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Eda Erdem celebrates

Powered by star opposite Paola Egonu, Italy advanced to their first semifinal in the women’s Volleyball Nations League. On the second competition day of the 2022 Finals in Ankara, Egonu produced an impressive 36-point match high towards her team’s 3-1 (25-22, 25-19, 24-26, 25-22) quarterfinal victory over China. On Saturday, the Italians will take on hosts Türkiye who claimed a 3-1 (23-25, 25-15, 25-18, 25-21) win over Thailand in the last quarterfinal.

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Paola Egonu’s match tally included four aces and 32 spiking points. Her counterpart on the other side of the net, Gong Xiangyu put away 20 points, while her teammate in the middle, Wang Yuanyuan impressed with five of China’s 12 kill blocks in the match.

After losing the first rally, China stormed back with four in a row to open an early 4-1 lead. They kept adding break points and gradually extended their lead to 17-11. At that moment, a fantastic set by libero Monica De Gennaro for Egonu to score Italy’s 12th point served as the momentum changer in the set. With Egonu behind the serving line, the European side added another six points, including an ace for 17-14, to take control of the scoreboard with an 18-17 edge. China battled on and even regained the lead momentarily at 22-21, but Italy reacted with four in a row to bring it home at 25-22, after Egonu had brought the set point with her 10th point of the game.

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Paola Egonu swings

In the second set, Italy once again recovered from a three-point deficit to dominate with more aggressive spiking. Two back-to-back aces by Egonu gave them a 9-7 lead. Another long Italian run with Egonu behind the end line resulted in six points in a row, including another ace for 19-15. An overpass kill by setter Alessia Orro extended it to 20-15 and then an amazing rally followed, in which Italian captain Miryam Sylla made a couple of incredible saves and her foot dig sent the ball over to surprise the opponents and score for 21-15. Finally, Sylla again spiked down the line to close the set at 25-19.

Italy were about to bounce back from yet another three-point Chinese lead in the third set, when captain Yuan Xinyue’s kill started a seven-point series, which also included two back-to-back blocks by Wang Yuanyuan, three successful attacks in a row by Gong and a clever tip by outside Wang Yunlu towards an emphatic 14-6 advantage. Even that was a deficit Italy were able to wipe out. A six-point run brought them back to within one at 20-19, but China broke away again with a triple set point at 24-21. Outside Elena Pietrini spiked successfully and then aced to keep Italy alive. A monster block by middle Anna Danesi levelled it at 24-24. However, Gong won a joust to bring in another Chinese set point, which outside Li Yingying converted to a 26-24 win.

Paola Egonu’s top plays against China

Believe it or not, Italy had to fight back from a three-point deficit in set four again. And not only once, that is. China had a 6-3 lead. Italy levelled it at 10-10 on an off-the-block hit by Egonu. China had a 16-13 lead. Italy levelled it at 17-17 on an ace by middle Cristina Chirichella. 20-19 was the last time the Asian team had the lead in the set. Egonu spiked to tie it at 20-20. A successful hit by Danesi and back-to-back points by outside Caterina Bosetti put the European champs at a 23-20 advantage. An off-the-block swing by Egonu delivered the match point at 24-21 and another one delivered the match winner at 25-22.

“Focus was the key. I would say the first two sets were amazing. We were pushing and we took our time. Then we relaxed a little bit too much, but I am happy we fought and were able to win the fourth set. We have to keep going. It’s a hard tournament and we just need to focus at the right moment with the right stress and win.” Paola Egonu, opposite of Italy

Türkiye’s middle blocker and captain Eda Erdem contributed 17 points, including three aces and two blocks, to her team’s four-set win over Thailand. Turkish opposite Ebrar Karakurt added another 17, while Thailand’s outside hitter Ajcharaporn Kongyot produced the match high of 21 points.

Inspired by the fantastic support from the stands, Türkiye stormed into the match with a lot of power an enthusiasm. A series of four consecutive points, including an ace by middle blocker Zehra Gunes, gave them an early 6-2 advantage. However, the unforced errors started trickling in while Thailand fought on to level it back at 16-16. A monster block by opposite Pimpichaya Kokram put the Asian team up front at 21-20. Another one by setter and captain Pornpun Guedpard extended it to 23-21. Finally a serving mistake by Türkiye gifted Thailand a 25-23 set win.

Thailand had the early edge in the second set, but with the help of some key break points by outside Hande Baladin Türkiye took control with a 9-7 lead. It was now the Thais making the abundant unforced errors as the hosts powered on to widen the gap to eight points at 19-11. Two aces in a row by Eda extended it to 22-12 as Türkiye were cruising on to a 25-15 blowout.

Eda Erdem’s aces against Thailand

The third set offered a tight battle through 8-8, but then the home team went on a four-point run, crowned by two back-to-back hits from Karakurt for 12-8. Türkiye continued to dominate on the court and pushed forward to an emphatic 25-18 close with Zehra’s first-tempo attack delivering the set winner.

Thailand stayed competitive through 13-13 in the fourth set when Türkiye broke away with a four-point run crowned by Saliha Sahin’s off-the-net ace for 17-13. Eda followed up with another direct serving point for 19-14. Thailand reacted with four in a row to get back to within one, but Türkiye would not let them any closer. A monster block by Karakurt delivered the match point at 24-20. A powerful first-tempo kill by Zehra put an end to the match at 25-21.

“We started really well in the first set, but then we were struggling a lot in every part of the game. Then we changed our mindset. We started to understand what they were doing in attack. I am so happy, because it’s never easy to play against Thailand. For the next matches we can improve a lot of things, but I think we should serve better. I really like playing in Ankara because I feel all the support and I am so thankful!” Cansu Ozbay, setter of Türkiye