The Japanese women’s volleyball team made the biggest headline in the FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Championship 2018 so far when they defeated flawless Serbia in four sets. The Serbs laid waste to the opposition in their first seven games prior to the loss by winning 21 consecutive sets while giving opponents an average of 17.4 points per set. While a win is a win, Japan’s conquest ought to be marked with an asterisk because of a glaring fact.
Serbian opposite spiker Tijana Boskovic made a sick leave from the office due to an abdominal injury.
The tournament’s most efficient hitter also missed the game against the Netherlands which Serbia lost in straight sets. In the two games that The Boss was out, her team’s hitting efficiency dropped to 34% which is a significant decrease from their 49.4% average.
Boskovic’s absence also allowed teams to focus their defense on Brankia Mihajlovic who is playing splendidly despite undergoing knee surgery four months earlier. The 27-year-old Mihajlovic was connecting on only 35.3% of her attacks in the two losses as compared to 54.5% in their seven victories. These results highlight the value of the 2017 CEV Championship Most Valuable Player to Serbia’s chances of earning their first FIVB Women’s World Championship.
It was business as usual for Boskovic as she played largely in her team’s domination of the host squad. She showed the Japanese who’s in charge by connecting on 21 of 41 spike attempts and collecting three blocks. It’s not as if she was trying hard to score that many. Simply put, the Japanese got a rude awakening from The Boss’ attack precision. Her tally for this game improved her attack success rate to 55.5% in 182 total attempts.
The 21-year-old Boskovic gave confidence to her subordinates as Mihajlovic scored 18 in the rematch with Japan despite averaging just 11.5 points in their two defeats. Having Boskovic on the other side eased the scoring burden for the 2017 European Championship Best Outside Spiker and placed the pressure on the Japanese net defenders. The resistance proved to be futile as Serbia’s top two players combined for 38 of 48 total kill spikes or 12.66 per set. They did not even hide their intentions as setter Maja Ognjenovic targeted the two with straight-up tosses.
Boskovic’s presence also allowed Milena Rasic and Bianka Busa to concentrate on defensive duties. The duo played splendidly in their usual roles as they accounted for three kill blocks while limiting Japan’s attack points to 32. Rasic and Busa added six points apiece to the Serbian effort while setter Maja Ognjenovic scored two. Stefana Veljkovic and Jovana Stevanovic had one point each. Zoran Tercic’s players also gave Japan a dose of their own medicine by fielding 46 excellent digs while the floor defense-oriented Japanese had only 34.
Japan’s hopes of a semifinal berth means that they have to defeat Italy in straight sets and not give more than 60 total points in the three sets. But that is only half of the deal as The Bos and the Serbian team must defeat Italy too. Miyu Nagaoka led Coach Kumi Nakada’s troops with ten points while Sarina Koga had seven. Erika Araki, Ai Kurogo, and Mai Okumura all had six points apiece. Yuki Ishii scored three while Kanami Tashiro and Risa Shinnabe added a point each.
Boskovic and Team Serbia will now face an imposing Italian squad which has spikers who are equally good as blockers. Coach Davide Mazzanti will direct Cristina Chirichella, Anna Danesi, and Lucia Bosetti to mark Serbia’s top players. Therefore, the Serbs will have to be creative in offense if they don’t to add to Italy’s 105 blocks (so far). Their defense will also have their hands full by containing the spikes of Paola Ogechi Egonu and Miryam Sylla who have combined for 246 attack points.