Montreux, Switzerland, September 06, 2018 - Jacek Nawrocki’s young Polish side put themselves in pole position to qualify for the semi-finals from Pool B with one round of matches remaining, with a 3:0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-22) humbling of Cameroon to make it two wins in as many group matches. The Poles leapfrog Brazil to go top of the group by a solitary point, whilst African champions Cameroon’s hopes of progression are over and they will contest Saturday’s classification games.
With star player Malwina Smarzek rested for this match, Poland coach Nawrocki rang the changes in his squad and gave some of his younger and more fringe players the opportunity to impress ahead of their third and final group match, a winner-takes-all battle against Russia on Friday (07.09.18. 18:45 CET). 23-year-old Wing Spiker Martyna Grajber took her chance centre-stage by notching seven points, with Agnieszka Kąkolewska, Martyna Łukasik, and Magdalena Damaske all making notable contributions with six points each, 22-year-old Wing Spiker Damaske making her mark after coming on as a substitute in the second set.
Despite a crushing 0-3 (15-25, 17-25, 13-25) defeat at the hands of Russia on Tuesday during their Montreux Masters debut, a dauntless team of Lionesses war-danced their way on-court to face Poland in trademark high spirits. Attentive blocking from Team Captain Nana and Abdoulkarim Fawziya claimed the game’s first two points, with surprise deep corner spikes from Théorine Aboa only serving to inflate the score count. This was not to last, however, typically phenomenal team cohesion amongst the Polish squad and an early succession of points scored by Martyna Grajber triggering an early timeout as a panic-reaction from Cameroon coach, Jean Rene Bekono Akono. Comparative lack of experience at such a high level became apparent later, numerous fumbles meaning lost opportunities for the Cameroonians, allowing for an easy lead throughout the first set for the Poles that, though close to deuce on occasions, culminated in a 1-0 for the Eastern Europeans at 19-25 after the opening set.
The second set proved to be full of surprises for an audience watching with bated-breath, an early Cameroon lead with skilful play from Middle Blocker Stephanie Fotso Mogoung quickly shut down by a string of crushing spikes from Poland’s Martyna Łukasik. A towering Eastern European defensive bastion of 190cm Klaudia Alagierska, proved itself effective at stonewalling attempts by the shorter players of the Cameroon forward line. Learning to control the strength of Poland’s high downward spikes yielded a surprising lead in the closing rallies for the Africans, with a show-stealing performance from Captain Christelle Tchoudjang Nana and surprising defensive play from Wing Spiker Laetitia Moma bringing Cameroon entertainingly close to taking home the second set. Yet, again, fate did not smile upon the Lionesses, with a series of assaults from Middle Blocker Kąkolewska giving Poland six consecutive points to take the set from 22-20 to 22-25.
From the bitter disappointment of letting the second set slip, the African champions were simply unable to recover, the Poles coasting through the final set to a 22-25 win with only slight contention as the game drew to a close with several daring-but-desperate plays from the Africans, but their more seasoned European opponents were always able to keep them at arm’s length.
Poland’s win sees them top the group with five points, one ahead of second-place Brazil on four, with Russia sat in third with three points from their opening two games. With the Russian Sbornaya up next for Poland, this young team know that victory or forcing a tie-break at minimum would guarantee progress, and with Russia also going in having to win, the final round of Pool B games is sure to bring further drama.