Serbia reaches first-ever gold medal match

Tijana Boskovic is not the happiest person in the Serbian women’s volleyball team after their victory over the Netherlands. It’s not even Brankica Mihajlovic. That distinction goes to wing spiker Bianka Busa especially with how the Dutch feasted on her during service.

Netherlands coach Jamie Morrison identified Busa as Serbia’s weak link in first ball reception. Her struggles were well-defined that there’s no secret who the Dutch were targeting on their serves. The ladies in orange rode this strategy until they won the second set, 28-26. Busa’s miscues gave the Netherlands a 7-4 edge in total service aces and added to Serbia’s 28 errors.

Other than that, it was Serbia all the way. Their defensive strategy is simple: have middle blocker Milena Rasic spy on Lonneke Sloetjes’ whereabouts. The tactic can be considered a failure for Sloetjes still registered 23 points. But they did enough to contain their opponents including the block on Sloetjes to win the first set, 25-22.

First set – The Boss goes to work

Boskovic scored eight of her game-high 29 points in the first set alone. Serbia did not hide their intentions in offense early on but they added a potent wrinkle to it. Setter Maja Ognjenovic did not overwork The Boss. Rather, she also activated Mihajlovic from the opposite wing to confuse the Dutch net defenders. That strategy did not work immediately as the Dutch had a 16-15 edge in attack points. But it did eliminate their capability to concentrate their defense on one side.

As a result, the Netherlands had no kill blocks in the first while Serbia had three. That proved to be the difference because the Serbs had one less error (5-6) and service aces are even at one. The squad of Coach Zoran Terzic was poised to wreak havoc from that point. But the Dutch found the antidote.

Second set – The Dutch are on target

The Serbians built a 6-2 lead early in the set which prompted Morrison to press for time. That’s when they started to place a crosshair on Busa regardless on who’s serving. The plan worked as they gathered four aces and forced the Serbs to commit seven errors.

That 11-point swing did just enough to steal the set away from Serbia, 28-26, while keeping Busa’s morale low. Terzic even brought in Tijana Malesevic for Busa late in the set to stabilize the reception but to no avail. It also caused the Serbians to hurry their spikes in hopes of rotating Busa out of the back line to spell her from trouble.

Third set – Serbian domination

The Netherlands were poised to take the third set by leading the tally 8-5 going into the first technical timeout. They were creative in allowing Sloetjes to attack from different zones to confound the Serbian defense. This allowed her to score seven points in the set while drawing the defense’s attention to let Anne Buijs to convert some attacks. Busa’s passing woes continued early on as well.

But Serbia’s plan to activate Boskovic and Mihajlovic clicked. The two spikers kept on connecting regardless of whether Ognjenovic fed them with good or bad sets. That resulted to a 16-10 advantage in attack points while Boskovic scored nine points in the set alone. They have also neutralized Busa’s struggles by letting Mihajlovic and libero Silvija Popovic help her in reception. Serbia ended the set with a 10-3 run from the second technical timeout to move one set closer to a finals berth, 25-19.

Fourth set – Victory served for the Serbs

Serbia dominated early by racing to an 8-3 lead courtesy of Boskovic, Mihajlovic, and Rasic. But the Netherlands fought back to make the count 12-11 thanks to Sloetje’s attacks and Busa’s ongoing passing struggles. The Dutch gave her a hard time fielding serves or passing the ball that the Serbs got out of sync. Boskovic and Mihajlovic still got to attack but not at the optimal height and power.

Then a pivotal call from first referee Patricia Rolf turned the tide for Serbia. The Netherlands claimed that libero Kirsten Knip made a successful pancake save off a Mihajlovic attack. Their claim was overturned to a floor touch which tied the score at 12. Led by Mihajlovic, Serbia took advantage of the deflated Netherlands players to make the count 18-14.

The game was not over though as the Netherlands banked on pipe attacks and blocking to level the game at 19. A cat-and-mouse ensued from there as Serbia raced to 21 and 23 points first only to be tied by the Dutch in both instances. But Mihajlovic sealed the set and the match with two spikes. Because Boskovic is also a threat on the other side, the blockers came late to Mihajlovic and she was able to capitalize by shooting the gap.

Team stats and leading scorers

Serbia’s 11-4 block advantage neutralized their 28-20 disadvantage in errors. They really separated themselves though in attack points with 66 as compared to the Netherlands’ 53. A team often wins if two players score 20 or more points and this game is no different. The Boss made 29 points on 83 attempts for a 35% success rate while “The Supervisor” Mihajlovic got 23 on 69 ties for 33%. Rasic also scored in double digits with 12. Sloetjes led the Netherlands with 23 while Buijs contributed 15. Maret Balkestein-Grothues comes in at third with eight points.