Turkey blocks U.S. volleyball team’s path in pulling off upset at Devaney Center

LINCOLN — The U.S. was expected to ease into the Volleyball Nations League with a few of the minnows of international volleyball before facing the sport’s big fish in a couple of weeks.

But Wednesday night, the Americans fell out of the boat. Turkey’s 20th block of the match held off one final comeback, sealing a 28-26, 25-19, 20-25, 24-26, 16-14 win at the Devaney Center.

The loss dropped the U.S. to 1-1 in Week 1 of the tourney and put the Americans in need of a win Thursday night over 0-2 Italy to avoid a losing record on home soil to start the event.

“I’m not sure  when the last time Turkey beat USA was,” Turkey coach Giovanni Guidetti said. “I don’t think many times in the history of Turkey volleyball.”

Turkey brought a roster with an average age of 22 to Lincoln, but its two 30-year-olds took the lead. Meryem Boz had 17 points on 15 kills and two blocks, while Eda Erdem added 16 points with 10 kills, three blocks and three aces.

Outside hitter Kim Hill, who didn’t play in Tuesday’s opener against Poland, led the Americans with a match-high 19 points but had two costly misfires late after the U.S. fought off three match points.

After seeing its 2-0 lead evaporate when the U.S. won the third and fourth sets, Turkey seemed to have the finale in hand when Zehra Gunes put Turkey up 14-11 with her final kill. But the Americans pulled even 14-14 on a kill by Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, a Turkey hitting error and a block by setter Carli Lloyd.

The momentum had one final shift. Hill’s sharp cross shot on the next rally sailed wide to give Turkey its fourth match point, and when the ball went back to Hill, Erdem ’s shot was sent back to the Americans’ shoe tops to seal the win.

Gunes, Turkey’s 18-year-old middle blocker, had eight of Turkey’s 20 blocks and also finished with 16 points.

The Americans spent much of the night chasing rallies after errant first touches. Former Husker libero Justine Wong-Orantes was a regular target of challenging Turkey serves and often struggled to get the first touch on point.

Coach Karch Kiraly changed five starters from Tuesday night, going with Hill and former Husker Kelsey Robinson at outside hitter, Tori Dixon and Lauren Gibbemeyer at middle blocker and Annie Drews at opposite.

But after Turkey cruised to the win in the second set, Tuesday night starters Jordan Larson and Kelly Murphy went the rest of the way at outside hitter and opposite, respectively.

Larson finished with seven kills and an ace.

Turkey nearly finished the match in four, but the USA survived a match point on a kill by Hill to start a 3-0 run that sent the Americans into the decisive fifth set, where a new lineup nearly pulled off the comeback.

At one point in the fifth, the Americans had four outside hitters on the floor with Larson and Hill joined by Bartsch-Hackley and Robinson. Bartsch-Hackley had six kills in the set and said the makeshift lineup was an attempt by Kiraly to find creative solutions when little else consistently went right for the U.S.

“He’s just trying to put pieces together right now,” she said.

Dixon and Gibbemeyer each had 12 points for the U.S.

Former Husker Jordan Larson serves up key run as U.S. volleyball team holds off Poland

LINCOLN — Karch Kiraly picked three former Nebraska volleyball players for Team USA’s roster in the opening weekend of the Volleyball Nations League, and despite them playing in three different NU eras, one thing he sees in all three is knowing how to play with a target on their back.

It’s a trait the USA coach knows his entire team will need to develop. Ultimately the Americans, ranked No. 2 in the world, got the anticipated result Tuesday night, holding off Poland 28-26, 25-22, 22-25, 25-15 to open the tournament at the Devaney Center, but not before some shaky stretches.

Team USA had to claw back to win the opener, then dropped the third set to Poland, which at No. 22 is the lowest ranked of the four teams in Lincoln this week.

“We shouldn’t be surprised that anyone comes at USA hard,” Kiraly said.

“We’re one of the premier programs in all of international volleyball, so people always bring their best, always try hard, always try to beat USA. If they do, that’s a feather in their cap.”

The Americans held on behind a match-high 25 kills from outside hitter Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, who took 23 more swings than any other U.S. player. Former Husker All-American Jordan Larson added 16 kills and a pair of aces, keying the game-clinching run in the fourth set from the service line.

Bartsch-Hackley had 10 kills in the first set, showing off a new wrinkle for the Americans with a back-row attack the team wasn’t using until recently.

“We just kind of changed our system a little bit because a lot of us play back-row attack overseas, but we haven’t been doing that here,” Bartsch-Hackley said. “We talked about it and said, ‘All right, let’s just change it and see what happens.’ ”

Poland stayed in the opener by keeping the Americans under fire from the service line. After Martyna Grajber served her team’s fifth ace of the first set, Poland led 25-24 with a chance to steal the game. But USA opposite hitter Kelly Murphy’s kill started a 4-1 run, which the former Florida star bookended with another kill to give USA the 28-26 win.

Murphy finished with 12 kills on the night.

“They were definitely putting on the service pressure,” Larson said, “but I think we just adjusted about communicating better in the seams and getting the early call.”

Team USA needed a 4-0 run to capture the second game after falling behind 20-19, with Larson providing the final two kills. But it was Poland’s turn to mount a comeback in the third to avoid the sweep. Bartsch-Hackley was blocked three times in Poland’s 6-1 run after the Americans had taken a 21-19 lead.

“As a team we really struggled through some points, but really we’ve only had four practices or whatever it is together,” Bartsch-Hackley said. “But I think it was good. We’re really finding our rhythm with the speed. (USA setter) Carli (Lloyd) and I played together all last season in the Grand Prix. She’s really comfortable giving me a fast ball, and I love that.”

Malwina Smarzek, Poland’s 21-year-old outside hitter, had a team-high 22 kills with a mix of aggressive swings and deft off-speed shots. Former Husker Justine Wong-Orantes, Team USA’s libero making her debut with the program’s top team, was caught flat-footed a couple times on tips in the early going but keyed the Americans’ transition play late in the match with several highlight digs.

“She got better as the match went along,” Kiraly said. “I think she was also getting more comfortable and more acclimated.”

By late in the fourth set, the Americans had reversed Poland’s advantage from the service line, with Larson serving an ace in the decisive 6-0 run to put the USA up 21-13 and end the Polish threat.

Bartsch-Hackley also put down her final two kills as the Americans ended the match winning 10 of the final 12 rallies.

“She’s got a hammer,” Larson said of her teammate. “You can see her arm, she’s got a lot of heat.”

Team USA plays No. 12 Turkey on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Turkey opened the Volleyball Nations League by sweeping Italy on Tuesday night.

Poland………..26 22 25 15

USA…………..28 25 22 25

POL (kills-blocks-aces): Smarzek, 22-1-0, Medrzyk 11-1-1, Grajber 10-0-2, Kakolewska 6-2-0, Efimienko-Mlotkowska 5-1-0, Lukasik 3-1-1, Nowicka 0-2-2, Plesnierowicz 0-0-2

USA: Bartsch-Hackley 25-2-0, Larson 16-2-2, Murphy 12-0-0, Akinradewo 8-2-0, Adams 6-5-1, Robinson 1-0-0, Lloyd 0-1-1

Attendance: 5,000

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