Nepali women spikers storm into final after seeing off Sri LankaThe home team take on defending champions India in the gold medal match on Tuesday.
Nepali women’s volleyball team entered the South Asian Games final for the first time after quelling the challenge of Sri Lanka in straight sets at the Dashrath Stadium Covered Hall on Saturday.
The home team beat Sri Lanka 25-14, 25-18, 25-21 to set up a summit clash with India on Tuesday. The semi-final victory over the island nation means Nepal have ensured themselves a silver medal—their first at the Games. Prior to this, Nepali women spikers had won bronze medals on three occasions in 1999, 2006 and 2016.
An elated Nepal team captain Aruna Shahi dedicated the team’s win to the vociferous home crowd. “The crowd was magnificent, which acted as the seventh player in the match,” she said after the win. “Sri Lanka actually played better than they did in their previous matches at the league stage. But we played better tonight.”
And Shahi now sets her sights on the final against India. “When we lost to India in the group stage, we were under pressure. But now that we are in the final at home, with the crowd cheering us on, we can only believe!”
With Saturday’s win, Nepali women spikers avenged their defeats in 2010 semi-final and 2016 league stage at the Games against the Sri Lankans. Nepal’s only previous success against Sri Lanka was a hard-fought five-set win at the Invitation Women’s Volleyball Championship five years ago.
“Today’s result was an outcome of the hard work we have put in for the past four months,” Nepal coach Jagadish Bhatta said. “We have been constantly working on team-building with a long term vision. Nepal is a very young side with an average age of only 23. We were under fire for selecting this team. But these are promising signs.”
“Our stress on the fitness, with adequate training and exposure against better sides overseas, has been vindicated,” Bhatta added. “We were prepared for Sri Lanka. We had done our homework and closely evaluated their games.”
Bhatta is now planning something bigger. “We are trying to find a few taller players for the team. If we have a couple of players above 6 feet, I believe we will be a force in Asia,” he said.
Bhatta said the team had already put their league defeat to India behind them. “Our graph is increasing and we will work on the micro-mistakes that we made in the previous match [against India],” he continued. “We will have to emphasise on the placement of our players, and improve on the services and blockings. Our spikes have to be fast.”
Having won the first set 25-14, Nepal raced to 13-4 lead in the second. A couple of errors gave Sri Lanka an opportunity to make a brief comeback as they came within three points of Nepal at 16-13. But Nepal regained their composure to wrap it 25-18.
An intense team talk saw Sri Lanka take a lead for the first time in the match as they went 5-2 up. But Nepal, going for a kill, rallied back to level the scores at 11-11. Despite throwing everything into the game Sri Lanka failed to unnerve the home team who went on to seal the third set 25-21 to book their place in the final.