France triumphed in the women’s Volleyball Challenger Cup 2023 and earned the right to play in the Volleyball Nations League next year, right before hosting the Olympic Games in Paris. They defeated Sweden in four sets in the crucial final in Laval on Sunday to top the podium at their second appearance in the competition.

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Outplaying the Swedes on all scoring counts, but most impressively in serving with nine aces against one, the tournament hosts produced a 3-1 (25-21, 25-16, 22-25, 25-15) victory. Registering a 62% success rate in attack, outside hitter and captain Helena Cazaute delivered a match-high 25 points, including two aces. Opposite Lucille Gicquel added another 23 points (two aces, two blocks) towards the victory. France’s Amelie Rotar also reached the double digits with 11. On Sweden’s side, Isabelle Haak led the scorers with 18 points, while her older sister Anna Haak and Alexandra Lazic added 13 points each.


Helena Cazaute spikes past the Swedish block

Inspired by the fantastic support from the stands and led by Lucille Gicquel in attack and middle Christina Bauer in blocking, France took control on the court and closed the first set at 25-21 on a long hit by Swedish star opposite Isabelle Haak. Sweden took the first two points of set two, but France reacted swiftly to step in front and never looked back. Spearheaded by Helena Cazaute, they completely dominated the rest of the set. She personally killed the last three points to bring the score from 22-16 to 25-16.

The home side stormed the third set on a 4-0 run, seemingly well on their way to a straight-set victory. However, that’s not what the Haak sisters and their teammates had in mind. Isabelle and Anna led the Swedish offence, while their squad also capitalized on abundant French mistakes, not only to catch up (at 15-15), but also to take over and push forward to a 25-22 close, with Alexandra Lazic’s off-the-block hit registering the winning point. Five unanswered aces by France gave the team the advantage they needed to regain control during set four. The home team broke away, opened up a wide gap and took the set by an emphatic 25-15, with Cazaute hammering the match winner with a powerful pipe shot.

“This is the first time in the history of French women's volleyball that we have reached such a level. As another Rousseau, much more famous than me, said, you have to do what you don't know how to do to learn how to do it. We will have to learn to play 10 or 12 games in 25 days, we will have to learn from our victories and our defeats,” France’s head coach Emile Rousseaux said. “You don't just have to see today's match. You have to see all three matches of the week. By being clean in the first two games, by winning 3-0, we didn't spend too much energy, which was not the case for Sweden. We see it with Isabelle Haak, who was great yesterday, but who lacked energy today. We did what had to be done. There was a bit of fatigue too, but in the end we did well.”

Women's Challenger Cup 2023 bronze medallists Colombia

Women's Challenger Cup 2023 bronze medallists Colombia

Earlier on Sunday, Colombia claimed a 3-1 (25-23, 12-25, 26-24, 25-22) victory over Ukraine in the match for the third place to earn the bronze, their second medal in the history of the competition, after the silver they took at the inaugural edition in 2018.

While the two teams drew level on aces and kill blocks, Ukraine substantially outscored Colombia in attack, but also committed way more unforced errors, which cost them the match. Their outside hitter Oleksandra Milenko was the best scorer of the game with 23 points, including two blocks. Her Colombian counterpart Amanda Coneo Cardona was the most productive player on the winners’ side with 21 points, including an ace and a block.