2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League

Bartsch-Hackley Leads USA To Historic VNL Title

Bartsch-Hackley Leads USA To Historic VNL Title

The U.S. Women's National Team claimed the first VNL title after defeating—who else—Turkey in five sets.

Jul 1, 2018 by Megan Kaplon
USA Strikes Gold, Wins Inaugural VNL Title

The U.S. Women’s National Team advanced to the gold medal match of Volleyball Nations League with only two blemishes on its record, but of all the teams in the tournament, Turkey had played the Americans the toughest. 

In the preliminary rounds, Turkey knocked off the USA in five sets. Then, during the Final Six, it gained a 2-0 advantage before USA rallied back to win in five. 

So when Turkey defeated Brazil in the semifinals to set up a third meeting between the two teams in the gold medal match, nothing less than a five-set thriller could be expected. 

And that’s exactly what happened. 

Turkey smoked Team USA 25-17 in the first set. The Americans won the second, but the momentum once again swung back in Turkey’s favor as it won the third. Finally in set four, USA found its rhythm and won 25-15, following that performance up with a 15-7 smashing in the fifth.

USA head coach Karch Kiraly had tried out a number of different lineups throughout the six-week-long tournament, including, most notably, moving Kelsey Robinson from outside hitter to libero, and he continued to make bold changes all the way up to the end. 

Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, the team’s leading scorer throughout the tournament, started the match on the outside, along with captain Jordan Larson, but after set one didn’t work out in the American’s favor, Kiraly replaced Bartsch-Hackley with Kim Hill. 

Midway through the second set, Bartsch-Hackley re-entered the match, this time on the right, a position she had not played the entire tournament.

Kiraly’s gambles paid off. Hill led the team and tied the match-high with 20 points, while Bartsch-Hackley made massive contributions from the opposite position, tallying 18 points, including taking some big swings out of the back row in the fifth set.

“I just get chills thinking about it,” said Larson after the match. “Really, this has been a long, long tournament. I am so proud our team. It has been a grind, a lot of travel. It hasn’t been easy, but we came away with a win in the end.”

To get to the gold-medal match, Team USA won its Final Round pool, with the five-set victory over Turkey and a sweep of Serbia. In the semifinals, the Americans managed to remain calm when host China snuck away with the third set and advanced to the championship match with a four-set victory—thanks to 24 points from the VNL Most Valuable Player, Bartsch-Hackley.

For their part, the Turks earned a spot in the semifinals by the smallest of margins, beating Serbia 16-14 in the fifth set, but against Brazil in the semifinals, they out-hit and out-served the Brazilians on their way to a commanding sweep.

In the bronze medal match, China’s captain Zhu Ting contributed 20 points to her team’s sweep of Brazil. 

Team USA leaves China with $1 million in its figurative pocket, while Turkey claimed $500,000 for silver. Bartsch-Hackley takes home an extra $40,000 as the MVP, and Tori Dixon, who led the USA in blocks, received a $10,000 bonus as the Best Middle.