoys a lot of depth in most of its rosters positions, and will give all of its opponents a major run for their money. Although fans lament coach Kiraly’s decision to not call up Destinee Hooker and Nicole Fawcett, it should not make much of a diference at this point, as both players had only regular performances in Brazil’s Superliga this season.
Jordan Larson is 31 years old, and most people will say that she is already past her prime. However, we believe that is not the case. She recently extended her contract with Turkish powerhouse Eczacibasi after a solid season with the club. Things tend to go right for Larson when she is in her best health, and she is just a few years removed from amazing performances in the international scene. Her experience alone should add a lot of locker room presence to the team, helping setting the team’s newcomers in the right away.
#2 – Serbia
The hottest “newcomer” in volleyball, Serbia has already made a name for itself after winning silver in the 2016 Rio games and Gold at the 2017 EuroVolley. The team is loaded with offensive talents, sporting names such as Brankica Mihajlovic, Milena Rasic, Tijana Boškovic, and Jovana Stevanovic, which is just too much for most teams to handle. The team plays an innovative style of volleyball, with all of its hitters being able to attack off-the-net sets. Although it will be missing superstar setter Maja Ognjenovic, it should be not a problem, as they won last year’s EuroVolley with their third stringer.
Tijana Boskovic, who is only 21 years old, is a scoring machine. At 6’4″, the opposite plays like a veteran, able to hit anything that is thrown at her. She is guaranteed to give her team at least 5 points per set just by stepping on the court.
#1 – China
You knew this was coming. Besides being the hosts of this year’s inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League finals in Nanjing, China is the number 1 ranked team in FIVB’s senior rankings. The team will be ready to capitalize on its 2015 World Cup, 2016 Rio Games, and 2017 Grand Champions Cup gold medals. That is a very impressive winning run from one of the world’s best volleyball superpowers ever and it doesn’t look like it’s ready to stop at anytime soon. Behind names like Zhu Ting, Chunlei Zeng, Gong Xiangyu, Xiaotong Liu, and Ni Yan, the team will strike fear in all of its opponents. The fact that the team boasts an average height of 6’2″, the tallest of the tournament alongside Russia, is scary as well.
Zhu Ting is an unstoppable force in women’s volleyball. She is so good that any team that has her in its roster, is a favorite. Although she is currently treating a minor ankle injury suffered in the Champions League semi-final, China has a spot guaranteed in the Final 6 due to being the competition’s host, so Zhu will most definitely be fresh and totally recovered when the important matches come by. As is normal every-time she is on the court, fans will expect nothing less than brilliant play, to which she will surely deliver.