ZURICH – Team Iowa Ice fell to VakifBank Istanbul of Turkey in straight sets, 25-16, 25-12, 25-17, finishing their run on the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship at the Saalsportshalle in Zurich.
VakifBank and Unilever of Brazil will move onto the semifinal matches on Saturday from Pool B. Pool A semifinalists will be determined on Friday.
The country of Turkey has one of the best national volleyball leagues in the world and its champion, VakifBank, has an experienced roster that features eight members of the Turkish national team as well as international stars and Olympians from Serbia, Germany and Italy.
Iowa Ice earned a berth in this tournament by winning the 2013 Premier Volleyball League, which is in its second year of existence. And for the second night in a row, Team Iowa Ice found faced an opponent with a size advantage, first with Unilever of Brazil and tonight with VakifBank.
“Playing these two teams, they have players over 6’3 who can jump and hit too,” said Iowa head coach Janelle Hester. “It’s a little different. In the U.S. we have those girls, but over here that wall’s bigger. It’s hard to get around when they’re experienced players.”
The Istanbul roster boasted four players 6’4 and better, so the plan was to hit high and have the balls careen off the hands of the defenders, which worked early on in the match, but then the team from Istanbul adjusted.
“The outsides were getting three blockers,” said setter Kaylee Manns, who has played professionally in Switzerland. “They felt like they were swinging high, when really they’re swinging at the girl’s elbow. It’s different. We don’t see this … ever and I think we responded wonderfully.”
Hester switched the starting line-up a bit from the first night, going with Laurel Abrahamson, who is 6’4, to add some size in the middle and Caitlin Mahoney at libero. The rest of the starters were Carly Jenson, Kaylee Manns, Justine Landi, Brittany Brimmage and Megan Schipper.
In the first set, won by Istanbul 25-16, Iowa showed improvement in their serve receive game. The set featured lots of extended rallies and great digs by Iowa from some very powerful hitters. The Ice narrowed the lead to 12-9 when Justine Landi took a short set from Manns, and nail the kill by splitting the block. But that was followed by a dink shot for a point and a monster block by Istanbul. An Iowa timeout couldn’t stem the tide and Istanbul went up by seven 18-11 and eventually closed out the set.
Jovana Brakocevic, the 6’5 hitter from the Serbian National and Olympic team, had four kills in the first set alone; she finished with five. Captain Gozde Kirdar Sonsirma had seven points in the first set; she earned match-high honors with 11.
Iowa was having match-up issues that continued in the second set. Istanbul finished the night with a block advantage of 10-1. Iowa was hitting high fingers, but Istanbul began to penetrate more, and roofed Iowa’s hitters. Iowa trailed at the first technical time out 8-7, but coming out of the break there were two points lost on blocks at the net, then Jenson made two attacks that were rejected at the net and the point was lost before a third attempt could be made.
The third set was competitive as Iowa Ice finished strong. A particularly nice stretch saw three points scored by the medical school student Landi, who started the run by hitting a dink shot around 6’4 Polen Uslupehlivan, then had back-to-back kills to make the score 19-14 Istanbul.
Iowa lost the set and match 25-17.
Landi was likely the only player in the tournament studying pathology textbooks on the way to practice.
She led the Iowa team with 10 points, scoring on 10 of 20 chances. Schipper and Abrahamson had six points each.
“My year (of playing professionally) in Poland really did help me because we faced people of this size and this caliber,” Landi said. “We got better as it went on. These are really good teams and I think we played really, really well considering that we have day jobs.”