Thailand made their World Grand Prix debut in 2002 and have been a regular participant except in the 2007 edition, when they hosted the World University Games. This year, they will be making their 14th appearance in the World Grand Prix and first-ever at the Montreux Volley Masters.
The world has witnessed their growth from a team that struggled to beat their rivals, to a team that have established a stronghold in World Grand Prix Group 1. The Thai team have actually helped to re-brand Asian volleyball with their diverse and creative style of play. The Asian squad rose to the challenge of taller and stronger teams by displaying lightning quick moves and power from stars Pleumjit Thinkaow and Onuma Sittirak, orchestrated by one of the world’s best setters Nootsara Tomkom.
Their first ever victory in the World Grand Prix came against Canada 3-1 (28-26, 25-18, 20-25, 25-22) in 2003, but their most significant performance came in 2012, when they finished in fourth overall in Ningbo, China. That year, Thailand defeated strong teams like Japan and Serbia in the Preliminary Round, and then hosts China 3-2 (21-25, 25-22, 34-32, 21-25, 15-13) in the final round.
Also in 2012, Thailand celebrated victory in the Asian Championships for the second time after their 2009 triumph. They also succeeded in the 2012 Asian Cup and have won a total of 12 gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games, where they have been victorious in each of the last eight tournaments.
Last year, Thailand finished in ninth place with a 3-6 win-loss record. Their first match in the 2015 World Grand Prix ended in a 3-2 (25-17, 15-25, 23-25, 25-22, 15-11) home win over Serbia, before big victories over Germany in straight sets and Japan in four sets.
Coach Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai has had a great influence on the Thai team's rise. He injected a dynamism which has helped them in their eight-year dominance in the Southeast Asian Games. His presence on the bench has also undoubtedly been a factor in Thailand's continued presence in World Grand Prix Group 1.
Player to watch – Nootsara Tomkom
Nootsara Tomkom hails from the province of Ratchaburi. She started playing volleyball at the age of 10 and was selected for the first time when she was just 17 years old. Nootsara dreamt of finishing her studies in the Thai capital, Bangkok, but because of her family’s modest income, this dream was not realised. Nootsara, however, did not give up on her dream and has focused on sports to get a scholarship.
Nootsara played all positions – as a hitter – but her coach soon recognised her talent as a setter. This talent has evolved and has made her one of the most awe-inspiring athletes in the game. Her magical touch has also helped her team-mates to progress. Now, Nootsara’s name is there with the best, alongside Asian setting greats Yoshie Takeshita and Feng Kun.
Nootsara has collected countless Best Setter awards in the Asian and FIVB-level competitions, including World Olympic Qualification Tournaments and the World Grand Prix in 2012. The 30-year-old has played in clubs in Spain, Switzerland and Azerbaijan. She currently plays for Azerrail Baku.