Vargas during her first training session with the Turkish team (Photo: Turkish Volleyball Federation)

With 14 players and two remarkable new faces, Türkiye’s women’s national team gathered for the first time in the season in Istanbul and started its preparations for the Volleyball Nations League 2023.

Star opposite Melissa Vargas, who’s now eligible to represent the country after becoming a Turkish citizen, and new head coach Daniele Santarelli, who got to work with the players for the first time since his hiring, were in the spotlight as the team worked at the TVF Burhan Felek Vestel Volleyball Hall on Thursday.

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Born in Cuba, the 24-year-old Vargas has been playing for Turkish clubs since 2018 and has now received her first call-up to represent the national team. The 1.94m-tall opposite had a tremendous club season, winning national titles in China with Tianjin Bohai Bank and in Türkiye with Fenerbahçe Opet, besides helping the team make it to the semifinals of the CEV Champions League.

Vargas has limited international experience with Cuba, appearing in the 2014 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship at the age of 15, the 2015 FIVB World Cup and in three editions of the FIVB World Grand Prix. She’s now set to make her VNL debut.

“It is an honor to be part of the women’s national team of Türkiye,” she commented following the training session. “I am eager to contribute my best to the team’s success and make my new country proud.”

With Vargas available, Santarelli has two excellent options at the opposite position as she’s positioned to fight for a spot in the team's lineup with longtime starter and leading scorer Ebrar Karakurt.

“Melissa is an exceptional player, and we are thrilled to have her join us,” Santarelli commented. “Her presence will undoubtedly strengthen our team and bring a new level of competitiveness to our game.”

The arrival of Santarelli is also expected to take the Turkish national team to another level as the Italian coach takes over the team after leading Serbia to a world title and a bronze medal at the VNL in 2022 and has a stellar club career coaching Prosecco Doc Imoco Conegliano to five Lega Pallavolo Serie A1 Femminile victories and two world titles.

While some of his players are still involved with their clubs, Santarelli is now working with setters Buse Unal and Sila Caliskan, opposites Vargas and Karakurt, outside hitters Neriman Ozsoy, Ilkin Aydin and Meliha Diken, middle blocker Eda Erdem, Ayçin Akyol, Zeynep Sude Demirel and Asli Kalac and liberos Gizem Orge and Melis Yilmaz.

Türkiye will be at home in Antalya in the opening week of the VNL 2023, where they will face Korea, Serbia, Italy and the United States from May 30-June 4.

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