After a year off in 2020 and a competition held behind closed doors in 2021, both due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Volleyball Nations League returned to normal in 2022, with a slightly modified competition formula and a brand new winner. Paola Egonu powered Italy in the fourth edition of the women’s VNL to the team’s first-ever title and first podium, which put an end to USA’s domination in the first three tournaments.
Year in Review: Italy break USA domination in women’s VNL
Paola Egonu’s fantastic performance earns her a well-deserved MVP award
Publicado 08:00, 26 Dec 2022
VNL 2022 again featured 16 participating teams, but this time each of them played only 12 matches over the three competition weeks of the Preliminary Phase, and as many as half progressed to the VNL Finals in Ankara.
The tournament started on May 31 and during the first competition week the teams were split into two pools, one in Ankara and one in USA’s Shreveport-Bossier City. In the Turkish capital, Thailand sensationally won three of their four games - against Bulgaria, reigning world champions Serbia and mighty China - to highlight the start of the season, while Japan went unbeaten through the pool in Louisiana.
After a mediocre start in Ankara, Italy’s campaign picked up speed as Egonu joined the squad for the second week. They managed to win four out of four in the pool played in Brasilia, defeating opponents like Serbia and hosts Brazil. At the same time in Quezon City, the Japanese squad extended their perfect run over another four games. USA also mastered four victories in the Philippines.
The Americans added another four wins in the third competition week, when they played in Calgary, to finish on top of the Preliminary Phase standings on an 11-1 win-loss record. Brazil hammered out four victories at the tournament in Sofia to make runners-up on 10-2. So did Italy to take third place, behind the South Americans on set ratio.
The remaining five spots in the Finals went to China, Japan, Serbia, hosts Türkiye and Thailand, who completed the top eight of the Preliminary Phase in that order. Belgium, who finished 15th and were the bottom-ranked Challenger team, were relegated to play in the Volleyball Challenger Cup 2022. They failed to win that competition and will be replaced by Croatia in the 2023 VNL.
Three of the quarterfinals in Ankara were resolved in four sets, with Brazil defeating Japan, Italy outplaying China, and Türkiye knocking out Thailand. In a thrilling five-setter, world champs Serbia managed to dethrone defending VNL titleholders USA.
Brazil came back from a catastrophic first set to beat Serbia 3-1 in the first semifinal and advance to their third consecutive VNL final, while Italy disappointed the home crowd with a straight-set win over Türkiye.
In the big final on July 17, Egonu and her teammates did not leave their South American opponents a chance and triumphed after a 3-0 (25-23, 25-22, 25-22) shutout. Earlier that day, Serbia swept the home team in the third place match to claim their first medal in the history of the competition.
Egonu, the best scorer of the Finals with 83 points and second best of the entire tournament with a total of 294 points, added another well-deserved award to her growing collection of individual honours. After leading her team to a historic VNL title, the 23-year-old star was named Most Valuable Player. She was also on the list of seven athletes named on the VNL 2022 Dream Team:
Although Belgium did not make it to the Finals, their star striker Britt Herbots emerged as the best scorer of the VNL season on a total of 306 points. Carol’s blocking performance during the competition was also amazing. The Brazilian middle broke the VNL record by piling up an impressive total of 74 kill blocks.
“I am super happy and proud of us, because it’s the first time winning the VNL. As I always say, I can get a player award, but what’s more important is that I am happy we work together as a team. I want to dedicate our victory and my MVP award to my grandfather.” Paola Egonu, opposite of Italy, VNL 2022 gold medallist and MVP