The Nation Former two-time Asian champions Thailand fought hard against hefty Poland to go down in hard-fought four-setter 17-25 25-22 23-25 25-27 in their opening Pool B match at the Montreux Volley Masters in Montreux, Switzerland on Tuesday.
Malwina Smarzek and Agnieszka Kakolewska were the catalysts for Poland, hitting a combined 47 points including eight blocks to surprise the Thais on their return to Montreux.
Perhaps weighed down by expectation after last year, and once more playing before a sizeable support, Thailand, which finished runners-up last year, were sluggish as the Poles started the brighter in the first set and set about capitalising on the Thais’ slow start.
Smarzek and Kakolewska were influential with their show of spikes and blocking, their 13 combined first set points keeping the Thais at arm’s length to see out the set 25-17 for the lead.
Poland’s momentum continued into the second set as they built an early lead, but the Thais recovered their composure and began to gain a foothold in the match.
They kept in touch with Poland far more effectively despite Smarzek’s troubling presence, but Pimpichaya Kokram fired five points in an impressive set to help haul Thailand level at 13-13 with a key rally winning point before Hattaya Bamrungsuk’s block put them ahead for the first time.
The crowd with them and sensing a route back into the game, Thailand rallied with two blocks from Pimpichaya and Hattaya, before Pleumjit Thinkaow clinched a pulsating set 25-22 to restore parity.
The third started evenly, yet the Thais sought to stamp their authority on the match, Chatchu-On Moksri’s spike giving them a seemingly unassailable 13-8 lead. But Poland stayed in touch, Natalia Medrzyk levelling at 16-16 before Zuzanna Efimienko’s two points put them 18-16 ahead.
The set was a tempestuous battle with some enthralling rallies, and again Thailand responded, Chatchu-On striking back to help take Thailand 21-18 ahead.
Poland responded to restore parity, before Chatchu-On’s delicate touch over the net put Thailand 23-22 up. Poland weren’t done though, and after securing a levelling point, Smarzek’s block incredibly put them at set point in a round dominated by the Thais.
An error of Wilavan Apinyapong from a strong serve remarkably handed the Poles the set 25-23 and a 2-1 lead when it seemed for all the world that it was in the Thais’ grasp.
Poland then looked for the kill and built a strong lead in the fourth set, but Thailand refused to back down, and after a Pimpichaya’s spike hauled them level at 16-16, a block from Hattaya Bamrungsuk and a crucial rally point saw Thailand go 18-16 ahead and threaten to take the game to five sets.
Efimienko’s delicate touch over the net and a Pleumjit’s block flying out of bounds hauled Poland level, before Medrzyk’s two points looked to have Poland in a winning position.
Thailand struck back again though, hitting three points, before going to set point twice, the second with the score at 25-24. But Kakolewska’s spike pulled the set from the fire, and Joanna Wolosz’s block clinched the win for Poland.
It was hard-earned and nervy, but Poland have points on the board in Pool B, whilst Thailand will look to bounce back from a somewhat surprising opening defeat against the Germans on Wednesday.