2016 Review: Young Croats back on road to success


Croatia celebrate winning 2016 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix Group 3

Lausanne, Switzerland, December 13, 2016 - Teams experience ups and downs and Croatia are hoping their young team’s triumph in 2016 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix Group 3 will be the first on the road back to the top.

Even Cuba’s women’s team, who were crowned Olympic champions three times in a row between 1992 and 2000, and won the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix in 1993 and 2000, failed to progress to the World Grand Prix Group 3 Finals this year.

“I am very happy that we are starting a new era in Croatian volleyball. Samanta Fabris is one of our young players and is slowly becoming very important,” said coach Mirsolav Aksentijevic. His players claimed a convincing 3-0 (25-19, 29-27, 25-16) victory over hosts Kazakhstan in the Group 3 Finals. Fabris was the outstanding player with 27 points from 19 attacks, three blocks, and five service winners, and was celebrated by Croatian fans back home.

“It's a great victory for us. It is a historical event for the Croatian team and we look forward to the future,” said captain Mia Jerkov.

Her enthusiasm followed arguably the greatest success in Croatian women's volleyball in a decade and a half. Between 1995 and 2000, the team was one of the best in Europe, and attracted a loyal fan base. Coach Ivica Jelic's team won silver at the European Championships three times in a row, and finished sixth at the 1998 FIVB World Championships and seventh at the 2000 Olympic Games, making them one of the world’s top teams.

The outstanding player at the time was the coach's daughter, Barbara Jelic Ruzic, who was the top scorer at the 1998 Women's World Championship and at other major events. She was also crowned the best female volleyball player in Europe three times in a row between 1998 and 2000. Croatia's women's volleyball team were unable to build on a successful era, however. There have been outstanding individual players over the years who have earned their living at top international clubs, but the national players have not worked as well as a team.
At the 2016 World Grand Prix, coach Aksentijevic left out experienced players like Maja Poljak, Senna Usic Jogunica, Ivana Milos, Katarina Barun Susnjar, Tamara Susic, Jelena Alajbeg and Niko Bozicevic. Instead, he brought in a handful of inexperienced young players. A new blend of experienced players, including setter Ana Grbac and captain Mia Jerkov, and younger high performers like Samanta Fabris was highly effective. After five wins in the Preliminary Round, the team prevailed over Peru and Kazakhstan in the Final Four. Croatia also qualified for the 2017 European Championship this autumn.

With 154 points to her name, Fabris was the second highest scorer in 2016 World Grand Prix Group 3, behind Ángela Leyva. The Peruvian claimed 32 points to propel her team to a 3-2 victory over Colombia after losing 3-1 to Croatia in the semifinals. In total, Leyva scored an incredible 203 points in eight matches, making her the top scorer in all three groups of the 2016 World Grand Prix. Peru is another country looking to rebuild its fortunes after World Championship and Olympic podium finishes in days gone by. They will play in Group 2 of the FIVB World Grand Prix in 2017 – as will Croatia and Kazakhstan, the other teams on the Group 3 podium this year.

Quick links:
2016 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix
2017 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix

Group 3 of the 2017 FIVB World Grand Prix features Australia, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Watch match replays from the 2016 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix on the FIVB's YouTube channel.

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