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29/07/2017 22:18
Italy crowned champions of inaugural #EuroVolleyU16W with defeat of Russia
2017 CEV U16 Volleyball European Championship - Women

Sofia, Bulgaria, July 29, 2017. Pasquale D’Aniello’s Azzurrine saved their best display of the tournament for the biggest occasion, putting Russia to the sword in a 3-0 victory to become the first gold medallists at the inaugural #EuroVolleyU16W at Hristo Botev Hall in Sofia. It marks the culmination of much hard work for a team that gave away just one set and won all their games in the competition, and suggests there is much to be optimistic about in the future of Italian women’s Volleyball. Earlier, host-nation Bulgaria achieved history, overcoming Belarus in a 3-2 tiebreak classic to ensure the bronze medal remains on home soil, whilst the Netherlands and Romania were victorious in their classification matches to seal fifth and seventh place respectively.

Final Match: Italy vs. Russia 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-17)

The final that would bring the curtain down on the inaugural European Championship of the U16 age group pitted Italy, efficient and ruthless having conceded just one set throughout the campaign, against Russia, a team of hard-workers that by hook or by crook had done enough to get by most opponents and into the final. It would always take much for them to ruffle the feathers of the Azzurrine though, and it was Pasquale D’Aniello’s Italy side exerting their authority before a partisan crowd at Hristo Botev Hall as Svetlana Safronova watched her side toil.

The Russians got off to a near perfect start as they appeared to race away in the first set, but as soon as the Italians stabilised themselves and put their noses ahead in the first, they never really looked like giving anything away. Setter Sofia Monza was just outstanding, giving 12-point leading match scorer Loveth Oghosasere Omoruyi the opportunity to torment the Russian defence. The key for Italy was restricting Russia’s focal point and tournament MVP Tatiana Kadochkina, and they completely neutralised her, restricting the influential outside hitter to just 11 points on the big occasion. D’Aniello’s team had saved their best performance until last, their “give nothing away” mentality and ruthless efficiency just a bridge too far for a brave Russian side that can leave Sofia with their heads held high nevertheless. However, this performance was about Italy, and their - at times - seemingly faultless qualities. Though for a coach so obsessed, and rightfully so, with improvement even from the best performances, Pasquale D’Aniello was content in enjoying the moment, engaging in the ecstatic celebrations of his players and fellow coaching staff, but already optimistic about the future.

“To be champions, I feel only happiness,” said D’Aniello, mastermind of the Italian operation, after the final. “We played a near perfect game, after we stabilised following a bit of a slow start, and after that all areas of our play were good. Blocking, serving, attacking, we sent back everything they threw at us. We enjoy this moment, but we also are thinking about the future, and for this team, I hope this is only the beginning of something very special.”

Bronze Medal match: Belarus vs. Bulgaria 2-3 (25-20, 16-25, 14-25, 25-20, 13-15)

The bronze medal match ensured that the final itself would have a great deal to live up to, as the Bulgarians channelled their energy from the agony and despair of their semi-final defeat to Russia to ensure they came out on the right side of another five-set classic against Belarus. On the evidence of the first set, however, it looked as if the hosts, clearly deflated and at the time lacking sharpness after their last gasp semi-final exit at the hands of Russia less than 24 hours before, were about to throw in the towel.

Kseniya Liabiodkina, a nominee for the Dream Team of the inaugural tournament, punished their lack of awareness as she has done to so many sides in Bulgaria already at this championship. However, over the following sets the hosts looked a team transformed. Head coach Stojan Gunchev sent them back onto court with fire in their bellies, and their influential outside hitter, Aleksandra Georgieva, who was handed the accolade of best player in her position, struck 27 points to turn her side’s slow start into their finest display yet, a fitting tribute to the large crowd that once more turned out in support. They took the second and third sets to go ahead comfortably, and after a slight hiccup in the fourth, which allowed Belarus to force tiebreak, the crowd must have feared the worst. Only this time, Bulgaria were not to be outdone, and after the excellent Georgieva helped them to match point, a long ball from the Belarusian side flew out of play, greeted by a crescendo of noise from the home crowd and sparking wild celebrations on the home bench. It was a fitting reward for a side, which has come so far since their opening defeat to Italy. This may be the start of the hosts doing away with the perennial jinx of finishing fourth in such tournaments.

“It was a really, really tough match,” said an emotional Georgieva after the match. “Both teams wanted to win so badly and the battle was until the very last point. All my teammates gave 100%. We left our hearts on the field. Our strongest weapons today were the serves and attack. I am so emotional. For all the team, this is a first medal in a European championship. The feeling is, I do not know. You must live it to understand what I am feeling now. It is amazing. It was tough for all the team after the loss against Russia yesterday in the semis. I think we did not have enough luck in the key moments, but after the match, all the team was together, we spoke a lot and we told that although we lost, it is better to win the match for the third so we have something to show for our efforts by being on the podium. We came back here and were so motivated to win this match. The public here was absolutely the seventh player for us on the field. The spectators were amazing. They helped us during the whole tournament. The feeling of playing here is amazing. During the match when you hear them scream your name - speechless. A huge ‘Thank You’ to them! This year we are third, the bronze medal winners. Our goal for the next European championship is the final!”

Maria Yordanova, the Bulgarian captain, was in tears after the match against Russia less than 24 hours before. The scenario was the same here, but the tears were not of despair, but of joy.
“What can I say? I am so happy! In the beginning, we did not play well because we lost yesterday and we let that play on our minds, but in the end, we dug in and managed to win. We started to make less mistakes and this time the tiebreak went for us! Today we played for the audience here, for us, for our coaches! We played for the country of Bulgaria! The public here helped us a lot when we were under pressure. I hope in the future they will continue to support us. Next time the medal will be gold, not bronze!”

5th/6th place classification match: Netherlands vs. Turkey 3-1 (18-25, 29-27, 25-20, 25-18)

The second match of the final day was a fascinating battle between the two third place finishers over the pool phase. It was Bülent Gunes’ Turkey, who seized the early initiative by clinching the first set with Sude Hacimustafaoğlu once again their focal point in attack, and she would finish her side’s leading scorer in the game with a contribution of 13 points. However, Eelco Beijl galvanised his troops ahead of the second set, and the Oranje looked a side transformed from that point onwards, digging in to win a thrilling second set 29-27 in which set point fell one way, then the other on a succession of occasions. From that point, they never really looked back, winning the third set with somewhat more breathing space to go ahead before cruising to victory in the fourth. They end their campaign in fifth spot, and it is a win, which Beijl hopes, will only intensify his side’s hunger for future medals.

“The girls fought back well after the first set and showed great character,” he said. “There was a lot of emotion in the game because I and Gunes were very animated on the side-lines trying to do our jobs, and there were a couple of discussions over certain decisions by the referees. It did not quite match up perfectly today and we had some disagreements with the officials, but I respect everybody who helped make this match happen at the end of the day. They did their job, and the girls did theirs wonderfully. They handled the pressure, improved their game and started to cut out their errors, certainly so after we went a set down. We did not give 100% at the start, but we changed it and this proved the recipe for our success today. This win will hopefully give them confidence to compete for the top four in future, perhaps even more. They will for sure be thinking that they could have got to the semi-finals and have been in the hunt for a medal, we will never know for this year, but next time the hunger will be greater to reach the semis. This next step will be important for their development from young players into seasoned professionals.”

7th/8th place classification match: Romania vs. Greece 3-0 (25-15, 25-17, 25-13)

It took just 69 minutes for Romania to settle proceedings in the opening match of Super Saturday, captain Alexia Ioana Carutasu again finishing as her country’s leading match scorer with 15 points. The Romanians never really looked in danger against a disappointing Greece, proceeding to win each set with reasonable comfort. It was a morale-boosting win to end their campaign for Marius Macarie’s side, and it will provide much hope and confidence for the future for a team that can quite justifiably consider itself unfortunate not to have qualified for the last four from Pool II.

“Maybe it looked easy from an outside perspective but it was not,” Romania coach Marius Macarie said afterwards. “Our players were mentally down after the two five-setters in Pool II and especially after the last match against Russia which had we won would have put us into the last four with a chance of a medal.  Yesterday we had a mental problem against Holland and we lost again. So, for us it was important to win today for our confidence. We found the solutions and our girls played really well. Generally, I think this seventh place is the correct position for us now. Bulgaria, Italy, Russia, Belarus and maybe Turkey are stronger than us, so I am satisfied with where we are. For next year I hope to have more time to prepare so we can play better in this championship.”

Alexia Ioana Carutasu, Romania’s shining star throughout the tournament was also pleased to have earned a win to wrap up her team’s campaign.
“I’m happy with this win. It’s always good to finish one tournament with a 3-0,” she said. “This gives us confidence for the future. It was our last chance to finish with a win and we didn’t want to finish bottom. I’m happy with seventh. It was a great adventure for me and I am happy with how the team and I played. We had a lot of tough battles and it was great for us. My favourite ever Volleyball player is Ekaterina Gamova and I am happy that I had the opportunity to meet her here. It was great. For next year I hope to qualify for the tournament and return to Bulgaria even stronger. I don’t see why we can’t return and claim a podium finish next year.”

2017 #EuroVolleyU16W Dream Team

Outside Hitter: Aleksandra Georgieva (Bulgaria)
Outside Hitter: Kseniya Liabiodkina (Belarus)
Middle Blocker: Claudia Consoli (Italy)
Middle Blocker: Elizaveta Kochurina (Russia)
Setter: Sofia Monza (Italy)
Opposite: Merilin Nikolova (Bulgaria)
Libero: Francesca Magazza (Italy)
MVP: Tatiana Kadochkina (Russia)

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News nr. 1 of 22
28/07/2017 22:34:00
Italy and Russia to battle for gold at inaugural #EuroVolleyU16W

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