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Bartsch-Hackley powers USA into semis after resounding win over Serbia

 

Nanjing, China, June 29, 2018 - Team USA shifted their FIVB Volleyball Nations League finals campaign into overdrive on Friday, dispensing with Serbia 3-0 (29-27, 25-22, 25-19) and seeing star wing spiker Michelle Bartsch-Hackley once again led their assault with 16 points.

While the 28-year-old Bartsch-Hackley has definitely been the leading light for the Americans in this inaugural finals series - her team-leading haul on Friday backing up a 21-point effort in her side's opening 3-2 win over Turkey - it's increasingly becoming a case of the USA sharing the spoils of their victories.

On Friday, opposite Kelly Murphy and veteran middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo (nine points each - with four blocks from Akinradewo) joined the party for the world champions, who came into the finals with the best overall record from preliminaries (13-2) - and are now just one step away from Sunday's VNL final. 

The Serbs looked to be suffering slightly from their marathon loss to Turkey the day before and while they forced the issue in the first and second sets, by the third they looked a spent force. A telling stat at the final whistle was the error count - which read Serbia 25 to the USA's nine.

Still, opposite Tijana BoŇ°kovic was gallant in defeat, with a match-leading 27 points to back her 31-point effort against Turkey. The 21-year-old walks away as one of the stars of the tournament.

Also on the score sheet for Serbia on Friday were wing spiker Jelena Blagojevic with nine points and middle blocker Stefana Veljkovic with seven.

Serbia had come into the VNL finals with the equal second-best record during preliminary play (12-3) but were worked overtime in that opening 3-2 loss at the Olympic Sports Centre to Turkey - a result that meant Friday afternoon's match-up against the USA was a case of do or die.

But in the end the finals proved a bridge too far for the Serbs, who had beaten both the USA and Turkey in pool play. Their opponents quite obviously learned their lessons and Serbia now end their first VNL campaign with an overall record of 12-5.

USA coach Karch Kiraly's charges meanwhile go from strength to strength. Their mix-and-match policy with their starting line-up continues to work - this time out it was middle blocker Lauren Gibbermeyer who sat out the action for the whole match, while her teammates set up the victory. They'll now all sit back on Friday evening and take in the blockbuster between hosts China and Brazil - a match that will decide who the Americans play in the semi-finals on Saturday.

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