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VakifBank’s new stellar line-up eager to defend club world title

VakifBank players celebrate during Friday’s 3-1 win at AtlasGlobal Yesilyurt in the Turkish League (photo: vakifbanksporkulubu.com)
Lausanne, Switzerland, October 28, 2019 – This season’s line-up of VakifBank Istanbul is quite different from the one that triumphed with the 2018 Club World Championship title, but just as high in quality and eager to defend the most important trophy in their showcase winning it for the fourth time in history as it takes place from December 3 through 8 in Shaoxing, China.

“We are very excited that we will compete once again in the same atmosphere as we did last year,” says 20-year-old middle blocker Zehra Gunes, who has already won silver medals at the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League and the 2019 CEV European Championship with the Turkish national team, in addition to her 2018 Club World Championship gold with VakifBank. “This season we have a different team with new players, but our goal is the same - to become world champions, for the fourth time. I hope everything happens the way we plan it.”

Another young, but very promising standout, 20-year-old Swedish international opposite Isabelle Haak, is among the new additions to the VakifBank roster. After a couple of very successful seasons with Italy’s Savino Del Bene Scandicci, she transferred to Istanbul eager to make her maiden appearance at the Club World Championship.

“I'm really excited about the Club World Championship, because it's my first time and it will be a great competition with teams I have never met before,” she points out. “It will be a great experience! We'll prepare for it in the best possible way.”

Three of the team’s international stars, who helped power VakifBank to the 2018 world title, Zhu Ting, Lonneke Sloetjes and Kelsey Robinson, are no longer on the squad, but have been replaced by equally high-class names. Outside hitter Zhu, the MVP of the last two editions of the Club World Championship, has been substituted for by the other outside hitter on the 2017 and 2018 Dream Teams, Brazil’s 25-year-old Gabriela Braga Guimaraes (Gabi). On both occasions, she earned silver, with Rexona-SESC Rio de Janeiro and with Minas Tenis Clube Belo Horizonte, respectively. Transferring to VakifBank, she is striving for the first gold.

“I have played at the Club World Championship and it was amazing!” Gabi exclaims. “The best players and the best teams will compete in China. For sure, this will be one of the best championships in the recent years. I'm really excited to play in Shaoxing again and we will do our best and win the tournament.”

In addition to Gabi and Haak, has been joined by one more bright international star, one of the world’s best setters, Maja Ognjenovic, reigning world and European champion and Olympic silver medallist with the national team of Serbia. The well-seasoned 35-year-old playmaker, 2016 club world champion with the other Istanbul powerhouse, Eczacibasi VitrA, is happy to reunite with compatriot and national squad teammate Milena Rasic, the 29-year-old star middle blocker who wears the VakifBank jersey for the fifth consecutive season.

Another club world champion with Eczacibasi (2015 and 2016), 28-year-old opposite Gozde Yilmaz, is one of the new Turkish names on coach Giovanni Guidetti’s VakifBank roster, the other being 26-year-old national team outside hitter Meliha Ismailoglu, also switching allegiance from the city rival, and 32-year-old libero Pinar Eren Atasever. Guidetti continues to rely on the services of experienced domestic players, such as captain Melis Gurkaynak, libero Gizem Orge and middle blocker Kubra Akman Caliskan, as well as of the club’s young rising stars, such as setter Cansu Ozbay and powerful striker Ebrar Karakurt.

“We want to add a new Club Word Championship gold to our last two in a row,” states 19-year-old promising talent Karakurt, already a regular starter on VakifBank’s line-up. “It would be a great feeling to be a champion once again in China. We trust ourselves as a team, and waiting to meet our fans in Shaoxing.”

In addition to their three gold, one silver and one bronze medals from the Club World Championships, VakifBank Istanbul’s impressive honours list includes four gold, four silver and two bronze medals from Europe’s Champions League, 11 national championship titles (current 2019 holders), six national cup titles and three national super cup trophies.

Having won their first four matches in the ongoing edition of the Turkish League, VakifBank are one of three unbeaten teams, alongside the other Turkish participant in the 2019 Club World Championship, Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul, and Galatasaray HDI Sigorta Istanbul, each on a full tally of 12 points. Their next game is on Tuesday, against another big city rival, Fenerbahce Opet Istanbul.

Before the start of the 2019 Club World Championship, coach Guidetti’s side will also test their condition in the first two legs of their new Champions League campaign – against Italy’s Savino Del Bene Scandicci at home and Slovenia’s Nova KBM Branik Maribor away.

VakifBank will start their Shaoxing 2019 campaign in Pool B with Brazil’s Dentil/Praia Clube Uberlandia, Italy’s Igor Gorgonzola Novara and China’s Tianjin Bohai Bank playing them on December 3, 5 and 6, respectively. The top two teams in the pool will advance to the Club World Championship semifinals.

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