2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League

Lookin' For Revenge: USA Will Meet Serbia & Turkey In VNL Final Round

Lookin' For Revenge: USA Will Meet Serbia & Turkey In VNL Final Round

USA enters the VNL Final Round as the No. 2-seeded team with a 13-2 record—but the teams responsible for both losses stand in the way.

Jun 25, 2018 by Megan Kaplon
Turkey Survives American Comeback

The U.S. Women’s National Team enters this week’s Volleyball Nations League Final Round as the No. 2-seeded team with a 13-2 record. 

The team’s reward? A chance at redemption versus the two teams that got the better of it in the preliminary rounds. 

Yes, thanks to the fortuitous—or calamitous, depending on your perspective—way the standings worked out, the USA faces Turkey and then Serbia in Nanjing, China, this week. The U.S. women have to finish in the top two in their pool of three to advance to the semifinals on Saturday. 

Here’s what to expect from the VNL Final Round.

Team USA

Toward the end of the grueling five-week-long preliminary rounds, many teams rested their star players and deployed B-teams for the final few matches. Not so for head coach Karch Kiraly and Team USA. 

Kiraly quickly figured out which players he wanted on the floor and didn’t make many changes to the roster throughout the tournament. 

The same will hold true for the final round. The only change Kiraly made for the group of 14 traveling to Nanjing was to replace outside hitter Sarah Wilhite Parsons with Madi Kingdon Rishel. 

Although the group of 14 players has largely remained the same throughout the tournament, Kiraly has played with different combinations, fielding a total of 12 unique starting lineups in 15 matches.

“Being able to play at a high level with so many different lineups speaks really well to the depth we are blessed with,” Kiraly said in an interview with USA Volleyball. “We feel comfortable competing with any two middles, any of our three main outsides, and either opposite, all hitting off Carli [Lloyd] and passing with Kelsey [Robinson], plus running the double sub with Micha [Hancock] and whichever opposite isn’t starting.”

Instead of having his star players stay home and sit out a week, Kiraly chose to alternate between pairs of middles and give his outsides a chance to rest every third night or so, conserving energy, without having to mess with team dynamic.

Moving Robinson from outside hitter to libero after the second match of the tournament has helped shore up passing and defense and no doubt, we’ll see her in the same role this week.

Turkey | Wednesday, June 27, 2 AM CT

Team USA played Turkey in the second match of the tournament and lost in five sets in front of a home crowd in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Turkey won the serve-and-pass battle, tallying eight aces to USA’s five, and it was that match that inspired Kiraly to move Robinson to libero.

After that switch, the USA won 11 matches in a row. Turkey, on the other hand, lost four—to Brazil, Russia, Serbia, and the Netherlands. 

Throughout the tournament, a pair of veterans has led Turkey’s scoring efforts with 197 points from 30-year-old outside hitter Meryem Boz and 180 from 31-year-old middle blocker Eda Erdem Dündar. The rest of the team, however, is fairly young, averaging 23 years old, which ties China and Netherlands for youngest team in the Final Six.

Serbia | Friday, June 29, 2 AM CT

Kiraly has said that neither team played to the best of its ability in the preliminary round meeting between Serbia and the USA on June 12. The USA had just completed a 47-hour travel day from Jiangmen, China, to Santa Fe, Argentina, while Serbia had come in from Rotterdam, Netherlands. 

“The main takeaway from that loss [to Serbia] was that we have to make improvements in defending out-of-system players,” Kiraly said to USA Volleyball.

The Serbia that Team USA will face on Friday will not be the same Serbia that took the floor in Argentina, however. Star offensive players Tijana Boskovic and Brankica Mihajlović and head coach Terzic Zoran didn’t travel for the final week of preliminary round action, but the team will no doubt be back at full strength in the Final Round.

Overall, Serbia finished the preliminary rounds 12-3, trailing only the USA in the standings. With 206 kills and a 49.28 success percentage, Boskovic ranks as the No. 1 hitter in the tournament, just a few percentage points ahead of USA’s Michelle Bartsch-Hackley. 

Semifinals, Saturday, June 30

If the USA finishes ahead of at least one of its Final Round pool opponents, it will advance to the semifinals to face one of the top-two finishers from Pool A, which includes Brazil, Netherlands, and host China. 

China, the reigning Olympic champions and No. 1-ranked team in the world, has not had great success so far in VNL and enters the Final Round with a 7-8 record. Head coach Lang Ping has been open about her choice to field some younger players, telling the South China Morning Post that she’s treating the tournament as a “training camp.”

Ping knew from the start that her team had a berth into the Final Six as the host. Perhaps now that the results really matter, we’ll see her field her top players, including Zhu Ting, one of the best, and highest paid, women’s volleyball players in the world. Ting has played sparingly throughout the preliminary rounds and ranks fourth on the team with 112 total points.

Brazil and the Netherlands aren’t going to make it easy for China to advance, however. Brazil’s Tandara Caixeta has been practically unstoppable, tallying 207 kills and 231 total points. The Netherlands’ Lonneke Slöetjes is not far behind with 175 kills and 202 total points.

The medal rounds will be played on Sunday, June 31.

Non-USA Matches in Nanjing

China vs. Netherlands | Wednesday, June 27, 6:15 AM CT

Serbia vs. Turkey | Thursday, June 28, 2 AM CT

Brazil vs. Netherlands | Thursday, June 28, 6:15 AM CT

China vs. Brazil | Friday, June 29, 7:30 AM CT