Tough matches give Maritza two-victory lead

Maritza Plovdiv is only one win away from defending its championship title in the Bulgarian women’s National Volleyball League Demax+!  The reigning queens from the country’s second largest city emerged victorious from two tough matches against Levski Sofia to gain a two-victory lead in the best-of-five gold medal series.

The team of Maritza faced a serious challenge to its winning streak that had extended for 44 consecutive sets with the last time the squad dropped a set dating back to January 25 during a 3-1 away victory at Levski Sofia.

It was again the Blues from Bulgaria’s capital that ended that streak at 46 by winning the third set of the first encounter of the NVL championship series, but it was not enough to upset Maritza.  Enthusiastically supported by the local fans at the Plovdiv University sports hall, coach Ivan Petkov’s girls did not allow a surprise and managed a four-set win against the opponent.  They secured a 3-1 (25-22, 25-19, 25-27, 25-14)* victory and gave the team’s assistant coach Ivan Radichev the perfect gift for his 32nd birthday.

“It was really the best present!” Radichev confirmed.  “It could have been 3:0, but I am still happy.  The victory is what counts at this stage.  We will celebrate, but not before our job is done, because we need two more wins.”

The second win came a day later and this time it was even more difficult.  Maritza had to come back from behind twice, but coach Petkov’s timely substitutions proved fruitful.  The home side persevered through a dramatic five-setter to claim a 3-2 (23-25, 26-24, 19-25, 25-15, 15-11)* victory and please the ecstatic crowd with a two-win lead before the series moves to Sofia.

Maritza’s most experienced player Radosveta Teneva demonstrated her high class and spear-headed the squad on the way to both victories.  She contributed 21 points, outscored only by Levski’s Miroslava Paskova with 35.  On day 2 she was the overall best scorer of the match with 23 points on her tally, including four of Maritza’s five in a row, which led to 15-11 in the final set.

“The high expectations put us under a lot of pressure and it is quite normal to make so many mistakes in these crucial finals,” commented Ivan Petkov.  “But we have a great team and, thanks to everybody, including those who came in as subs, we managed to overcome the strong opposition.  The girls showed a strong character and I hail them for their spirit.  However, the toughest is yet to come…”

The Plovdiv squad, whose victory streak across all official competitions has now been extended to 17 matches in a row, needs one more win in order to celebrate the second championship title in the history of the club.  The earliest this could happen is on Monday, April 25, when Levski entertains Maritza at Sofia’s Hristo Botev volleyball hall for the third game of the playoff, starting at 18:00 local time.

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

*Statistics: Vladimir Karakashkov, volleyballbg.com