Something about the way Samantha Bricio plays the game of volleyball catches a spectator’s eye. Perhaps it’s her graceful nonchalance on defense or her readiness to attack from anywhere on the court. It could just as easily be her practically un-passable hybrid jump serve or her understated but genuine celebrations. Of course, she’s also a pretty solid attacker who jumps high and swings fast.
All that was true during her time competing inside the Galen Center as a member of the USC women’s volleyball team from 2012 to 2015. It’s also true when she dons the red, white, and green jersey of her native Mexico. And it’s certainly true right now as she competes for Fenerbahce, one of the top professional teams in Turkey and in the world.
Fenerbahce finished the regular season of Turkey’s Division I league with a 17-5 record, good for third in the standings behind powerhouses Eczacibasi and VakifBank. Bricio’s squad then split with Turk Hava Yollari in the quarterfinals of the league playoffs. A tie-breaking third quarterfinal is scheduled for April 6.
Although winning the Turkish crown would be significant, a gold medal in the CEV Champions League is perhaps even most illustrious. Bricio and her Turkish squad made it through the group stage of Europe’s top professional tournament with a 5-1 record and then knocked out Savino Del Bene Scandicci of the Italian league in the quarters.
It’s Bricio second-consecutive season in the semifinals of Europe’s top professional tournament. In 2018, her second season with Imoco Volley Conegliano of the Italian league, her team knocked Fenerbahce out in the quarters to advance to the semis (where Imoco lost to eventual champ VakifBank Istanbul).
Fenerbahce will now face Imoco in the upcoming semifinals of the 2019 Champions League on April 2, but this time Bricio will line up on the opposite side of the net.
As a former Imoco player, Bricio knows the immense talent and experience that team will bring to the table, but her new team also boasts some pretty impressive ability.
“My team this year is a little bit older than last year, we have a couple of players who are like legends here in Turkey,” Bricio explained. “Our captain [Eda Erdem] is the captain of the Turkish national team. She’s a legend in Turkey and in the club, she’s been here for like 11 years. It’s an honor to get to play with her in the same team.”
Bricio also highlighted the performance of 19-year-old opposite Melissa Vargas.
“I’m also playing with Melissa Vargas, which is this Cuban girl that most people haven’t heard of, who is an amazing, amazing player,” Bricio said. “She’s so young and she’s so good. I’m actually really excited to see what she’s going to do in a couple of years. She’s only 19 and she’s just killing everyone.”
The 6-foot-4 Vargas, who led all players in the Champions League quarterfinals with 56 points in just two matches, hits so hard, she’s even injured a few Fenerbahce players in practice, Bricio revealed. The 19-year-old leaves in her wake sprained wrists, broken fingers, and even a few numb faces.
And of course Bricio, the 2015 AVCA National Player of the Year, is a weapon in her own right. With 35 points, she ranked eighth among all players in the quarterfinal round with 35 points. You’d expect nothing less from someone who during her senior season at USC led the nation in aces (89), aces per set (0.68), points (803.0), points per set (6.18), and set new program records for kills (2,095), attacks (5,499), aces (301), and points (2,546.5).
Fenerbahce’s semifinal opponent Imoco faced the unenviable position of taking on Eczacibasi Istanbul (the Turkish league regular-season champ) in the Champions League quarters. In the first leg, Eczacibasi got the sweep, but Imoco rallied back with a four-set victory in the second leg and a 15-10 win in the tie-breaking golden set.
Imoco, which includes Team USA Olympians Karsta Lowe and Kim Hill, currently sits atop the Serie A standings with a 19-4 record.
“One of the good things [Imoco] have is that they’ve been together for a long time, so they know each other a lot. That’s going to be an advantage for them,” Bricio said, “but I think we have a pretty strong team, too. We have a Melissa.”
In a match between two of the most popular teams in Europe, the fan turnout for each leg of the semifinal will play a part, too, as will stamina of the physical and mental variety.
“I think it’s just going to go down to who is the toughest team mentally,” Bricio said. “I feel like at this point, both of us are very, very tired. It’s been a very long season, so everything is going to come down to the mentality that you go into the game with.”
Fenerbahce will take on Imoco in Treviso, Italy, April 2 at 1:30 PM CT. The second leg match in Istanbul is April 9 at 11 AM CT.
In the opposite semifinal, it’s VakifBank Istanbul versus Igor Gorgonzola Novara (April 4, 11 AM CT; April 10, 1:30 PM CT).