Turkiye women’s volleyball make history as they are crowned VLN World Champions

The Sultans of the Net struck gold on Sunday after beating China in the final of the 2023 FIVB Women’s World Championship on to lift the Volleyball Nations League (VNL) trophy. It was the first time a Turkish women’s team has won a major volleyball title.

Playing at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas, the Sultans of the Net dominated Asia’s volleyball powerhouse. The formidable Turks only dropped the second set, going on to comfortably win the match 3-1 (25-22, 22-25, 25-19, 25-16).

Turkiye’s star player in the final was 23-year-old Melissa Vargas, who not only led the scores with 26 points (21 kills, three aces, two blocks), but also delivered vital points for the Sultans at key moments in the game.

Cuban-born Vargas’ incredible performance saw her top the VLN finals score charts with 65 points, winning her the coveted Most Valuable Player award. Vargas was also named in the tournament Dream Team, along with two other Turkish players, Zehra Güneş and Gizem Örge.

Turkiye’s team captain Eda Erdem and Ebrar Karakurt, who produced the match-winning point with a stuff block, also had strong performances, each scoring 12 points.

Joyful scenes erupted as Turkiye won the final, with the team and coaching staff celebrating by dancing to popular Turkish folk song Erik Dalı on the court.

Reacting to Turkiye’s women’s team epic feat, Erdem said: “I’m living a dream right now. I just can’t believe it; it doesn’t feel real. I’ve been representing my country since 2005 and there’s been so much sacrifice, so much sadness and so much joy.”

“It’s been a long journey and I think that this year, with coach Santarelli, he made us believe we could be the champions. He helped us grow and remember who we are. I’m so proud of my team, we made history, we waited for it for so long,” Erdem added.

Turkiye had shown plenty of promise earlier in the tournament’s preliminary phase, qualifying as one of the top three sides.

They went on to knock out defending champions Italy 3-0 in the quarter-finals. They also eliminated tournament hosts USA 3-1 in a semi-final match on Saturday to set up a date with China in the final of the fifth edition of the FIVB Women’s World Championship.

Turkiye’s defeated semi-finalists US played Poland in the match for third place. Cheered on by the home crowd, the Americans could not find a way to beat their European opponents who took bronze with a 3-2 victory. It was the Polish women’s team’s best ever result in a major tournament.

For newly crowned World Champions Turkiye, this moment has been long in the making. They had previously won silver and bronze medals in the VNL in 2018 and 2021, respectively. They also took silver medals at the European Championship in 2003 and 2019. However, victory on the international stage seemed to always elude them.

The decision to appoint Italian Daniele Santarelli as head coach of the Turkish women’s national team has proven to be pivotal to their success this season.

Santarelli, who has won major titles as a coach with both Serbia and the Netherlands, gave the Sultans the necessary confidence to form that winning mentality, helping them to go all the way in the VLN tournament and win their first major international title.

Their VLN success in Arlington means Turkiye is now also ranked first in the world women’s volleyball rankings.