Montreux, Switzerland, September 9, 2018- Italy sealed their first Montreux Volley Masters Gold Medal in 14 years as they overcame Russia 3:0 (25-21, 30-28, 26-24) in a hotly contested final that on another day may have been longer.
As Davide Mazzanti’s side looked to exorcise the demons of 2009 where they fell at the final hurdle at Salle Omnisports du Pierrier, and improve on their fourth and fifth place finishes in 2013 and 2015, it was their new era of rising talent that delivered the goods as 19-year-old Paola Ogechi Egonu- the Azzurre’s leading scorer at the competition and the tournament MVP- was the star of the show on the biggest occasion, hitting 26 points to seize the title and take it back across the Alps. For Russia, their wait for a first Gold in Montreux since 2002 goes on, and the pain of their defeat at this stage five years ago will be fresh in the mind of those following Vadim Pankov’s side, who have enjoyed a fine tournament.
The opening exchanges were fitting of any final between two teams who have already shown their quality at this year’s tournament, Italy’s leading markswoman Paola Ogechi Egonu, and captain Cristina Chirichella coming up with some stunning spikes, whilst Irina Fetisova and Startseva added points of their own, the latter adding a great block to kill off a stunning rally, whilst Krotkova also chipped in with a stunning kill early on. It was Italy who pressed ahead though, a block and slick kill from Anna Danesi preceding a Chirichella block and spike that saw the Azzurre into a 19-14 lead. The set was then marred by an injury to Krotkova who went down at the net, her final over as the medics carried her away for treatment. Rocked by that blow, Russia could do precious little as Italy pressed their advantage home in the opening set, an Egonu kill easing them to set-point, before a Miryam Fatime Sylla spike took a Russian touch on its way out of play to hand the Italians the initiative at 25-21 (1:0).
The second set was a tempestuous battle, a stalemate ensuing right the way through with some stunning spikes to kill off lengthy, nail-biting rallies, and smashes to break through the block on both sides. After Parubets touched down over the net for a Russian set point, a fierce battle ensued as each side traded points. Egonu first drew level at 24-24 for deuce, before Russia edged ahead again and Chirichella spiked down to level. The Italian captain then hit out after a stunning rally for Russia to go back to set point 25-26, but they failed to capitalise, instead Kotikova touching over on the next play for 26-27 to the Sbornaya. But back came Italy, Egonu forcing a blockout, followed by a Russian fault at the net to swing the set-point back for the Azzurre. But Russia foiled the attempt, Kotikova touching down for 28-28 in a sensational exchange of deuce, but after Italy secured the next point, they finally stole the point they needed, the instrumental Egonu leaping at the net to block down and snatch the second set 30-28, and a crucial 2:0 lead.
Desperate to respond, Russia began the third set with the headway as they had to, Koroleva, Parubets, and Goncharova all scoring en route to a 2-6 lead. As they have done throughout the competition, however, Italy showed their character, responding with spikes from Egonu, Sylla, and Chirichella, before a Danesi block made the score 7-9. However, the Sbornaya would then enjoy a spell of their own, Goncharova denying Bosetti’s great digging work to kill a rally before Zaryazko hit a spike as a lead of 9-14 was built. To avoid the Russians pulling clear, Italy responded as Danesi hit a smash and a block point, before Goncharova struck back twice for an 18-20 score for the Sbornaya approaching the closing stages of the set.
Cue the unstoppable Egonu, smashing through the Russian block before hitting a spike to make the set 20-20, before Sylla fired through the Russian block to make it 21-20. Egonu’s serve made a fault before Sylla then snatched back the Italian lead, but Parubets butchered a simple reception for an Italian ace for 23-21. Back came Russia. The Sbornaya almost stole the set as Goncharova struck again and two faults, one from the serve and one spike out from Egonu handed them a 23-24 advantage, but Ofelia Malinov came good at the crucial time to force a blockout, before the brilliant Danesi rose to block down from Goncharova to make the score 25-24, the Azzurre on Championship point. Not willing to let the opportunity slip through their grasp, and Chirichella serving for the title, a rally ensued that fittingly was killed by Italy’s star of the tournament, Egonu, rising to spike down and force a Russian blockout for 26-24 that sparked ecstatic celebrations on the Italian bench and in the stands as Italy took their first Montreux Masters medal since 2009- where they were runners-up- but more notably their first Gold on the Swiss Riviera in 14 years.