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Lyubov Shashkova-Sokolova-Kilic (RUS)
The most complete Russian player Karpol ever produced
This incredible new player has become the most complete creation to emerge from Karpol's factory in Yekaterinburg. He has created a player that can hit outside as well as she can hit quick middles, not to mention the slides and medium balls that she hits on the right side, where she usually playsopposite the setter. Lyubov can also jump serve extremely well, and her blocking is very solid, helped greatly by her height. But her defence leaves nothing to be desired, as this girl can pass very well, and she picks up her share of digs (though in general that's not a department any of the Russians excel in). Still, Lyubov has shown the world very quickly that she represents a new brand of what aRussian player can be, one that hopefully will be reproduced more often in the future.
Before Lyubov (whose name means "love" in Russian), the most complete player was Valentina Ogienko, one of the best players the Soviet Union/Russia ever produced. But even though Valentina was a versatile attacker, she was only a versatile middle attacker. Lyubov can hit from anywhere, including back row;Valentina didn't hit anywhere other than middle or the quick slide behind the setter. And while defence is strong in both players, Lyubov has better setting skills and is a better server than Valentina. I think the arrival of Lyubov for the Russian team couldn't have been better timed. After Irina Parkhomchuk left the Soviet Union and moved to Croatia, the trend in Russia's game has been towards a moreconservative, slow, and power-based game, much like Cuba but with half the excitement. No smiles, no thrill, just pounding kills that achieve their purpose but with no real delight (unless poundings are what you enjoy to watch). The flare of Parkhomchuk was sorely missing, and the way she transmitted confidence and even a tint of malice into her teammates has been absent from Russian volleyball (ormaybe it's our final realisation
that they aren't an Evil Empire anymore!). Throughout the early '90s, Karpol used this same formula to stay within the top three world volleyball powers, but when he lost the bronze medal to Brazil at the Atlanta Olympics, he realised he needed to do something slightly different.
He changed setters, replacing experienced Marina Nikulina and beautiful TatyanaGrachova with young but talented Yelena Vassilievskaja. He kept his outside hitters, Godina and Artamonova, Yelizaveta Tischenko at middle and added Anastasia Belikova (though this middle position is constantly changing), and last but not least, he put Lyubov Sokolova (later to add Chachkova to her surname, I suppose because she got married) opposite the setter. The first test for this new team cameat the '98 Grand Prix, but they lost to Brazil in straight sets, though showing some level of team coherence that just needed time to break through. That moment came at the '98 World Championships in Japan, where they blanked the Brazilians 3-0 and since then have kept their edge against the South Americans. Part of the reason for Russia's success is precisely, the addition of Lyubov to the lineup.She contributes to the team in the same way that Taismary Agüero does to the Cuban team. Though Lyubov isn't a setter, she shifts her team's overall performance a notch or two towards a more balanced play, for Lyubov is not only brute force, she also thinks before tooling, dinking, and pushes Vassilievskaja to use her in more combination plays than have been seen in a long time (probably sinceIrina Smirnova's day). Soon, people began to discern a quiet but powerful efficiency in Lyubov's scoring abilities.
At the '99 Grand Prix, she led her team to the final against Brazil, and beat them once again in straight sets. Lyubov was second only to Brazil's Virna Dias in scoring, proving that her blocks, attacks, and service aces were combining well. Then at the '99 World Cup, she again...
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