By Gabriel Vegas Valente for VolleyballMag.com
LINCOLN, Nebraska –- The USA women rallied after losing the first two sets, but still lost in five Wednesday night to Turkey in the Volleyball Nations League 28-26, 25-19, 20-25, 24-26, 16-14.
It left the Turks, ranked 12th in the world, 2-0, while the second-ranked USA is 1-1 with one match left in this three-night series that kicked off the international season.
Next up: The USA plays Italy at 7:30 p.m. Central Thursday. Earlier Wednesday, No. 22 Poland held off No. 7 Italy 25-21, 14-25, 25-19, 17-25, 15-12. Poland and Turkey face off at 5 p.m. Central.
USA vs. Turkey: “I don’t know when was the last time that Turkey beat the USA,” Turkey coach Giovanni Guidetti said. “I don’t think it happened many times in the history of Turkey’s volleyball.”
Outside hitter Meryem Boz led the Turks’ offense with 17 points after 15 kills and two blocks. Zehra Gunes had eight blocks and seven kills.
The USA had a largely different lineup from the one that started in the victory Tuesday against Poland. Against Turkey, Kim Hill had 15 kills and three blocks, while middle Tori Dixon hit .470 after getting eight kills in 17 attempts, along with three blocks and an ace. Lauren Gibbemeyer had seven kills, four blocks and an ace.
The Americans struggled with serve-receive, especially late.
“There aren’t always easy answers,” USA coach Karch Kiraly said about how to fix serve-receive issues in-game. “One of them is to make substitutions, another is to shift the passing formation. If someone’s served at a lot, maybe give her a little less court to cover. We tried what we could.”
Former Nebraska star Jordan Larson, who had a strong performance against Poland, didn’t start but had an immediate impact when she came in in the second set and then played the last three sets. Another former Nebraska star, libero Justine Wong-Orantes, had a strong night.
“Every match is puzzle,” Kiraly said. “And we’re trying to get the pieces together. Even against the same team two nights later, it might be a different puzzle. But in the puzzle tonight, the solution we found … I think it was a good one after we set ourselves into a hole of 2-0.”
In the fourth set, the American trailed 24-23, but Turkey missed two attacks in a row to give the Americans a 25-24 lead. The star of the match against Poland, Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, came off the bench for a vigorous block that clinched the fourth set.
For the match, Turkey had 20 blocks — the last by Eda Erdem Dundar to end it — while the USA had 17.
“Our team is mentally very strong,” Guidetti said. “Our team never gives up, that’s the important thing about it.”
Worth noting: The USA had won 10 of its last 12 matches against Turkey.
Poland beats Italy: Outside hitter Malwina Smarzek led with 23 kills and five blocks. Italy had three players with double-digit kills –- Anastasia Guerra (15), Miryam Fatime Sylla (13) and Serena Ortolani (13).
The Poles had more kills (58-51), blocks (18-10) and service aces (6-5).
“It was a very close game,” Poland coach Jacek Nawrocki said through a translator. “Our fight was the difference. I’m proud of our whole team, our fight and ambition. I’m very proud of them.”
Italy, which lost to Turkey on Tuesday, will try to bounce back against the USA.
“Tomorrow’s a great opportunity for us to rise to the occasion with a great team,” Italy coach Davide Mazzanti said. “I think we can improve our attacking. It’ll be more difficult (to improve) against the USA, but I’m curious to see how my team performs.”