Montreux, Switzerland, September 8, 2018- FIVB World Number One China softened the blow of their early exit from the 2018 Montreux Masters by ending their campaign on a high, coming out on top over four sets to seal a 3:1 (25:23, 28-26, 21:25, 25-23) win and go into the upcoming FIVB World Championships with confidence.
The early exchanges in a game with mere consolation on offer were dominated by the block, as Agnieszka Kakolewska came up with a brace of stops to deny China, with Hu Mingyuan and Yang Hanyu replying for the deposed Bronze Medallists. Poland’s stubborn defence was, however, unable to withstand the excellence of Chinese duo Duan Fang and the influential Gong Xiangyu, whose combined 11 points over the opening set edged China to a 22-19 lead after a period of even play. Inspired by the imposing figure of Malwina Smarzek, Poland rallied to 24-23 but were unable to find the extra push they needed to overhaul the set, coming up short as Liu Xiaotong touched down for set point at 25-23 for the Chinese to lead 1:0.
The block also set the tone early in the second set, Smarzek coming up with an excellent defensive point to help the Poles into a 2-5 lead, before Julia Twardowska’s spiking effort rolled over the rim of the net and down for 3-6 to the Europeans. But China weren’t done, and captain Liu Xiaotong upped the ante for her team, hitting six points over the following plays as they roared back over the set to lead 19-16, Poland in pursuit through Smarzek and Kakolewska. A 20-20 stalemate was forced after a Nowicka block, double touch by Yang Hanyu, and a Smarzek spike. A flurry of exchanging points followed as a Kakolewska block followed by Gong Xiangyu forcing a blockout took the set to 24-24. China twice denied Poland at set point, controversially so after the referee ruled Liu Xiaotong’s spike to be in despite Polish protests that the ball was out. Smarzek then hit the net from an attempted spike for China to sneak a 27-26 lead, Poland Libero, Maria Stenzel, unable to dig out Liu Xiaotong’s serve as the ace was registered for China to clinch the set 28-26 for a 2:0 advantage.
An early stalemate ensued in the third set, before Poland established a foothold and powered into a lead with a Murek block, followed by a Martyna Grajber ace and two spiking efforts by Efimienko, who began to exert greater influence on the game in her reception and contribution to the Polish build-up play. After Kakolewska touched down for 18-22 as the Poles neared a set win that would keep them in the game, Gong Xiangyu, Duan Fang and Liu Xiaotong sewed seeds of doubt as they notched points to close the gap to 21-23. A clever touch over the net and down from Plesnierowicz, however, swung the momentum back Poland’s way, before a hammer spike that Lin Li could not hold landed out of play for the set to go to the Europeans 21-25 and force a fourth set.
The teams remained neck and neck early in the fourth set, Smarzek and Liu Xiaotong exchanging spikes en route to a 13-13 stalemate. Both teams refused to let the other accumulate any lead, cancelling each other out through to a 22-22 deadlock, which was when the creativity of Gong Xiangyu (who hit 26 points over the course of the game), Duan Fang, and the blocking of Hu Mingyuan, proved decisive. edging into a 24-22 lead before converting match-point at the second attempt for a 25-23 fourth set clincher and a 3:1 victory to bow out of this year’s competition with a hard-earned win in an entertaining game.