Ekaterina Antropova is among the 14 Italian players who will make the trip to Antalya (Photo: Galbiati/FIPAV)

Several of the women’s national teams that will start their Volleyball Nations League 2024 campaigns next week in Antalya, Türkiye, finalized their preparations for the event with exhibition matches over the last few days in Europe.

Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and Germany were among the teams that got on the court during the week, fine-tuning the final details ahead of the official start of the international season.

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Having new head coach Julio Velasco on the bench for the first time, Italy had promising first steps under his guidance, sweeping Sweden on Wednesday in Novara and on Thursday in Piacenza. Opposite Camilla Mingardi scored 12 points in the first match while middle blocker Sara Bonifacio led all scorers in the second encounter, with ten.

“These two matches allowed us to test all the work we’ve done over the last few weeks,” Bonifacio reflected. “These two victories give us more energy and confidence ahead of the VNL. We’re very excited to start, especially knowing that the VNL will offer us the possibility of qualifying for the Olympics, which is our main goal. We’re obviously still able to grow a lot, but what we showed this week was certainly a good start.”

After the second match, Velasco announced the 14-player squad that will make the trip to Antalya with setters Carlotta Cambi and Francesca Bosio, opposites Mingardi and Ekaterina Antropova, outside hitters Alice Degradi, Caterina Bosetti, Stella Nervini and Loveth Omoruyi, middle blockers Bonifacio, Linda Nwakalor, Anna Danesi and Yasmina Akrari and liberos Ilaria Spirito and Eleonora Fersino.

Poland and the Netherlands split wins

Poland, already guaranteed in the Olympics, and the Netherlands, still looking for qualification, also played twice over the week, but split victories ahead of their VNL debuts. Both matches were held in Bielsko-Biała and the teams agreed to play five sets in each of them, with the hosts winning all of them on Thursday and the visitors prevailing 3-2 on Friday.

Before facing the Poles on the road, the Dutch welcomed Romania on Monday in Wijchen and emerged victorious in five sets.

The Romanians were also opponents to Germany in their first match of the season, an exhibition duel held in Potsdam on Friday, which had the home team coming out on top after five sets. It was the first match of the team under new head coach Alexander Waibl.

Opposite Lena Kindermann, who was making her national team debut, was the match's top scorer with 23 points, followed by outside hitter Lena Alsmeier, with 22, and middle blocker Camilla Weitzel, with 21.

"We didn't have a lot of training time together, so it was a little bumpy at the start," Weitzel reacted. "But I'm of proud of the team because we fought back and showed our strength."

Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and Germany will all be in Antalya in the opening week of the VNL. Italians and Polish will face each other in the opening day, on Tuesday, at 20:00 local time (17:00 GMT), three hours before the Dutch debut against Bulgaria. Germany will start their campaign on Wednesday, at 17:00 local time (14:00 GMT), against VNL rookies France.

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