Russia sent a strong message on their opening match at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Girls’ U18 World Championship in Durango, Mexico, as the European giants defeated Slovakia in straight sets in the opening match of Pool D at the Auditorio del Pueblo on Monday.

On the second match of the pool, Argentina had a remarkable comeback to down Bulgaria 3-1. Russians and Bulgarians play each other on Tuesday while the Argentineans star in a South American Derby with Brazil, which will make its debut in the tournament.

Russia’s victory was built upon the team’s impressive blocking performance. The reigning European champions scored 13 points with blocks against just two of the Slovakians. On the other stats, there was a considerable Russian advantage in kills (37-28) and a slight Slovakian superiority in aces (4-3).

Russia’s top performer in the match was middle blocker Natalia Suvorova, who tallied 14 points (eight kills and six blocks). The team also got good production from opposite Oksana Shvydkaia and outside hitter Alina Popova, who produced ten points each. On the Slovakian side, outside hitter Deana Valentova registered ten points.

“The first match of a tournament is always challenging,” reflected Russia’s head coach Alexander Karikov. “The mental side is really important as players need to get in competition rhythm and really get that competitive spirit going. Considering it all, the team did a great job and I’m really satisfied.”

Argentina used their superior ball control skills to overcome Bulgaria’s height advantage and easily win the statistical duel, prevailing by wide margins in kills (44-26) and aces (9-1) and tie in blocks (five to each).

Perez avoids the tall Bulgarian block

Perez avoids the tall Bulgarian block

Outside hitter Nicole Perez led the South Americans’ efforts in the evening, tallying 19 points (17 kills, two aces) to top all scorers. Opposite Valentina Vaulet and middle blocker Avril Garcia produced ten each while Bulgaria’s most prolific player was opposite Iva Dudova, also with ten points.

“It was the first time we played together as a team and the truth is we prepared for three years for this moment,” Perez said after the match. “To start this journey with a win, it means a lot for us as a team and also individually. We were by each other’s side the entire time and that made the difference in the most difficult moments.”