Nanjing, China, June 30, 2018 - Michelle Bartsch-Hackley lifted Team USA into the FIVB Volleyball Nations League final through sheer weight of numbers on Saturday, her match-leading 24 points proving the difference in her side's 3-1 (25-23, 25-20, 18-25, 25-18) victory over China.
The star wing spiker has been a force of nature as these inaugural VNL finals have played out, leading her team to a 3-0 run and top-scoring in each victory so far. On Saturday her points came from 22 kills and two big stuffs and she was a huge influence all match.
But the American talent pool runs deep and the reigning world champions were also lifted at the Olympics Sports Centre by the veteran middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo, with 14 points, and opposite spiker Kelly Murphy with 13 points. Overall the Americans picked up 66 points in total from kills, to China's 55, as they fine-tuned their attack in readiness for Sunday's final, where they'll now face Turkey.
The Chinese were led - as always - by their captain and star Zhu Ting whose 18 points came from 18 kills.
China had lost to Brazil 3-0 the night before but their 3-1 win over the Netherlands on Wednesday proved enough for them to qualify for the semifinals given the Dutch finished pool play winless.
There was hope for the local fans in the third set when China coach Lang Ping subbed 18-year-old opposite spiker Li Yingying in an effort to turn her side's fortunes around. She helped lift China to 25-18 in that stanza and it seemed - for a moment at least - to change the course of the match but the Americans soon regrouped, and Bartsch-Hackley took charge once again. The teenage Chinese star still finished with 14 points - from 12 kills and two aces - and confirmed again the fact that she has enormous future at the top of the game.
Sunday's first-ever VNL final promises plenty, given the fact that Turkey were one of only two teams to beat the Americans during preliminary round play (3-2 way back on May 16) - and given their current run of form.
The USA might have overrun Turkey 3-2 this past Wednesday in the opening VNL finals exchange - Bartsch-Hackley leading the way with 18 points - but that loss seemed to spark the Turks into action, as shown on Thursday when they dispensed with Serbia 3-2, and then again earlier on Saturday with their stunning 3-0 semifinal win over Brazil.
Sunday's action begins with the third-fourth place play-off between Brazil and China at 3pm local time, before the main event, with the whistle set to sound as the USA and Turkey fight for the VNL title at 7pm local time.