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07/02/2014 17:00
Russia’s rising star Ekaterina Pankova: “We want to win the Challenge Cup”
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Moscow, Russia, February 7, 2014. The captain of the Russian national team and best setter of the 2013 CEV Volleyball European Championship, Ekaterina Pankova shares in this interview the current situation in her club, Zarechie ODINTSOVO, her expectations for the coming international season and the role of a real volleyball family in her life and career.

Your team has just destroyed SLIEDRECHT Sport (25-15, 25-11, and 25-12) in the first round of the CEV Volleyball Challenge Cup 1/4 finals. Was that because of your rivals’ weakness or because of some phenomenal performance by Zarechie ODINTSOVO?
“We had a very short time for practicing after the end of the Cup of Russia Final Six last week. And actually we spent a lot of energy during that tournament. So we expected a much tougher game. But it seems to me that SLIEDRECHT Sport was a little bit unprepared for this match. Also as far as I know our opponent has a very different arena there in Sliedrecht with a celling whose height stands below 7 meters. And in Volleyball that makes quite a difference. They were obviously feeling uncomfortable in the large hall we have here in Odintsovo. I expect that we will have a much more difficult game in the Netherlands next week. It’s great that we managed to win quickly enough, because I’m not sure that we had enough stamina to play a long match.”

What does the CEV Challenge Cup mean for you in general?

“Well, we understand that this is not the greatest European competition. But still Zarechie ODINTSOVO has never won that trophy. So if we for some reasons didn’t have the opportunity to play in the CEV Champions League or the CEV Cup this year, why shouldn’t we try to fight for it? At least we are aiming at that.”

How would you estimate your performance in the Cup of Russia? Your team reached the semifinals and that was quite a surprise…
“To tell the truth I really don’t know what one should expect from us this year. On one hand we had a very difficult match against Uralochka EKATERINBURG and edged past only in the fifth set though they didn’t bring their strongest line-up in Krasnodar, where the Final Six was held. On the other hand, we were quite close to beat Dinamo MOSCOW in the semifinal (2:3) and only a few mistakes in the third set didn’t let us bring it home. We have very young girls in the starting line-up now. For example Olga Malova is just 18. Now and then they just don’t know what to do with all their physical abilities and technical skills. But still it was a great experience, we have to think it over and move on.”

It’s not a secret that Zarechie ODINTSOVO is currently not going through the greatest period of its history. The club also has financial problems. In this situation what helps you stick together and show good results?
“I think we should say special thanks to our coach and my father Vadim Pankov. It was his efforts and ability to find some funds that let us survive this year. And also we have very determined girls who agreed to play for free and wait for better times although all of them had good proposals from other clubs. But Zarechie is our common home, and we want to stay here. This club has a great history and we don’t want it to finish sadly. As for me I also have an option to move to some other clubs who have more money but I’ll do that only if the situation here won’t change at the end of this season.”

There is not much time left till the start of another international season. Did you have any contacts with the head coach of the national team Yury Marichev?

“Yes we met once in Kazan where our team and his players of Dinamo MOSCOW had games of the Russian Championship at the same time. But I can’t say that we had any serious talk. Actually during the club season not Marichev himself but his assistants are following our games and keep in touch with us. From my side I just try to work hard and strengthen our mutual understanding with Nataliya Malykh, something that could be useful for the national team. We are really willing to help the Russian national team this coming season.”

Are you afraid of the competition for a place in the starting line-up with Evgenia Startseva who has now fully recovered after undergoing a surgery?
“Not that I’m afraid, that’s not the right word. Evgenia is a really experienced setter. But, you know, choosing a first setter is not about your previous titles and merits. It’s all about the daily work. So I don’t think that this subject is worth discussing before the start of the national team’s preparations. The coach will keep an eye on both of us and decide who deserves to play.”

Did you travel to the 2013 CEV European Championship as second setter?
“Actually yes. It was obvious that it was Anna Matienko who was going to be included in the starting six. But the worst thing happened and Anya broke her finger right in the first game. And so I had to play the whole tournament through. I knew that it was my decisions that would determine our success or failure. I knew also that any fault or injury would undermine our high expectations. But the girls supported me and showed their trust in me till the very end. We were just incredibly motivated and that helped me stand the challenge.”

What does your volleyball family mean for you?
“Everything. My mom – Marina Nikulina, an Olympic champion in 1988 – was always an idol, a cult figure for me. I’m always dreaming of making someone similar of myself. My dad has also made a lot for me supporting me in the most significant moments of my career. You know when a father helps his daughter, it always seems shady for the people and all that rumors… But he didn’t listen to that, just supported me with all his heart.”

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