MBH SHINES BRIGHTLY AND TEAM USA BOOK A DATE WITH VNL FINALS DESTINY
Nanjing, China, June 30, 2018 – Michelle Bartsch-Hackley lifted Team USA into the FIVB Volleyball Nations League final through sheer weight of numbers on Saturday, her match-leading 24 points proving the difference in her side’s 3-1 (25-23, 25-20, 18-25, 25-18) victory over China.
The star wing spiker has been a force of nature as these inaugural VNL finals have played out, leading her team to a 3-0 run and top-scoring in each victory so far. On Saturday her points came from 22 kills and two big stuffs and she was a huge influence all match.
But the American talent pool runs deep and the reigning world champions were also lifted at the Olympics Sports Centre by the veteran middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo, with 14 points, and opposite spiker Kelly Murphy with 13 points. Overall the Americans picked up 66 points in total from kills, to China’s 55, as they fine-tuned their attack in readiness for Sunday’s final, where they’ll now face Turkey.
The Chinese were led – as always – by their captain and star Zhu Ting whose 18 points came from 18 kills.
China had lost to Brazil 3-0 the night before but their 3-1 win over the Netherlands on Wednesday proved enough for them to qualify for the semi-finals given the Dutch finished pool play winless.
There was hope for the local fans in the third set when China coach Lang Ping subbed 18-year-old opposite spiker Li Yingying on in an effort to turn her side’s fortunes around. She helped lift China to 25-18 in that stanza and it seemed – for a moment at least – to change the course of the match but the Americans soon regrouped, and Bartsch-Hackley took charge once again. The teenage Chinese star still finished with an incredible 14 points – from 12 kills and two aces – and confirmed again the fact that she has enormous future at the top of the game.
Sunday’s first-ever VNL final promises plenty, given the fact that Turkey were one of only two teams to beat the Americans during preliminary round play (3-2 way back on May 16) – and given their current run of form.
The USA might have overrun Turkey 3-0 this past Wednesday in the opening VNL finals exchange – Bartsch-Hackley leading the way with 18 points – but that loss seemed to spark the Turks into action, as shown on Thursday when they dispensed with Serbia 3-2, and then again earlier on Saturday with their stunning 3-0 semi-final win over Brazil.
Sunday’s action begins with the third-fourth place play-off between Brazil and China at 3pm local time, before the main event, with the whistle set to sound as the USA and Turkey fight for the VNL title at 7pm local time.
USA coach Karch Kiraly said “I am really proud of our team. All 14 of our players did a nice job in their various roles. We executed the game plan well. We are very excited to play Turkey in the final. We have had two very fierce battles with them, and tomorrow should be another one.”
USA captain Jordan Larson said “We knew it was going to be a tough environment to play in. This is a great crowd here in China, but we came out strong. I thought our team did a nice job of riding off the wave of emotion. I am just really proud that the team won today. I am excited to compete in the final.”
China coach Lang Ping said “I think every player fought in this match. Many players had the opportunity to get into the court for practice. It is such a pity for us to lose the first set. There are some improvements on the combination of defense and block. This is what we can improve on in tomorrow’s match.”
China captain Zhu Ting said “I think in this match, I was not able to play at my best level, especially in attack.”
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