The final women’s volleyball qualifier for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games will take place from September 16-24 in China, Japan, and Poland. A total of 24 nations will compete in three groups, with the top six teams from each group qualifying for the Olympic Games. Korea is in Group C with Poland, Italy, the United States, Germany, Thailand, Colombia, and Slovenia. What are the strengths of the seven teams we’ll face?
No team in Group C has a lower FIVB world ranking (as of September 15) than South Korea (2nd USA, 5th Italy, 7th Poland, 12th Germany, 14th Thailand, 20th Colombia, 25th Slovenia, 36th Korea). On top of that, South Korea’s recent international results and performances have been poor. They will also have to compete in the 2023 Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Women’s Championship right before the final qualifiers. With all the odds stacked against them, finishing in the top two in their group is as unlikely as winning the lottery. It’s going to be tough, but it’s their last chance to qualify for the Olympics, so they can’t give up. Even if we don’t make it to the Olympics, this final qualifier is a very important stage to learn what kind of volleyball we need to play against the strongest teams. With the fate of Korean women’s volleyball on the line, The Spike breaks down the seven teams to help volleyball fans get ready for the big game.
USA: What effect will Jordan Larson’s return have?
The traditional powerhouse USA is the favorite to top Pool C. They have won the Olympics, World Championship, and Volleyball Nations League (VNL). Eight North American and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA) championships, seven Pan American Cups, and six World Grand Prix (the predecessor to the VNL) titles are a testament to the strength of the American women’s game. The USA’s biggest strength as a team right now is that they have a lot of good wing attackers. 2019 VNL MVP Andrea Drews and Jordan Thompson, who has consistently played in the big leagues, including Italy-Turkey, lead the way at outside hitter.
The outside hitters are anchored by Kelsey Cook, who has excellent receiving ability, while 1998-born Kara Bazema and 1999-born Avery Skinner provide youthful energy. There’s also the return of a veteran who is sure to make an impact. Jordan Larson, the MVP of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “We are expecting Jordan Larson to return between July and September,” head coach Kachi Kiraly said in an interview during the 2023 VNL. Larson was born in 1986, so it’s hard to expect him to be an ace for the entire tournament, but the experience and seasoning he brings to the team will help the U.S. take a step up from their VNL performance.
Italy: Can Antropova become the next Vargas?
Italy was without key players such as Paola Egonu (OP) and Monica De Gennaro (L) for the VNL, resulting in a sixth-place finish. The calculation was to give the younger players experience in the VNL and go all out in the CEV Championships and Olympic Qualifiers. Italy started the European Championships with a new attacking option, and their new weapon is Ekaterina Antropovada, a young attacker born in 2003.
She was born in Russia but has been playing volleyball in Italy since the age of 15. She has been pushing for a place in the Italian national team since 2021. Her fight went all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and in August 2023, she officially became an Italian citizen and joined the national team. Like Melissa Vargas, who was born in Cuba but was granted a change of citizenship and led Turkuye to the VNL title as soon as she joined the team, one wonders if Antropova will be able to lead Italy, which has yet to win an Olympic medal, to greater heights. Meanwhile, Italy’s absence from the Olympic qualifiers of apogee Paola Egonu and setter Alessia Oro will be a factor.
Poland: They can take the top spot if they capitalize on their home advantage
Led by head coach Stefano Labarini, a name that Korean volleyball fans will never forget, Poland hosted this year’s Olympic Group C qualifiers at home. With European and Asian teams likely to be fatigued and struggling to maintain their form after their respective continental championships, the advantage of playing at home could be huge. Add to that the return of setter Joanna Bowsch to the roster from the European Championships, who missed the 2023 VNL with an injury, and it’s a good thing for Poland, who shouldn’t be surprised to top their group ahead of Italy and the United States.
With Bowsch back, Poland’s depth in the top seven is second to none.
The attack, especially from Agnieszka Corneluk in the center and Magdalena Stysiak on the wings, will be the main source of goals for Poland. Of course, there are weaknesses. Olivia Rozanski and Martina Lukacic are up-and-down players in reception, which makes me nervous. Martyna Czyrnianska can step in at any time, but you can’t expect too much from a young player born in 2003. If they can rotate them properly and hide their weaknesses in reception as much as possible, Poland could do well.
Germany: A huge upset ruined all the good vibes
Germany’s 2023 got off to a good start. In their first VNL under Vital Heynckes, they finished eighth, their best ever finish. This was highlighted by an excellent attacking balance between left, center, and right. The team also delighted volleyball fans around the world with their unique performance during the pre-match introductions, where they danced together to a choreographed routine, and the strong chemistry between coach and players. With this good vibe, Germany has been preparing for the European Championships and Olympic qualifiers.
Then came Hosadama. A huge setback that could have ruined everything. Ace Hannah Ortmann suffered a major injury during the first set of her match against Greece at the European Championships: a torn ACL and a damaged meniscus in her right knee. The extent and severity of the injury means that she will not be able to participate in the Olympic qualifiers. Lena Stigrott (OH) and Camilia Weitzel (MB) will have to share the offense that Ortmann was responsible for. However, Ortmann’s other weapon, a world-class strong serve, will be hard to replace.
Thailand: If they can’t get past this team, they won’t survive in any competition
Thailand is a team that will be tangling with South Korea in international competition throughout 2023. They met at the 2023 VNL, where Thailand won in straight sets 3-0. There’s also the possibility of a matchup at the Asian Championships and Asian Games. And in the Olympic qualifiers between those two tournaments, South Korea and Thailand will compete side by side in Group C again. In the end, finding a way to beat Thailand will likely determine how South Korea performs in all international competitions in 2023.
Unlike in the past, it won’t be easy on paper. Thailand is a team that has already found its own rhythm and game plan to survive on the world stage. Led by Ponpun Gedpard (S), who will be playing in the V-League from next season, the trio of Pimpichaya Kokram (OP), Chatchuon Moksri (OH), and Acharaphorn Kongyot (OH) rotate fast and sharp attacks. In between, Ponpoon mixes in some blistering fast breaks. Head coach Danai Sriwacharamaitakul’s training intensity is said to be high. Nusara Tomkom, who announced her retirement from the national team, has also been named in the squad. It is unclear if she will play. Can Cesar Hernandez find a way to catch this Thai side in the rest of the season?
Colombia: Failure to reach the VNL will be washed away by qualifying for the Olympic Games
Colombia has never been to the VNL stage. Even in the FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup, which qualifies the winner for the VNL, they have missed out each time (runner-up in 2018, fourth in 2022). Colombia made another bid for VNL promotion at the 2023 Volleyball Challenger Cup in Laval, France, where they were upset by Sweden in the semifinals. They defeated Ukraine in the third-place match, but it was a bitter pill to swallow as the Challenger Cup doesn’t mean much unless you win.
Colombia will be hoping to wash away the bitterness of repeated VNL failures by qualifying for the Olympic Games. At the center of that will be outside hitter duo Amanda Coneo-Ana Carina Olaya. The duo has been a staple of the Colombian team since the last Challenger Cup. Amanda has a clean receiving game that saw her named Best Receiver at the last Challenger Cup. Ana is the present and future of Colombia, with her youthful age (born in 2002) and athletic frame (5’10”). If the OH duo can continue to perform consistently against stronger teams, they could be a dark horse.
Slovenia: What can they learn from their loss?
Along with South Korea, Slovenia could be categorized as the underdogs of Group C. In fact, in March, when the Olympic Qualifiers groupings were announced, they were the only teams ranked lower than South Korea (South Korea 23rd, Slovenia 25th as of March 18). The gap between the two teams has widened considerably since South Korea lost a lot of ranking points in the VNL, but they are still a team to beat in Group C. The Slovenians are the favorites to win the tournament.메이저사이트
Slovenia is also struggling at the European Championship as of August 22. The team has lost three straight matches to Poland, Belgium, and Serbia by scores of 0-3, 1-3, and 0-3, respectively. Outside hitter Lorena Rover Fjork had a breakout game against Belgium with 24 points, a 55% attack percentage, and a 60% positive reception percentage, but she was held to single digits against stronger opponents Serbia and Poland. Both individually and as a team, the team needs to learn how to play against stronger teams. What can Slovenia learn and grow stronger from back-to-back losses at the European Championship?