Turkey’s Women’s Volleyball Team at the Top

One of the most special periods in Turkey’s sports history, the story of the women’s volleyball team, is behind us. Now let’s look back to the summer of 2023. With longing, excitement, and pride…

Turkey’s women’s volleyball started to make a name for itself on the world stage, corresponding to the first years of the millennium. Under the leadership of Neslihan Demir, who is still very young but is not far from gaining fame beyond the borders of the country; The European Championship adventure of the national team, consisting of names such as Özlem Özçelik, Natalia Hanikoğlu, Seda Tokatlıoğlu, is unforgettable. The tournament played in our country in 2003 was also the beginning of the Turkey’s Women’s volleyball team era. The impact of the team, which defeated strong rivals such as Russia, Serbia, Montenegro and the Netherlands on the way, and won hearts even though it lost to Poland in the final, was greater than expected at first. After 20 years, we say with full confidence: “We are a volleyball country!” The fact that we can say this is the result of a chain reaction that started in those days. Therefore, it is not possible to talk about today’s successes independently of the heroes of the past.

Of course, taking a look at the stages that the Turkey’s Women’s Volleyball Team has gone through can help you understand how difficult the path is. His journey to becoming an actor on the stage where many different schools of thought collide around the world did not take place in a tournament. The team, who won the Mediterranean Games in 2005, returned to the podium with the title of third in Europe in 2011, and experienced Olympic excitement for the first time in 2012, set their sights on the sport after 2017, when Italian coach Giovanni Guidetti, who has also coached VakıfBank since 2008, took office. set his sights on new horizons. As a result of the serious investment made and the increasing habit of winning, Turkey had already become one of the world giants in club volleyball. However, carrying the same momentum to the international competition arena was not an easy task. According to iconic passer Neslihan Demir, the mission of the Turkish National Team for which she plays was to strive to challenge elite level opponents. There was still a little more time left to be among the top teams…

Guidetti’s period, which is now the focus of criticism, some justified and some very cruel, was a process of transformation in this sense. The top team, which was challenging the favorites, was slowly evolving into one of the favorites with its deep talent pool and young core. The 2019 European Championship, which gave a taste of déjà vu as part of it was played in Turkey, symbolized the transition to the next stage for the Sultans of the Net. Despite the final loss against dominant Serbia, it was difficult not to feel hopeful for the future. We had world-class talent in many positions, and many of them were just getting started. Of course, the goals that could not be achieved, even though they were often approached, brought pressure on the Italian coach. In particular, the number of matches in which the team faced higher-profile opponents was not small. In the “target” matches with teams such as Serbia, Italy and the USA, the results were mostly disappointing. The quarter-final loss to South Korea at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games was etched in memories as one of the breaking moments of the said period.

As the summer of 2023 began, another season in which Turkish teams dominated Europe at the club level had passed. At the national team level, there was a coach change that had been signaled for a long time, and Guidetti’s compatriot Daniele Santarelli took over the position he had held since 2017. The 42-year-old Italian coach was a name that achieved significant success with the Serbian National Team and won the Champions League with his country’s successful club Imoco. The Santarelli era officially began with the Nations League played in Arlington, Texas. The team, which already consists of very high-level athletes such as Captain Eda Erdem, Hande Balâdın, Zehra Güneş and Ebrar Karakurt, has increased its level with the participation of Fenerbahçe’s libero Gizem Örge and Cuban-born Melissa Vargas, who gained the right to play as a devshirme. Santarelli attracted attention with his decision to use setter cross Ebrar in the spiker position with the arrival of Vargas. The result he got was admirable…

Even though they have been playing for the top for a long time, the Sultans, longing for trophies or gold medals, have excelled in the VNL (Nations League). There were new tracks, a new management approach and a whole new energy. The team’s well-functioning structure, driven by Vargas’ incredible offensive power, enabled us to gain an advantage over opponents with whom we had problems in the past. The two matches won 3-1, against the USA in the semi-finals and against China in the final, signaled the beginning of a brand-new era. Carrying the same momentum to the place where it all started in 2003, the European Championship, was the biggest dream. The finals lost in 2003 and 2019 have become a source of motivation for the team, which has now shaken off the hump of not winning a gold medal. Passing its group undefeated; The result was victory for the Sultans of the Net, who defeated Poland in the quarter-finals, Italy in the semi-finals and Serbia in the final, the school countries of European volleyball. Moreover, the comebacks in the last two matches proved how much things have changed mentally. After VNL, we rose to number 1 in the world rankings, and this time we were standing at the top of Europe.

It is obvious how decisive the habit of winning and the self-confidence that comes with it is in sports. The self-confidence of the national team, who stormed through the 2024 Paris Olympic Games qualifiers, the last stop of the magical summer, was evident in every aspect. Whatever the situation, it was a privilege to watch the best team in the world, which conveyed the feeling of “We will win this match” to all its spectators. The 3-0 victory over Brazil, which witnessed great hegemony, and the Japan match, which was returned after the loss of the first set, were the two symbol matches of the qualifiers. The Sultans of the Net closed the summer with a 22-match winning streak and pocketed the third Olympic ticket in their history.

Gizem Örge, Simge Aköz, Cansu Özbay, Melissa Vargas, Ayça Aykaç, Kübra Akman, Hande Balâdın, Derya Cebecioğlu, Elif Şahin, Eda Erdem Dündar, Zehra Güneş, Aslı Kalaç, İlkin Aydın, Ebrar Karakurt and all those who have worked hard for the National Team in the past. actors… Thank you for being an inspiration to a nation and most of all to the women of this country. See you again in Paris.

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