Stars of the Super Finals: VakifBank Istanbul


Article Tue, May 10 2022
Author: Nikolay Markov
Nikolay Markov

I have always admired Giovanni Guidetti’s talent to select the right players, not necessarily the best players, develop their potential and turn them into a winning team. Yes, at VakifBank Istanbul, he always relies on a core of a few top-notch international stars and builds a solid squad by adding a number of stars-to-be around them. Looking at VakifBank’s roster at the beginning of this season, it seemed that the club had lost more than it gained in terms of outgoing and incoming players. Yet here they are, having already won three out of the five possible trophies, including the FIVB Club World Championship crown, and marching on towards the remaining two…

Ahead of the upcoming CEV Champions League Volley Super Final, let’s take another look at who VakifBank’s top-notch stars are this season.

Isabelle Haak (SWE)

Undoubtedly, Isabelle Haak’s scoring prowess has been one of the main keys to VakifBank’s success this season, but also in the previous two since she joined the club in 2019. The Swedish point machine frequently contributes 30+ and even 40+ to her team’s victories. She has been the number one scorer of the Champions League this season, tallying up a total of 195 points so far. The 22-year-old opposite also topped the charts last season on a total of 236 points. As VakifBank reclaimed their Club World Championship title in December, Haak was named Most Valuable Player and, for the second time in a row, the Best Opposite of the tournament. More recently, the 1.96-meter-tall striker took the MVP award at the Turkey Cup after hammering 44 points towards VakifBank’s victory in the final. As a national team player, Haak was instrumental to Sweden’s great success at EuroVolley 2021, where they not only qualified for the Finals for the first time in 38 years, but also made a sensational progress all the way to the top eight.

Michelle Bartsch-Hackley (USA)
Outside Hitter

32-year-old Michelle Bartsch-Hackley is the most experienced player on Guidetti’s squad. Yet she still seems to be getting better and better with time, still on the way to reaching her peak... Excellent in both offence and reception, the 1.93-meter-tall American has been extremely valuable to the success of both VakifBank and the US national team. Last year, she won a gold medal and made the Dream Team at both the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the Volleyball Nations League. Three years earlier, at the inaugural VNL edition, she earned the MVP recognition. And these are just some of the many individual achievements in her career, including honors as best outside hitter, best opposite, best server and best receiver at various competitions. In addition to the Olympic title, the three back-to-back VNL crowns and the Club World Championship trophy, Bartsch-Hackley has collected a number of medals at both the national team and the club levels, most notably the 2019 Champions League gold with Italy’s Igor Gorgonzola Novara, the 2021 silver with VakifBank, the FIVB World Cup silver in 2015 and the Pan American Games gold in 2015.

Gabriela Guimaraes (BRA)
Outside Hitter

In 2021 alone, Gabi Guimaraes collected individual awards at almost all international competitions she took part in. The 27-year-old Brazilian was named Best Outside Hitter of the Champions League, the VNL and the Club World Championship, and at the South American Championship, where Brazil claimed the gold, Gabi was recognized as tournament MVP. Going back in time, the list of her individual awards gets very long, but let me just mention a couple of more MVP nominations, at the 2015 South American Championship and the 2017 South American Club Championship. Before reaching the top of the world with VakifBank, the Brazilian outside had already collected four Club World Championship podiums, in addition to five continental titles at the club level. With the national team of Brazil, Gabi’s showcase boasts an Olympic silver, an FIVB World Championship bronze, an FIVB World Grand Champions Cup silver, three FIVB World Grand Prix trophies and three continental trophies, among many others. With 148 points to her name, she is VakifBank’s second best scorer this Champions League season.

Zehra Gunes (TUR)
Middle Blocker

Zehra Gunes is a real pearl on Giovanni Guidetti’s team. Only 22 years old, the 197-meter-tall middle blocker has already become one of Turkey’s favorites. Playing for VakifBank’s senior team since 2017, she has been a contributor to so many of the club’s recent achievements, including three Club World Championship titles and three Champions League medals. Gunes made the Dream Team at the two most recent editions of the Club World Championship. She has been a key member of the Turkish national team for a while too, helping the squad to two EuroVolley and two VNL podiums, as well as the FIVB U23 World Championship crown in 2017. At the last Olympics in Tokyo, Zehra topped the charts for best blocker of the tournament with as many as 29 stuffs to her name.

A few other players could well have made this list of VakifBank stars, who are getting ready to shine in the Super Final on May 22 in Ljubljana. As the team tries to get back at Italy’s A. Carraro Imoco Conegliano for losing last year’s final, setter Cansu Ozbay, opposite Meryem Boz, outside Tugba Senoglu, middles Chiaka Ogbogu and Kubra Akman and libero Ayca Aykac are also among the ones to watch.