Haak Friday CEV

After scoring just five points in the first two sets, Haak delivered 28 in the last three (Photo: CEV)

Star opposite Isabelle Haak stepped up when Sweden needed her the most and led an incredible comeback against Mexico that pushed the Europeans to the semifinals of the FIVB Volleyball Challenger Cup 2023 in Laval, France, on Friday.

Their next opponents, Colombia also continue on the race for a spot in the Volleyball Nations League 2024 after they prevailed over Kenya in the fourth and last quarterfinal encounter, also held on Friday at the Espace Mayenne.

  • Watch Volleyball Challenger Cup 2023 live on VBTV

The semifinals of the Challenger Cup 2023 will both be held on Saturday, with hosts France and Ukraine, who succeeded in the first two quarterfinals, on Thursday, meeting at 17:00 local time (15:00 UTC), while Swedish and Colombians play later, at 20:30 local time (18:30 UTC). The medal matches will be played on Sunday.

Sweden were in a tough spot during their match with Mexico as they saw the North Americans win the first two sets and take control of the match. With Haak stepping up her game, the Europeans completed an unlikely comeback, winning 3-2 (20-25, 19-25, 25-20, 25-22, 15-5) and keeping their dream of playing in the VNL for the first time very much alive.

“This match was very similar to the one we recently played against Bosnia & Herzegovina in the Golden League,” said head coach Lauri Hakala. “Mexico were very strong on defense and extremely quick on offense and we got too frustrated that our game wasn’t flowing. But we stuck together and came back. We probably made it more difficult than it should have been, but we managed to win it.”

Haak, the Most Valuable Player and top scorer of the 2022 FIVB Women’s Club World Championship, recovered from a slow start and ended the match with an impressive 33 points (28 kills, four blocks, one ace) – 28 of which registered in the last three sets.

The Swedish also got 12 points from Haak’s sister, Anna, and fellow outside hitter Alexandra Lazic, while middle blocker and team captain Joanna Wasserfaller tallied ten.

Opposite and team captain Andrea Rangel was the leading Mexican scorer, with 22 points (18 kills, two aces, two blocks). Outside hitters Grecia Castro and Aimé Topete, who’s just 17, produced 15 and 13 points, respectively.

Volleyball Challenger Cup – Match Schedule and Results

On the second match of the day, Colombia topped Kenya 3-1 (25-22, 21-25, 25-23, 25-19) to advance to the Challenger Cup semifinals for the third time in three appearances - the South Americans were second in 2018 and fourth in 2022.

Outside hitters Ana Karina Olaya and Amanda Coneo were the main offensive weapons for Colombia, with each of them producing 17 points against the Africans. Opposite Dayana Segovia also had a solid performance, delivering 14 points, all in kills.

Kenyan heavy-armed opposite Sharon 'Chumba' Chepchumba led all scorers with 28 points (25 kills, two aces, one block). Middle blocker Belinda Barasa, with 12 points, and outside hitter Veronica Oluoch, with 11, also reached double digits in scoring in the Challenger Cup quarterfinal encounter.

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Volleyball Challenger Cup 2023
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