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Bartsch-Hackley makes all the difference as USA rally and over-run Turkey

 
Nanjing, China, June 27, 2018 - Team USA brushed off an early scare - and rallied behind wing spiker Michelle Bartsch-Hackley's 21 points - to open their 2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League finals campaign with a nervy but ultimately dominant  3-2 (17-25, 21-25, 25-21, 25-15, 15-11) win over Turkey.

After her team had lost the first two sets - and she had sat on the bench for the most part, itching to be thrown into the fray - Bartsch-Hackley took the match by the scruff of the neck, taking control over the last three sets and ending up with 19 kills from 41 attempts. There was also a block and an ace to add to the match-winning effort. Support came in the shape of opposite Kelly Murphy with 17 points and skipper Jordan Larson's 14 points which included five aces. 

Fans at the Olympic Sports Centre could not have asked for more from the opening exchange in this six-team finals series as the Turks blew their rivals away early, before Team USA rallied then ground out the points across a pulsating final set. The Turks gave their all, overwhelming their opponents with sustained pressure early and hanging in to the death.

Wing spiker Meliha Ismailoglu took the honours for the Europeans with 18 points, while middle blocker Eda Erdem Dündar was also a major player with 14 points.

But it was a huge effort from the Americans, the reigning world champions having been previously upset by the Turks, who downed them 3-2 during VNL pool play. It was a loss which saw USA coach Karch Kiraly re-think his game plan for the rest of the tournament, shifting opposite Kelsey Robinson to the libero position. It had the right results as the Americans won their next 11 matches and ended up topping the table with a 13-2 record coming into the finals.

The tinkering certainly worked wonders again against Turkey on Wednesday, a fresh Bartsch-Hackley hitting the court towards the end of the second set and then taking control while middle blocker Tetori Dixon sat out the first two sets entirely, before heading out and collecting an invaluable 12 points that included four blocks.

The Americans also shook off a worrying early error count that threatened to derail their chances - it read 13-6 to their opponents' benefit after two sets, but had levelled out to 25-22 by the final whistle. The warning for their rivals ahead in the finals series of this inaugural VNL was that the USA grew in strength the longer the match played out.

The Americans will now have a day's rest, as they prepare to take on Serbia on Friday - the only other team to have so far beaten them in the VNL. That was a 3-1 loss back on June 12. 

The Turks will meanwhile have to quickly dust off the disappointment from this afternoon and line up against the Serbs on Thursday night.


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