Tokyo, Japan, May 13, 2016 - Besides a blip in the second set, The Netherlands could not have been more impressive in beating Kazakhstan 3-1 (25-12, 21-25, 25-14, 25-8) in their opening match of the 2016 Olympic volleyball qualifiers in Tokyo.
Many believe the Netherlands is one of the favourites to progress to Rio this week, and their form in the opening set certainly justified that confidence. Led by an all-conquering Lonneke Sloetjes, they blew Kazakhstan off the court early.
A run of late points made the score look more respectable, but the Dutch were not to be denied, taking the opening set 25-12.
The second set could not have been more different. Despite being the outsider according to current world rankings, Kazakhstan is determined to get to a second Olympics, and came out after the break firing.
They quickly raced to a 7-2 lead, and despite letting the Dutch get back to within one point at 20-21, they re-grouped to take the second set 25-21 and to level the match at 1-1.
Most impressive for Kazakhstan was the even spread across the scorecard, with four players contributing four points or more, while for The Netherlands Lonneke Sloetjes was continuing to do most of the heavy lifting with 17 points.
The Dutch took no time regaining control in the third set, eventually winning. Celeste Plak is one of the most recognizable players in women’s volleyball; tall, athletic and with a mop of frizzy hair that makes her stand out from the crowd, her power hitting for The Netherlands in the third set helped the Dutch regain the upper hand.
Unforced errors began creeping into the Kazak game. Katerina Tatko, who sat out the first set, took over as the team’s leading scorer with 10 points after three sets.
With their mojo back, the Dutch set about giving a volleyball lesson in the fourth set. The twin towers of Sloetjes and Plak were causing Kazakhstan no end of pain, and despite numerous line-up changes wrought by coach Shapran, there was little his team could do to stem the tide.
The Netherlands took the final set 25-8, with Lonneke Sloetjes fittingly spiking the final point to end the match the game high scorer with 30.