Italy’s Prosecco Doc Imoco Conegliano and Türkiye’s VakifBank Spor Kulubu advanced to Sunday’s final of the Club World Champs in Antalya for a remake of last year’s title game, won by the Yellow-and-Blacks in five sets. On Saturday, Imoco hammered out a 3-0 (25-12, 25-17, 25-21) shutout of Gerdau Minas of Belo Horizonte, Brazil in the first semifinal. Then in an all-Istanbul duel, defending champions VakifBank outplayed Eczacibasi Dynavit by 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-23). The gold medal match will start at 16:00 local time (13:00 UTC). Three hours earlier, Gerdau Minas and Eczacibasi will meet for the bronze.

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A triumphant Alexa Gray

Canadian outside hitter Alexa Gray and Swedish opposite Isabelle Haak shared the top scorer honours in the first semifinal with 15 points each towards Imoco’s straight-set victory, both spiking at a 50% success rate. Gray’s tally included an ace, while Haak added a kill block to her 14 points in offence.

The Panthers applied pressure right from the start and entered the match on a 3-0 run. Gray led Imoco’s attack as the Italian team completely dominated the set on the way to a 25-12 blowout, with Gray herself nailing the winner from the back row.

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Isabelle Haak in attack

Two aces in a row by Polish setter and captain Joanna Wolosz highlighted Imoco’s emphatic start of the second set for a 5-0 lead. Minas battled their way back to level the score at 10-10, only to let the initiative slip away again. Gray stayed in charge of Imoco’s offence to power the team to gradually opening a wide gap again, and once again she was the one to close the set with a swing from zone four for 25-17.

An ace for 3-0 by middle blocker Marina Lubian marked another great start for Imoco in the third set. Then they just kept pace to maintain a comfortable lead through the end. Haak was on fire in attack to score eight points in the set, including the match winner for 25-21.

In the second semifinal, VakifBank’s Italian opposite Paola Egonu won the scoring race with her Serbian counterpart on Eczacibasi’s side Tijana Boskovic. In three sets, Egonu put away as many as 29 points, including three aces and a block. Brazilian outside hitter and captain Gabriela Guimaraes and American middle Chiaka Ogbogu added 12 and 11 points, respectively, each with three kill blocks to her name. Boskovic fired 20 kills in attack and an ace for the Tigers.

What coach Giovanni Guidetti put out there on the court for the first set was a merciless attacking machine. With Egonu leading the offence (10 points in that set alone), and with Ogbogu and Gabi also spiking away, VakifBank earned most of their points during the first set without filing away much in terms of opponent errors. Middle Zehra Gunes chipped in with a couple of kill blocks as the Yellow-and-Blacks dominated the first set and pocketed it at 25-21, on a swing by Egonu for the last point.

Eczacibasi reacted with a 4-1 lead in the second set, but VakifBank quickly caught up at 7-7 on an ace by Dutch outside Nika Daalderop. An even battle unfolded until a spectacular mega rally was finally finished off by Gabi with a sharp-angle cross-court hit that fell on the outer edge of the side line for 17-16 and served as a momentum booster for VakifBank. They took control and completely dominated the epilogue. Egonu crowned another brilliant performance in this set with a winning ace for 25-19.

Eczacibasi did not surrender and took the early lead in the third set again. But once again, VakifBank caught up quickly. Aces by Zehra for 12-10 and Egonu for 14-11 were what started tilting the balance more heavily the defending champs’ way. Four points in a row, with Egonu serving an ace and Ogbogu in charge at the net (an overpass kill and a monster block), put VakifBank at a 24-18 match point. But it was still too soon for the Tigers to give in. They denied it five times, before Ogbogu finally ended a nip-and-tuck rally with a block for 25-23.

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