ARLINGTON, Texas — USA coach Karch Kiraly looked at his watch. It was a few minutes before 10 p.m. Saturday and he quickly did the math. His team had to be back on the court and ready for first serve in 16 hours.
It will be against Poland in the Volleyball Nations League bronze-medal match, a 2 p.m. Sunday start for two teams that need to bounce back in a hurry.
“Dinner, bed,” USA setter Micha Hancock said. “And getting a lot of electrolytes.”
Top-seeded Poland got swept by fourth-seeded China before the USA fell behind two sets to none and then staged a furious rally that came up short 25-21, 25-14, 24-26, 27-25. Both matches were played before sellout crowds of 6,300 in the College Park Center at the University of Texas-Arlington.
“When you have a match like that it’s kind of a race to the finish,” Kiraly said. “You only have three sets to try to find some answers and we were happy to get to an answer that extended it to a fourth. We want to be problem solvers and we’ve got to be searching for answers and changes and things like that and we got ourselves in a position.”
Saturday night, the big answer was outside hitter Ali Frantti, who subbed for Avery Skinner at the start of the third set. Frantti had 12 kills with three errors in 27 attacks, made an immediate impact that included some spectacular digs and continued the USA’s trend of playing anyone anytime and getting strong production.
“You just have to be ready for anything. That’s just my mindset,” Frantti said. “We have a great team and we have great talent and anyone can play at any time. For me I was just trying to stay focused and when they needed me I wanted to be ready.
“I like to be an energy person and bring a little fire. When that happens, I feel like it’s a chain reaction and people can play with their chests out and I just wanted to be a difference maker.”
They almost pulled it off after playing the first set on their heels and getting blasted in the second.
“We played a very good match,” Türkiye coach Daniele Santarelli said. “The first set, we began with some mistakes, particularly on blocks, and we were not so aggressive, but the second set we played an amazing set. The third set was incredible. We were ahead 24-22 and we had three opportunities to win the set against one of the best teams in the world … I’m proud of my team, but this is only the semifinals, it’s not the final.”
In the third set, Ebrar Karakut hit long to make it 25-24 USA. Then Frantti had an incredible dig on Karakut during the ensuing rally and then she ended it with a back-row attack.
The Americans staged a tremendous comeback to get a chance to send it to a fifth set, rallying from a 24-21 deficit to take a 25-24 lead on a big block by Asjia O’Neal, who started the fourth set. But Karakut, who was the one blocked, got a kill to tie it.
At 25-25, Khalia Lanier had a big swing, but it went out and then Zehra Gunes blocked Jordan Thompson’s back-row attack to end it.
Lanier led the USA with 16 kills. She had five errors in 37 attacks. Annie Drews had 12 kills, nine in the first set. Hancock had four kills and two blocks. Chiaka Ogbogu had two kills, three blocks and an ace.
The Americans had 14 service errors and three aces. Türkiye had eight errors and two aces.
“There was plenty that wasn’t going that amazing, plenty that was rough, but we actually had a a chance … to make it go five. So there are things we have to clean up, for sure, but I’m also pleased that we came up with some answers that put a good team in trouble,” Kiraly said.
“That’s a very good team and they’re playing really good volleyball right now. Sets three and four, we’re playing them basically dead even, but we spotted them two and that’s tough to come back from.”
Türkiye’s Melissa Vargas had 20 kills, two blocks and an ace. Karakut had 11 kills, three blocks and ace and seemingly owned the USA in the second set. Erdem had four kills in seven errorless attacks and two blocks and Gunes had five kills and four blocks.
“We knew it was going to be a really tough game, because the USA, they know how to play these tough games,” Erdem said. “And it was a tough game for us because they were playing at home. We fought to the end. We had ups and downs, for sure, but in the end I think we were strong and calm and we won.”
The USA had 31 errors compared to 19 for Türkiye. Both teams had 50 kills and the Turks led in blocks 19-14.
The USA beat Poland on June 28 in one of the closest, longest matches of the VNL campaign, 17-25, 25-15, 27-25, 28-30, 16-14. The stats were as close as the score, 73-72 USA in kills, 14-13 Poland in blocks, and each team had four aces.
Drews led in that match with 18 kills, a block and an ace. Robinson had 17 kills and three blocks and Washington had five kills, five blocks and an ace. Two other players here who played against Poland were Dana Rettke, who had 10 kills and three blocks and Frantti, who had 12 kills. Hancock set that match and had four kills, a block and two aces. Justine Wong-Orantes had 23 digs, the most by a USA player in this VNL.
Türkiye and China have not played in this VNL.