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Volleyball: Teen queen Zhu leads China cruise past Cuba

Zhu Ting, 18, was again China’s top scorer as they beat Cuba 3-0. All photos: FIVB.

Zhu Ting, 18, was again China’s top scorer as they beat Cuba 3-0. All photos: FIVB.

August 3, 2013: Towering teenager Zhu Ting was again China’s leading light as the crowd favourites outplayed a young Cuba squad 3-0 (25-13, 25-20, 25-15) to record their second successive straight-sets win in Macau and lead Pool D of the FIVB World Grand Prix.

 

China can expect more passionate support when they play their final Pool D game against the Netherlands at the Macau Forum on Sunday, after Cuba face a Bulgaria side inspired by a come-from-behind 3-1 win (20-25, 25-15, 25-20, 25-23) over the Dutch in Saturday’s earlier match.

 

China’s match against Cuba was their 250th on the World Grand Prix. They became the first team to reach this milestone and remain one of only two teams – with Japan – to have played in every edition of the global women’s circuit.

 

But China were looking to the future as the 1.95-metre Zhu, 18, powered her way to 19 points through 15 spikes, three blocks and an ace, while Liu Congcong, 22, continued to seize her opportunity, racking up nine points, including three aces.

 

Wang Yimei (#9) watches as Ma Yunwen (#21) battles at the net.

Wang Yimei (#9) watches as Ma Yunwen (#21) battles at the net.

Zhu again stole the limelight from double Olympian Wang Yimei (11 points), captain Zhang Lei (8) and Ma Yunwen (7), who are among only a handful of players from last year’s Olympics squad, with many others resting after the recent National Games volleyball competition.

 

Coach Jenny Lang Ping was happy with the combination of her young and more experienced charges, but is still seeking to iron out a couple of key areas as she seeks to mould a squad capable of competing for the Olympic gold they last won in 2004.

 

“We had two requirements for our players today. First was to improve our receiving as yesterday we were not very good,” Lang said. “We need to be braver. The other aspect is serving. Only one player served well today and the other four did not. There are a lot of fluctuations in our serving.”

 

Zhang was confident the side would be able to continue their winning streak against the Netherlands on Sunday.

 

“Today we played well, we were stable and we’re looking forward to another good performance tomorrow,” said the captain.

 

Bulgaria win the second set on their way to their first Grand Prix win.

Bulgaria win the second set on their way to their first Grand Prix win.

Bulgaria, making their World Grand Prix debut this year, recorded their first-ever win on their competition debut with an inspired performance, spearheaded on the court by towering captain Strashimira Filipova and on the sidelines by energetic Italian coach Marcello Abbondanza.

 

The Netherlands looked in control when winning the first set, but Bulgaria raised their performance to win the next two and prevailed in a thrilling fourth game, which featured long rallies and astonishing recoveries by both teams.

 

Abbondanza led the celebrations after the landmark victory and predicted a bright future for the team.

 

“This is a really a momentous victory for Bulgarian women’s volleyball,” he said. “This will be the point we start at building a strong team. I’m very happy for the team and all the girls.”

 

Bulgaria captain Strashimira Filipova led by example against the Netherlands.

Bulgaria captain Strashimira Filipova led by example against the Netherlands.

The imposing Filipova (15 points), Dobriana Rabadzhieva (12) and Elitsa Vasileva (11) were among the key players.

 

“We played good volleyball, but the most important thing is that we were fighting for each other,” Filipova said. “We showed we’re a good team.”

 

Dutch great Manon Flier, a former World Grand Prix MVP, appeared as a substitute to great cheers from the crowd, but the 29-year-old was unable to inspire the Dutch as she plays her way back from injury.

 

2013 FIVB World Grand Prix – Pool D, Macau

August 2: Netherlands 3-0 Cuba (25-20, 25-14, 25-11)

August 2: China 3-0 Bulgaria (25-13, 26-24, 25-23)

August 3: Bulgaria 3-1 Netherlands (20-25, 25-15, 25-20, 25-23)

August 3: China 3-0 Cuba (25-13, 25-20, 25-15)

August 4: Cuba v Bulgaria (1.00pm)

August 4: China v Netherlands (3.30pm)

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