Gunes magic powers huge Turkey upset over USA
Gunes came up with eight huge blocks as Turkey dug deep to withstand a furious American fightback and send the world champions tumbling to an unexpected defeat in front of their own fans in Nebraska.
Meryem Boz was also in top form, piling on 15 attacking points as Turkey, with 11 rookies in its squad, held its nerve to overcome one of the most powerful teams in world volleyball.
Captain Jordan Larson spent most of the first two sets on the bench but spearheaded the USA revival after the hosts went 2-0 down. However, it was not enough to see off the visitors, who grew in confidence throughout and now have two straight VNL victories to begin their campaign. Kim Hill collected 15 kills for Karch Kiraly’s Americans.
Kiraly’s team was expected to have things its own way at Bob Devaney Sports Center this week but after surviving a close encounter against 22nd-ranked Poland on Tuesday, finally saw their luck run out against the 12th-ranked Turks.
The exhortations of a passionate and patriotic audience helped the USA survive a match point in the fourth set and save three more in the fifth to level things at 14-14, but one final block clinched a memorable triumph for the underdogs in the inaugural version of the VNL.
The night started with a set that became an instant classic. Over and over towards the end of the first, it seemed like the USA’s quality would shine through, but Turkey simply refused to go away. Wing spiker Ebrar Karakurt, 18, made a strong impact off the bench and there were countless magical contributions. Maliha Ismailoglu pulled things level with a delightful flip over the top, Boz turned defender with a set-saving block and three American set points were withstood before Turkey finally got one of their own - and converted when Kelsey Robinson drove the ball long.
A swift American reaction was expected and a 9-5 lead was duly built in the second, but, with Larson and Michelle Bartsch-Hackley on the sidelines, some uncharacteristically sloppy play crept in. Both of those big hitters came in late in the set, but Boz clinched it with a sneaky tip over two blockers.
Turkey coach Giovanni Guidetti was a bundle of energy, clapping, pumping his fist and urging even more effort from his tireless troop. Even a 18-11 USA lead in the third was not safe, the Americans being thankful for an overturned line call that gave them enough breathing room to narrow the gap.
The end of the fourth set onwards was when Gunes truly stamped her authority. Three big blocks and a brutal spike from the 194cm middle blocker gave Turkey match point, only for some untimely nerves to allow the USA to turn a 24-23 deficit into a 26-24 set win.
At that point, a Turkish collapse could perhaps have been forgiven, but while Guidetti’s team are still somewhat raw, they are made of stern stuff. Gunes was everywhere as Turkey eked out a 12-8 lead, then held three more match points at 14-11. Nerves surfaced once more, with Boz missing a clearcut chance for glory when her spike bounced off the antenna and the USA brought the scores even.
But a miss from Hill and one last defensive gem block gave Turkey the result it deserved - and provided the VNL with one of its first sensational upsets.
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