July 04, 2012 00:00 By Preechachan Wiriyanupappong
The Thai women's volleyball team are still on cloud nine after clinching a best-ever finish of fourth in the FIVB World Grand Prix, which ended on Sunday.
It was the first time that Thailand have emerged as the best team in Asia in any FIVB-sanctioned tournament.
Thailand ended their 2012 World Grand Prix campaign with a bang, stunning three-time Olympic champions Cuba for the fourth time in a row and ensuring that they finished at least fifth in the six-team tournament. In the last match of the day, Asian Games and Asian winners China lost in three sets to world No 1 and defending champions USA to finish fifth and catapult Thailand to fourth.
The USA, unbeaten throughout the whole tournament, underlined their supremacy in the one-month multi-stop event with a hat-trick of victories. The team coached by Hugh McCutcheon claimed US$200,000 (about Bt6.3 million) for their efforts.
Beijing Olympic champions Brazil finished second to take home US$100,000, with Turkey in third place (US$75,000).
Thailand’s fourth place was their best performance in their 10 years’ competing at the World Grand Prix, having made their debut at the annual tournament in 2002. Last year, the Thai squad finished sixth after battling through preliminaries for their first-ever appearance in the Finals.
This year, Thailand pocketed US$55,000 (Bt1.7 million) in prize money.
Winless Cuba came bottom of the standings to claim US$30,000.
Thailand enjoyed a double delight when Nootsara Tomkom won the Best Setter Award to collect US$5,000 (Bt157,000).
There was more good news for the Thai team with Japan’s V-League inviting Onuma Sittirak and Pleumjit Thinkaow to play in their professional league. Meanwhile the Italian Volleyball League is also seeking the services of Onuma and Malika Kanthong as strong receivers.
The spikers arrived back on Monday night to a rousing welcome from a large crowd of fans and reporters waiting at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
The players will gather again in a fortnight’s time to prepare for the AVC Asian Cup in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in September, the qualification tournament for next year’s World Grand Prix. In the meantime, most will compete for their own clubs in the Division A Volleyball Tournament, while four players – Malika Kanthong, Amporn Hyapha, Wanna Buakaew and Pornpun Kerdpraj – will join Thailand’s Saijo Denki team to play in Vietnam.