International men’s volleyball: Big weeks for Stahl, Knigge, Christenson

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Micah Christenson sets Max Holt in the middle while Ivan Zaytsev takes an approach in the background/legavolley.it photo

This is Blair Lambert’s VolleyballMag.com weekly men’s professional volleyball report, featuring Americans around the world. Got a note about a player or a comment for Blair? Email him at blairlambert2@gmail.com

The Coppa Italia kicked off this week, and while every team held its seed, there was a bit of a surprise. Erik Shoji’s squad earned a win that signified a huge downfall for one of the world’s most successful clubs. Two Italian teams made up a Champions League fixture that was originally scheduled for December. Berlin showed how its depth gives it a huge advantage in Germany, and a middle blocker in Spain is quietly having one of the most impressive seasons of any American player.

Three Stars: This was a big week for middle blockers. Many of them produced impressive performances, and we’ve highlighted the biggest of the week. There is also a player who is a familiar face to American volleyball fans, who had two steady performances that led to wins for his team.

Mitch Stahl, middle blocker, Chaumont HB 52 VB, France — Stahl played two matches last week and made put up impressive numbers. The middle blocker from UCLA hit .714 in a sweep on January 22. He finished the match with five kills, two blocks, and two aces.He followed that up on January 25 with seven kills, four aces, and eight blocks in a four-set win over Tours.

Mattew Knigge earns one of his 19 kills this weekend in Spain/rfevb.com

Matthew Knigge, middle blocker, Arenal Emevé, Spain — Knigge is not a stranger to this list. The second-year player from Vassar scored 24 points from the middle on January 25. He hit .480 on his way to 16 kills. He also scored on five blocks and three aces for a total of 24 points in a 3-2 victory.

Micah Christenson, setter, Leo Shoes Modena, Italy — Christenson and Modena played Consar Ravenna twice this past week in the Coppa Italia and the SuperLega. He set his team to two wins and was a perfect 6-0 in sets. Christenson set Modena to a .518 hitting percentage on January 22 in the Coppa Italia. He followed it up by setting his team to a .338 attack efficiency. Christenson also contributed two blocks and an ace.

Champions League Group A: Lube Civitanova and Itas Trentino played a rare weekend Champions League match on January 26 that was rescheduled from the very first match day due to Lube’s participation in the FIVB World Club Championships at the beginning of December. Trentino was without Aaron Russell and Uros Kovacevic due to nagging injuries. Osmany Juantorena led with match with 19 points on 17 kills, one block, and one ace. Lube came away with a 3-0 sweep and three points. The defending champions and club world champions are on top of the group with a perfect 3-0 record and nine points. Trentino is in second position at 2-1 and five points. If the competition were to end at the halfway mark, Trentino would advance with Fakel Novy Urengoy and Knack Roeselare as the three top runners up.

Italy: The quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia started on January 22, and Leo Shoes Modena was the first team to book a spot in the semifinals with a sweep of Consar Ravenna. Micah Christenson set Modena to a .514 hitting percentage and scored a point from a block. Matt Anderson hit .500 and passed 60 percent of his receptions positively. He led the match with 14 points on 10 kills, one block, and a match-high three aces. Max Holt was back in the squad, and he came into the match as a substitute in the second set. Holt finished with two points on a kill and a block. Modena will play Sir safety Perugia on February 22 in the semifinals.

Russell was not on the floor for Trentino in its 3-0 sweep of Allianz Milan on January 23. Trentino was able to neutralize Nimir Abdel-Aziz’s match-high 20 points. Klemen Cebulj stepped in to lead Trentino with 17 points. Srecko Lisinac and Davide Candellaro produced in the middle with 11 and 10 points for the victors. Trentino will play Lube on February 23, who beat Vero Volley Monza in four sets in the quarterfinals.

TJ DeFalco had a rough outing on January 25 against Gas Sales Piacenza. DeFalco earned seven kills but only .105 in Tonno Callipo Calabria Vibo Valentia’s 3-0 defeat. He was his team’s leading passer in serve receive with 54 percent of positive receptions. Vibo Valentia remains in 13th position with a 3-11 record and nine points.

Modena earned its second sweep of the week over Ravenna, this time in a SuperLega matchup on January 26. Holt was back in the starting lineup and scored 10 points. He finished with eight kills, a block, a kill, and hit .727 with no hitting errors. Christenson set Modena to a .338 attack average in addition to scoring on an ace and a block. Anderson only started in the third set for Modena. He and Bartosz Bednorz split time at outside hitter while Denis Kaliberda got a rare opportunity to start. Anderson finished with two points on a kill and an ace. He hit .333 with one kill on three attempts. Modena is 12-4 and in third place with 37 points, just two points behind Perugia.

Kupono Fey was used as a substitute in each of the sets in a 3-1 defeat to Kioene Padova on January 26. He received two passes for Globo Banca Popolare Del Sora in the defeat. Neither of those receptions were rated as positive.

Russia: Erik Shoji and Fakel Novy Urengoy defeated Zenit Kazan on January 22 in its first match of 2020. This win puts Fakel in fifth place, a full six points ahead of Zenit Kazan. Shoji passed 62 percent of his receptions positively, and 14 percent of his receptions were rated as perfect. This result gets Fakel back into the win column after losing a match to ASK to close out 2019. Shoji and company fell to Kuzbass Kemerovo on January 26. He passed 48 percent positively and 20 percent perfectly. Fakel is 9-4 and in fourth place, right behind Kuzbass.

Last Thursday marked Kazan’s third loss of the regular season. To put this into perspective, this is the same amount of losses the club has suffered in the last three years of the regular season combined. Kazan has lost five matches total in the last five seasons of the Russian Super League, and it has only lost more than one regular season match on one occasion (2018). Zenit also currently sits in third place of its group in the CEV Champions League with a 1-2 record. While it still has three matches left in this season’s group stage, it has lost the same amount of matches as the last eight seasons combined in the Champions League. Kazan has not lost a match in the group stage since 2014. In the last eight seasons, the Russian juggernaut has won the tournament five times with a silver (2019) and a bronze medal (2013). As it stands, the club is not in position to reach the playoffs.

Poland: Ślepsk Malow Suwałki found out why Verva Warsaw are on top of the table on January 21 when Warsaw completed the sweep inless than 90 minutes. Josh Tuaniga set Suwałki to a .364 hitting percentage in the defeat.

Asseco Resovia Rzeszów picked up a win in four sets against Indykpol AZS Olsztyn on January 22. Kawika Shoji started the first two sets and came off the bench in the fourth. Resovia hit .398 and Shoji scored on a service ace.

Brenden Sander was back in the starting lineup for Cerrad Enea Czarni Radom on January 22. Sander scored 19 points for his club in a 3-2 defeat to BKS Visła Bydgoszcz. He finished with 16 kills and three blocks while hitting .364.

GKS Katowice prevailed over Trefl Gdańsk in five sets on January 22. Dustin Watten and his squad went on the road to pick up two points. The American libero passed 64 percent of his receptions positively, and had 28 percent of his passes rated as perfect.

Dave Smith attacks a ball in the middle for ZAKSA on January 22/plusliga.pl

Dave Smith and ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Kozle dropped their second consecutive match on January 22. The five-set loss came to Jastrzębski Coal. Smith hit .500 in the middle, scoring on six kills and an ace. That was ZAKSA’s third loss of the regular season, matching the loss total from all of last year.

ZAKSA got back into the habit of winning with a sweep of Aluron Virtu CMC Zawiercie on January 25. Smith hit .500 on his way to four kills. He also led with match with six blocks. ZAKSA remains in second position with a 13-3 record and 40 points.

GKS Katowice prevailed over Indykpol AZS Olsztyn in five sets on January 25. Watten passed 59 percent of his receptions positively and 18 percent of his passes were classified as perfect. Katowice is 16-7 and in sixth place with 22 points.

Resovia lost to Cuprum Lubin in straight sets on January 26. Shoji started the third set and did not score any points. Resovia hit .318 on the match. The club currently sits in 11th position at 6-10 with 19 points.

France: Cannes got back into the win column with a 3-1 victory over Paris on January 21. Kyle Russell led the match with 25 points from 24 kills and an ace. The opposite who played the last two seasons in Berlin hit .525 from the right side. Matt West scored seven points while setting Cannes to a .442 hitting percentage. West finished with three aces, two kills, and two blocks.

Mitch Stahl hit an impressive .714 from the middle with no errors for Chaumont in a sweep of Arago de Sete on January 22. The former UCLA Bruin finished with five kills, two blocks, and two aces.

Max Chamberlain was used as a serving substitute in all three sets for Tourcoing in its 3-0 sweep at the hands of Nantes Reze on January 21. He attempted and completed six serves without committing an error but did not score.

Price Jarman was used as a substitute in the third set for Tours in a sweep of Nice on January 21. He attempted and completed one serve and finished without any points.

Micah Ma’a set Poitiers to a 3-0 win over Ajaccio on January 21. That win put Poitiers into playoff contention as the right seed. Ma’a set Poitiers to a .242 hitting percentage and scored four points of his own. The rookie from UCLA scored on two aces, a kill, and a block.

Russell scored 12 points for Cannes, but his 10 kills were accompanied by nine errors in a 3-1 defeat to Montpellier on January 24. He finished with a .033 hitting percentage to go with two blocks. West set Cannes to a .218 attack average. Cannes is now in 11th place with a 7-10 record and 20 points.

Chamberlain came off the bench as a serving substitute in every set of Tourcoing’s 3-1 win over Narbonne on January 24. He finished with an ace on seven service attempts. Tourcoing is 10-7 with 27 points and in fifth place.

Ma’a set Poitiers to a .435 hitting percentage, but the team still fell to league-leading Rennes in four sets on January 25. Poitiers is in ninth place at 7-10 with 22 points.

Chaumont moved to 10-7 after a 3-1 win over Tours on January 25. Stahl scored 19 points in the middle with seven kills, four aces, and eight blocks. He hit .313 in the victory. Jarman came into the match in the fourth set for Tours. He did not score any points. Chaumont is in fourth position in the standings with 31 points. Tours sits in second place at 12-5 and 37 points.

Germany: VfB Friedrichshafen suffered an embarrassing loss to Heitiec Volleys Eltmann on January 22. Eltmann is in last place and the club recently declared for bankruptcy. Brendan Schmidt scored 10 points in the middle on five kills, two blocks, and three aces. Schmidt hit .833 without committing an error in attack. Joe Worsley set Friedrichshafen to a .286 hitting percentage. He also scored on a kill, a block, and an ace.

Berlin Recycling Volleys increased its lead at the top of tes standings with a 3-1 win over then second-placed Hypo Tirol AlpenVolleys Unterhaching on January 23. Kyle Ensing started the match at opposite and played the first three sets. He scored 10 points on nine kills and one block. Ensing posted a .191 hitting percentage. Ben Patch made his first appearance after an injury. He replaced Ensing in the third set and started the fourth. Patch hit .636 and finished with eight kills, Cody Kessell started at outside hitter, scoring 11 points on nine kills and two blocks. He hit .471 on the night. Jeff Jendryk scored nine points in the middle on eight kills and a block while hitting .462. JT Hatch did not play for Berlin. The lead for Berlin is now nine points. The club is 15-0 with 41 points.

WWK Volleys Herrsching defeated TV Rottenburg in four sets on January 25. Jalen Penrose scored 18 points for Herrsching. He hit .161 and finished with 13 kills. Penrose also scored on three aces and two blocks. Karl Apfelbach started the match at opposite and played in the first two sets for Rottenburg. He scored three points on two kills and an ace, but he hit -.222 with four hitting errors. Mitch Penning scored two points in the middle from a kill and a block with a .000 attack average. Herrsching is in sixth place at 7-7 with 21 points. Rottenburg 5-9 with 15 points and in eighth position.

Friedrichshafen climbed back into second place with a 3-1 win over SVG Lüneburg on January 25. Worsley was named the MVP of the match for Friedrichshafen. Unfortunately, the statistics for the match were not released by the German Bundesliga at the time of this writing. Friedrichshafen now has a 10-4 record with 32 points. Lüneburg is now 9-5 with 24 points and in fifth place.

David Wieczorek scored 13 points for Helios Grizzlys Giesen in a 3-1 loss to SWD powervolleys Duren on January 25. Wieczorek scored his points from 11 kills, one block, and one ace while hitting .240. Michael Wexter was not in the lineup for Giesen. Wieczorek and his club are in tenth place with a 3-11 record and 11 points.

Greg Petty led the match with 21 points for Volleyball Bisons Bühl in a 3-1 defeat to United Volleys Frankfurt on January 25. Petty finished with 19 kills and two aces. He hit .516 from the left side. Bühl is 4-10 with nine points and currently in 11th place.

Belgium: Knack Roeselare continued its impressive form in 2020 with a sweep of Lindemans Aalst on January 25. Joe Norman did not see any playing time for Roeselare in the victory. That was only Aalst’s second loss of the season. Both Roeselare and Aalst are 10-2, but Aalst holds a 30-29 advantage in points and is in first place.

Czech Republic: Ústí nad Labem dropped a three-set match to VK Ostrava on January 25. Zach Melcher set the losing side to a .200 hitting percentage and scored two points from a kill and a block. Ústí nad Labem is in last place with a 3-12 record and eight points.

Matt August scored was used as a serving substitute for Volejbal Brno in a 3-0 win over Dukla Liberec. That win moved Brno passed Liberec into third place in the standings with a 11-4 record and 32 points.

Odolena Voda prevailed over Beskydy in three sets on January 25. Kevin Gear scored eight points on the evening. He put away three kills to go with five blocks, and he posted a .429 hitting percentage. Odolena Voda is in sixth place with a 9-7 record and 23 points.

Finland: Savo Volley fell in four sets to Kokkolan Tiikerit on January 21. Despite the loss, Josh Ayzenberg led the match with 63 percent positive receptions and 32 percent of his passes being rated as perfect. Savo bounced back to beat top-ranked Hurrikaani Loimaa on January 25. Ayzenberg again led the match with 80 percent of his passes being classified as positive and 40 percent perfect receptions. Savo is 20-4 and in second place with 59 points.

Raison Loimu lost to Hurrikaani in three sets on January 23. Blake Leeson scored five points in the middle on three kills, one ace, one block, and a .300 attack average. Avery Aylsworth passed 69 percent of his receptions positively and finished with 38 percent of his passes being rated as perfect. Loimu responded with a 3-2 win over the Vantaa Ducks on January 25. Aylsworth put forth a 78 and 33 percent passing performance in the win. Leeson finished with 21 points in the middle from 19 kills and two blocks with a .195 hitting percent. Tommy Carmody scored 14 points in the middle for Vantaa. His points came on nine kills, four blocks, one ace, and he hit .278. Raison Loimu is in sixth place with a 9-14 record and 24 points. Vantaa are in ninth place (out of ten teams) with a 5-20 record and 17 points.

Team Lakkapää dropped another pair of matches this past week. VaLePa swept Lakkapää on January 24. Ryan Manoogian passed 75 percent of his receptions positively and eight percent were deemed perfect. Karelian Hurmos defeated Lakkapää in five sets on January 26. Manoogian registered a 74 and 15 percent performance on the night. Kyle Foley was not utilized in the match by Hurmos. Team Lakkapää sits in the last position of the league table with a 1-23 record and eight points. Karelian Hurmos is currently in eighth place at 7-17 with 18 points.

Slovenia: A week after claiming the Slovenian Cup, ACH Volley remained at the top of the MEVZA standings with a 3-1 victory over OK Mladost Brcko of Bosnia and Herzegovina on January 25. Kyle Dagostino played in the third and fourth sets for ACH, and he passed 43 percent of his receptions positively and perfectly. ACH is now 10-2 in the MEVZA with 30 points and two matches left in the league stage of the competition.

Spain: Unicaja Costa de Almería remained in first place with a 3-0 win over Voleibol Almoradi on January 25. Nick Amado got the start at middle and scored eight points. Amado led the match with five blocks to go with three kills. He hit .375 on the night. Almería is 14-1 with 39 points.

Arenal Emevé defeated UBE L´Illa Grau in five sets on January 25. Matthew Knigge produced points in all three facets, finishing with 16 kills, five blocks, and three aces. Knigge hit .480 on his way to helping his team earn its ninth win of the season. Arenal Emevé is 9-5 with 22 points and sitting in sixth position in the standings.

Switzerland: Matt Yoshimoto did not see any action for Lindaren Volley Amriswil in its 3-1 victory over Lausanne. That win keeps Amriswilin first place with a 13-1 record and 37 points.

Netherlands: Mitch Perinar scored 13 points for Samen Lycurgus in a 3-1 win over Active Living Orion on January 25. His points came on 11 kills and two blocks. Colin Meehan finished with nine points from seven kills, a block, and an ace. Lycurgus currently sits in second place with 43 points after 16 matches.

Coming Up 
Berlin Recycling Volleys vs. Fakel Novy Urengoy, Champions League Pool B, January 28 — While the Berlin Recycling are unbeaten in domestic competitions (including the Bundesliga and the German Cup), this pool has been particularly difficult. Having two of Russia’s top teams is not an easy task to overcome. It was not long ago that Berlin qualified for the semifinals of the tournament, but a smaller group stage has made the task of qualifying for the playoffs even tougher. Berlin needs to win at least two of its next three matches to remain in contention to get out of the group stage, but Erik Shoji (former star at Berlin) and Fakel stand in its way.

Leo Shoes Modena vs. VK Ostrava, CEV Cup, January 29 — The CEV Cup might be the best chance for Modena to win a trophy this season. While they are in the midst of the title hunt in Europe, taking a playoff series from Perugia and Lube is an incredibly tall task. While the CEV Cup is the second tier of European competition, an intriguing showdown is on the horizon in the finals. Modena is set to face Gyorgy Grozer, Oreol Camejo, and Zenit St. Petersburg in the finals if both teams handle business over the next three rounds. This matchup is one to watch because Modena almost lost the first leg of the last round against Olympiakos Piraeus.

Gas Sales Piacenza vs. Itas Trentino, Italy, February — Trentino and Milan currently both have 33 points in the SuperLega standings, but Trentino has a chance to create some separation. Milan has played one more match so far and has a bye this week. Kovacevic and Russell have been bothered by injury, and Vettori did not play last week. Piacenza, led by the father of BYU’s Davide Gardini and Italian legend Andrea Gardini, are coming into the match after two consecutive wins. Trentino could be vulnerable against a team looking to get itself squarely in the middle of the playoff picture.

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