By The Nation
The four match Super Saturday line-up at the 2017 edition started in style as the Netherlands rounded off their campaign with a resounding 3-1 win. Celeste Plak and Marrit Jasper were the Oranje’s star performers, hitting 17 points each to send the last year’s silver medallists home without a win.
The first set was wrought with quality from the start. The threat of Celeste Plak was the Oranje’s weapon of choice, her spike too hot to handle to hand the Dutch the first point. But the Thais weren’t to go quietly, Chatchu-On Moksri, who has enjoyed a fine tournament so far, turned a threat for them. One sensed from the opening exchanges it would be a competitive affair, the teams exchanging some wonderful spikes from Pimpichaya Kokram and Tessa Polder, before a wonderful kill from Chatchu-On forced an 8-8 deadlock early on. The Dutch blocking game appeared to give them an edge in rallies, but some wonderful defensive improvisation from the Thais allowed Ajcharaporn Kongyot to cause trouble with her spiking and edge Thailand into a lead. The Dutch rallied to parity, and then into a 21-18 lead going into the latter stage of the set, Nika Daalderop another Oranje youngster enjoying a fine game, extending the lead with a spike of her own. The Thais weren’t going down without a fight, a Jarasporn Bandasak’s block and Pimpichaya’s kill bringing them back to 22-21. Yet the Dutch weren’t to be outdone, and Koolhaas’ ice-cold kill before Jasper’s deft touch over the net put them at set-point. Polder’s block from an attempted Ajcharaporn spike which followed proved enough to end a hotly contested first set 25-22 to edge the Oranje into the lead.
The Dutch block was proving a dagger at the heart of the Thais, Koolhaas’ early intervention at the net signalling Oranje intent with the opening point of the second set. The last year’s silver medallists still had something to give in the game, showing their quality with an exquisite spike from Pleumjit Thinkaow, before a Pimpichaya’s spike gave them a 4-5 lead. Pornpun Guedpard’s cool touch over the net extended that advantage. Jasper’s spike kept the set competitive, the Oranje determined not to let their counterparts level the match. Plak’s kill attempt which followed was too strong for the block, and the ball went out for the Netherlands to take an 8-7 lead. A Stoltenborg touch after a thrilling rally saw the Dutch continue to exert their authority, but the Thais pegged them back to 10-10. Pimpichaya came up with a thunderous smash to make the scores 16-12 before the Dutch hit back in style, Plak sealing set point at 25-18 with a ruthless spike down the line for 2-0.
The Netherlands sought to end the game in three sets, taking an 8-3 lead with some impressive spiking and defensive play from Jasper. A deft touch from Stoltenberg stretched the lead of the Dutch to 18-15, but Thailand pulled it back to 21-21 with a great defensive block, before securing the set 22-25, pulling the score back to 2-1.
Infuriated and reinvigorated in the face of Thai defiance, the Oranje stormed out of the blocks in the fourth set and into an 8-0 lead, Jasper, Plak and Stoltenborg all effective against the Thai defence. Despite Pimpichaya’s spiking causing trouble, the Netherlands vigour was too great, and they coasted to victory in the third set with an 8-25 win, sealing their 3-1 triumph and ended their campaign on a high.
Thailand, former two-time Asian winners and current world No.14, returned home with the joint 7th position. Last year, they went down to China in the final showdown to clinch a historic silver medal at their debut Montreux Volley Masters.