Michelle Bartsch-Hackley was the MVP of last year’s inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League tournament, and Team USA happily welcomed her back to the fold for a challenging Week 4 in China.
Bartsch-Hackley, Lauren Carlini and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Karsta Lowe all rejoined the national team for the first time in 2019 after taking some time to recover following the pro season and helped the U.S. go 2-1 in a tough week that saw the team face three of the top five teams in this year’s tournament.
The U.S. entered the week in third place with a 7-2 record coming off a three-game stint at home in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Americans are now 9-3 and in fourth place entering the fifth and final week of play in the 15-game round-robin portion of the tournament. The top five teams along with host China will compete in the Final Six from July 3-7, and the winner will take home $1 million.
The week started off with a match against first-place Turkey, whom the U.S. played three times in last year’s tournament and beat twice — all in five sets — including a victory in the championship game. The rematch didn’t go quite as well, with the U.S. losing in three sets, 25-15, 25-17, 27-25, on Tuesday. Outside hitter Kelsey Robinson, another 2016 Olympian, led the team in scoring with eight points as the U.S. struggled to convert just 34 percent of its attacks.
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Team USA snapped its two-match losing streak against Poland, however, coming away with a 21-25, 25-23, 25-15, 25-11 victory on Wednesday. The U.S. let a lead slip away in the first set and had to come from behind to win the second, but it used a few beneficial runs to help win the third and then dominated the fourth set for the win. With Carlini setting, the U.S. converted 46 percent of its attacks and was led in scoring by opposite Annie Drews with 21 points and Bartsch-Hackley with 17 points.
Bartsch-Hackley was again instrumental in the team’s third match of the week, a 25-17, 25-22, 25-21 win over fourth-place China. She scored nine points in the opening match while middle Chiaka Ogbogu contributed five then helped push the U.S. to the brink of a straight-sets win with a victory in the second set. The U.S. finished it off with another dominating set to stun the hosts. Bartsch-Hackley and Robinson both finished with 20 points.
The women close out round-robin play in Russia next week facing the Netherlands and Thailand along with the host nation.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.