Maritza bets on team spirit to defend Bulgarian title [video]

“One for all and all for one” – the musketeer motto, which is also what VC Maritza Plovdiv has chosen for its club slogan, perfectly sums up the mood in the wake of the Bulgarian women’s championship series.  Team spirit is what the defending champions are hoping to give them the edge against archrival Levski Sofia in the best-of-five final playoff of the National Volleyball League Demax+, set to take off on Tuesday.

The first two games of the series are set to take place on April 19 and 20 at 17:30 local time at the Plovdiv University sports hall and the third one is scheduled for April 25 at 18:00 at the Hristo Botev volleyball hall in Sofia.  Should it come down to a fourth match, it will take place 24 hours later at the same venue.  As the regular season winner, Maritza will have the home court advantage if the playoff extends to a decisive fifth battle on April 28.

Maritza and Levski have met three times in head-to-head clashes so far this season and had to play four sets on each of those occasions.  The Plovdiv squad shaped up its 2015 golden treble with a 3-1 win in the Super Cup duel in early November at a neutral venue in Stara Zagora, but only twelve days later lost to Levski at home by the same score in their first NVL encounter.  However, Maritza triumphed again in the January rematch in Sofia with a four-set victory to eventually edge Levski in the final regular season standings.

Neither side has lost any other games throughout the domestic season, also including the first stage of the Kupa Bulgariya tournament and the quarterfinal and semifinal NVL playoffs.  Furthermore, Maritza did so without dropping a single set.

“I hope that technically we are well prepared to face Levski,” said Maritza’s head coach Ivan Petkov.  “At this point we should rather focus on our mental preparation before the first match.  Our girls are quite excited about the upcoming games and approach them with both the necessary self-confidence and the necessary respect for the opponent.  I think that what should give us the main advantage in this championship series are the teamwork and the team spirit.”

Middle blocker Viktoriya Grigorova also stressed on the team element in her statement.  “We are looking forward to the upcoming games in great spirits, especially now that our line-up is complete,” said one of Maritza’s biggest stars, a Bulgarian international and a former player of Levski, alluding to the return of libero Ivelina Monova, who skipped the semifinal games with CSKA Sofia due to health problems.  “This clash will always be special for me.  I have many friends on the team of Levski, but we play against each other and, once the match is over, we are friends again.”

To boost the team spirit, on the day of the first match Maritza even published an amateur video from a birthday party at a Plovdiv piano bar, showing the entire team singing together the symbolic Bulgarian evergreen “Kletva” (“Oath”), a soundtrack from a cult movie about friendship from the 1980s.  The clip was uploaded on the club’s brand new YouTube channel and Facebook page, created as part of Maritza’s growing social media presence.

“I expect a tough contest – the way a final should be,” commented the coach of Levski Radoslav Bakardzhiev.  “I hope that we reveal the best of our capabilities, as we come out on the court for every single match with the victory on our minds.”

“The atmosphere that the home fans in Plovdiv will create at the venue should not affect us negatively.  It should be rather motivating actually,” added Levski’s middle blocker Nasya Dimitrova.  “Of course, we feel pressure.  We fought hard all season to get where we are and these upcoming matches are very important.”

The whole championship series will be aired live on two of Bulgarian National Television’s channels with a live stream available to international audiences here.

Photo: Bonchuk Andonov