TEAMS ALL SET FOR WOMEN’S VNL FINALS CLASH IN NANJING

TEAMS ALL SET FOR WOMEN’S VNL FINALS CLASH IN NANJING

Nanjing, China, July 2, 2019 – After five weeks of competition and a profusion of the best volleyball talents and entertainment, the final stage of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League women’s tournament will take place in Nanjing from July 3 to 7.

Six teams, namely hosts China, defending champions United States, Italy, Brazil, Turkey and Poland will vie for the second VNL title.

The USA team are going for another gold medal run at the VNL and their path runs through tough opponents Poland and Brazil in Pool B. They will need to win a match or two to secure a semifinal berth.

USA defeated Poland in Jiangmen, while they have yet to redeem their four-set home loss to Brazil in the third week of the preliminary round.

The North American squad has demonstrated great depth in their roster, with coach Karch Kiraly giving his younger players an opportunity to see action and fielding in different starting combinations in each match.

“This is year No. 2 for the VNL and here comes great teams and great competition,” Kiraly said. “Our goal is to always learn, improve and compete. We are excited to get that chance here with these teams.”

Members from last year’s winning roster are back, led by captain Jordan Larson, 2018 VNL MVP Michell Bartsch-Hackley, Tetori Dixon, Kelsey Robinson and Andrea Drews.

“We are excited to be here and compete. We are looking forward to play well in the first two matches in order to reach the semifinals.”

This year, Drews spearheaded USA’s scoring together with middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu and many other young talents.

Their final round opening match rivals Poland possess a powerful offensive weapon in Malwina Smarzek, who has already scored 365 points in the tournament, beating her personal best of 361 points last year. Smarzek obviously has a chance to extend her scoring reign at the VNL.

Magdalena Stysiak also complemented Smarzek’s offence with a great contribution from position two, while captain Agnieszka Kakolewska led her team with great net defence.

“We are glad we have reached our goal to make it to the Final Six. We will do our best to compete against the best teams,” Kakolewska said.

Poland’s biggest triumph in the preliminary round was their tie-break win against Brazil and they will have another opportunity to face the South American team in the final round.

Brazil advanced to the final round with an 11-4 record, led by the offence-minded Gabriela Guimaraes and the defence-oriented Ana Beatriz Correa.

With many fresh talents in the line-up, coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes has delivered a strong-willed team that has kept them at a strong pace throughout the tournament.

“Part of our goal is to improve, learn and enjoy the city,” Ze Roberto said. “We have a young team this time so we have to let them improve and learn more here. We are happy to be in Nanjing again and we hope to do our best.”

In Pool A, hosts China remain a favourite after completing the 15-match preliminary round with 12 victories. They have had an excellent run in the tournament, losing only one match on their home court and losing their first two outside China.

“We are going to hope to show our best against strong opponents,” coach An Jiajie said. “We have had injuries in the team during the course of the tournament, but we will do our best representing China’s great spirit.”

Liu Xiatong and Gong Xiangyu are expected to step up together with the hard-hitting Liu Yanhan to spearhead the Chinese offence and extend their good run this year.

“We want to thank all our supporters for being with us all the way,” China captain Liu Xiaotong said. “We are excited to be back here in Nanjing, competing against the best teams in the world.”

The Chinese will compete against Italy and Turkey who both finished the preliminary round with equal 11-4 win-loss cards.

Italy made their way to the Final Six focusing on improving their performances. After missing the cut for the 2018 VNL Final Six and finishing second at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship, they have already made a productive start and are ready to take on their opponents in the pool.

“It’s important for us to improve this season,” Italy coach Davide Mazzanti said. “We’ve played China many times and we know their capabilities very well – from their U18 team to the senior team.”

Italy are backed by a talented roster led by their top scorer Indre Sorokaite, Paola Egonu and young Elena Pietrini.

Turkey, mentored by coach Giovanni Guidetti, recognise the size of the task ahead of them if they are to upgrade on their runners-up finish last year. They are focused on performing well and will rely on leading trio Ebrar Karakurt, Zehra Gunes and Cansu Ozbay.

“At this moment of the season, our main opponents are ourselves,” Guidetti said. “We just want to focus on our game first then think about our opponents later.

“Each season is different. We have great memories of Nanjing last year and we are glad that we have that opportunity to be here again. However, it gets tougher and tougher every year.”

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