LONDON – Making her 235th appearance for the Russian national team, Ekaterina Gamova was the queen of the court — make that Earls Court — on Friday.
The 202-cm Gamova recorded a match-best 29 points to lead Russia to a four-set, 1-hour, 45-minute match against Japan in their Pool A match in the women’s volleyball competition.
Russia improved to 4-0 in the 12-nation tournament.
Japan slipped to 2-2 after picking up wins over Algeria (on July 28) and the Dominican Republic (on Wednesday). Italy handed Japan a four-set loss on Monday.
Citing “excitement and emotions of the game” as the reason volleyball is her favorite sport, Gamova was a forceful presence at the net, totaling five blocks, one fewer than Japan had as a team.
Russia edged Japan 27-25 in the first set and 25-17 in the second. Japan rallied back, 25-20 in the third, but Russia clinched the win with a 25-19 victory in the fourth set.
“It was our most difficult game so far,” Russia outside spiker Nataliya Goncharova said. “Japan are very good. We needed to put maximum power into all of our play.”
The opening set demonstrated that wing spiker Saori Sakoda and Gamova were ready to be leaders on the afternoon. Sakoda matched Gamova’s point total (nine) in the hard-fought opener, which was tied at 23-23 before Russia found a way to prevail.
Russia, which tied Japan for fifth place at the Beijing Olympics, pulled ahead 2-0 with a clinical victory in the second set that lasted 24 minutes.
Goncharova and Gamova were particularly effective in the set, with Goncharova’s attack setting the victorious pace for the team.
Japan regrouped in the third set, with Sakoda (23 overall points), standout attacker Saori Kimura (tied for the team-high total in points with 23) and veteran setter Yoshie Takeshita leading the comeback, and the set-clincher coming on a Kaori Inoue block.
“At the beginning of the first two sets we were behind Russia,” Takeshita said. “We tried to chase them but we lost. However, in the third set we led at the beginning and kept the advantage. At last we won.”
How did Russia respond?
The reigning world champion regained its rhythm after the third set setback, and closed out the match with a well-balanced attack — serving, spiking, blocking, passing, and solid overall communication among the sixth players on the court.
“Russia’s team showed very good strength to win the final point,” Takeshita conceded. “When we made errors, they took the opportunity to score.”
Russia’s size and power at the net delivered a victory for coach Serguey Ovchinnikov. Russia outblocked Japan 15-6, with Goncharova (26 points) and Maria Borisenko notching two apiece. Evgenia Estes, armed with a team-best 77 kph serve, also amassed 11 points.
Additionally, Russia attempted 81 blocks to Japan’s 36.
“We really have to concentrate to get the points,” Sakoda lamented, reacting to her team’s defeat. “We made a few errors and I really need to know the court better to make the points count.”
“We need to improve coordination within the team, watch the ball and where it comes from,” the Kagoshima Prefecture native added.
On Sunday, Russia returns to action against (Italy 4-0) while Japan meets Great Britain, which is 1-3 in preliminary play, the same record as the Group A foe Dominican Republic. Algeria sits at the bottom of Group A at 0-4.
“There is only one match left (in the preliminary round,” Sakoda said, “and we are absolutely going to try our best. Of course, we came to get the medal . . . “