Thailand’s dream of a first ever Olympic Games for its women’s volleyball team is a step closer after a convincing 3-1 (26-24, 26-28, 25-16, 25-20) win over the Dominican Republic at the Rio qualifiers in Tokyo.
The difference in size was stark; Thailand’s average height is just 175cms, while the Dominican Republic has an average height of 184cms. The Thai opposite, Kanthong, is 177cms tall, while Dominica’s Martinez is a towering 201cms.
But on court in the opening set the teams were incredibly even. Both opposites enjoyed strong starts to the match, and although Thailand gave away some easy points towards the end they held the crucial opening set 26-24.
Thailand will wonder how it managed to lose the second set, having led 19-14 and then again 24-21, but Dominica refused to surrender and eventually ground the Thais down 28-26.
Opposite Brayelin Martinez continued her dominance for the Dominican Republic, clocking up 16 points by the end of the second set, while Kongyot was starting to establish herself as the go-to player for Thailand with 11 points, many of them coming in the second set.
If Thailand fell asleep in the second set, they returned to the top of their game in the third. Setter Tomkom Nootsara gave her hitters an armchair ride as the Thais scored at will.
By contract, Dominica were relying heavily on Martinez, who continued to rack up points, but despite the usual brilliance of Libero Brenda Castillo they had no answers for Thailand, who took the set 25-16.
The fourth set was hard fought, with Dominica having its share of the lead. Coach Marcos Kwiek took his top point scorer, Martinez, off half-way through the set and with his team leading 10-9.
The Caribbean team continued to fight hard, but Thailand, with setter Tomkom continuing to provide outstanding service, always looked in control and took the final set 25-20, and the match 26-24, 26-28, 25-16, 25-20.