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Novara crowned European champions at close of club season

MVP Paola Egonu on the attack at Berlin's Max-Schmelling Halle as she leads Igor Gorgonzola Novara to their first ever European Champions League title. (Photo Credit: CEV)
Lausanne, Switzerland, May 18, 2019 - Igor Gorgonzola Novara are the new champions of Europe after edging Imoco Volley Conegliano 3-1 (25-18, 25-17, 14-25, 25-22) in the all-Italian final of the 2019 Women's European Champions League Saturday afternoon in Berlin's Max-Schmelling Halle before almost 10,000 fans.

With tournament MVP Paola Egonu clocking 27 points (including a tip over the double block of Conegliano for match point) and USA's Michelle Bartsch-Hackley adding another 21, Novara held off their opponents' advances and vain attempt to take the match into a tie-break.

Still, it was the first European Champions League final that wasn't decided in three sets since 2010 when Italy's Bergamo beat Turkey's Fenerbahce Istanbul in five.

"It has been a lot of work. They really kicked our butts in the Italian Championship, but we worked extremely hard after that and I am just very proud of the team," said Bartsch after the game. "They played extremely strong in the third set and I think if you have two really good teams, it is always going to happen. However, we were really confident and our mindset was to just keep pushing."

Saturday's match marks the end of the club season across the globe, just three days before the start on Tuesday of the 2019 FIVB Women's Volleyball Nations League.

Conegliano's domination in the blocking, with 16 stuffs (including six by Anna Danesi and five by the Netherlands' Robin de Kruijf alone) to 10, was not enough to give them the European title in their second shot at gold after their 2017 defeat in the final to Turkey's VakifBank Istanbul. Novara, on the other hand, proved more efficient in attacking (57/148 for 39% to 42/130 for 32%).

Conegliano's best scorer was USA's Karsta Lowe with 16 points.

The two Italian sides had also met in the final series of their domestic A1 League earlier this month, which Conegliano had swept with three wins in as many matches for that title.

Neither side had previously won a European Champions League title, but for Novara captain Francesca Picinini, who had previously been crowned with Bergamo (5 times) and Pomi Casalmaggiore, it was her seventh gold medal in the history of the competition.

"I feel extremely emotional. I wanted this title so bad and despite knowing it was going to be difficult, I believed in our chances," said the 40-year-old outside hitter after the match. "I have to congratulate all of my teammates because they all worked extremely hard and they played really well. This is especially true for Egonu, who is half my age, but despite being so young, she truly is a phenomenon."

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