LINCOLN — The U.S. was expected to ease into the Volleyball Nations League with a few of the minnows of international volleyball before facing the sport’s big fish in a couple of weeks.
But Wednesday night, the Americans fell out of the boat. Turkey’s 20th block of the match held off one final comeback, sealing a 28-26, 25-19, 20-25, 24-26, 16-14 win at the Devaney Center.
The loss dropped the U.S. to 1-1 in Week 1 of the tourney and put the Americans in need of a win Thursday night over 0-2 Italy to avoid a losing record on home soil to start the event.
“I’m not sure when the last time Turkey beat USA was,” Turkey coach Giovanni Guidetti said. “I don’t think many times in the history of Turkey volleyball.”
Turkey brought a roster with an average age of 22 to Lincoln, but its two 30-year-olds took the lead. Meryem Boz had 17 points on 15 kills and two blocks, while Eda Erdem added 16 points with 10 kills, three blocks and three aces.
Outside hitter Kim Hill, who didn’t play in Tuesday’s opener against Poland, led the Americans with a match-high 19 points but had two costly misfires late after the U.S. fought off three match points.
After seeing its 2-0 lead evaporate when the U.S. won the third and fourth sets, Turkey seemed to have the finale in hand when Zehra Gunes put Turkey up 14-11 with her final kill. But the Americans pulled even 14-14 on a kill by Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, a Turkey hitting error and a block by setter Carli Lloyd.
The momentum had one final shift. Hill’s sharp cross shot on the next rally sailed wide to give Turkey its fourth match point, and when the ball went back to Hill, Erdem ’s shot was sent back to the Americans’ shoe tops to seal the win.
Gunes, Turkey’s 18-year-old middle blocker, had eight of Turkey’s 20 blocks and also finished with 16 points.
The Americans spent much of the night chasing rallies after errant first touches. Former Husker libero Justine Wong-Orantes was a regular target of challenging Turkey serves and often struggled to get the first touch on point.
Coach Karch Kiraly changed five starters from Tuesday night, going with Hill and former Husker Kelsey Robinson at outside hitter, Tori Dixon and Lauren Gibbemeyer at middle blocker and Annie Drews at opposite.
But after Turkey cruised to the win in the second set, Tuesday night starters Jordan Larson and Kelly Murphy went the rest of the way at outside hitter and opposite, respectively.
Larson finished with seven kills and an ace.
Turkey nearly finished the match in four, but the USA survived a match point on a kill by Hill to start a 3-0 run that sent the Americans into the decisive fifth set, where a new lineup nearly pulled off the comeback.
At one point in the fifth, the Americans had four outside hitters on the floor with Larson and Hill joined by Bartsch-Hackley and Robinson. Bartsch-Hackley had six kills in the set and said the makeshift lineup was an attempt by Kiraly to find creative solutions when little else consistently went right for the U.S.
“He’s just trying to put pieces together right now,” she said.
Dixon and Gibbemeyer each had 12 points for the U.S.