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 email@example.com
This edition of the notebook includes recaps of Americans competing in Italy, Brazil, Russia, France, Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, and Switzerland. Many countries held matches of their cup competitions this week.
That unfortunately means there were not Americans playing in Poland this week as the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals took place this weekend. Brazil and Finland completed their cup competitions this weekend as well. Italy and France held their quarterfinal rounds their respective cups. The German Bundesliga was busy with matches on Wednesday and the weekend, which means plenty of American players were in action. The Russian Super League had a similar schedule with matches on Tuesday and the weekend. There were no matches in the Hellenic Volley League of Greece this past week.
We also feature a couple of newsworthy events off the court from Price Jarman, Taylor Averill and Michael Saeta. There is also a feature from Erik Shoji highlighting the challenges faced by living and playing abroad.
Russia: Matt Anderson and Earvin N’Gapeth did not take the court for undefeated Zenit Kazan against last-place Yaroslavich. Kazan dropped the first set, but still picked up three points in a 3-1 victory. Maxim Mikhailov (18) and Andrey Surmachevsky (21) paced Kazan to the win. Zenit Kazan handed Dynamo Moscow its second defeat since losing setter Sergey Grankin to the Berlin Recycling Volleys. Anderson was in the lineup but did not play for Kazan in another 3-1 win. N’Gapeth scored 17 points, and Mikhailov led the way with 21.
Fakel Novy Urengouy earned a pair of wins this past week with sweeps over Nova Novokuibyshevsk and Yenisei Krasnoyarsk. Erik Shoji led the match with 59 percent positive passes (18 percent perfect) on Tuesday against Nova. he followed up that performance with 33 percent of his six passes being positive and 17 percent perfect on Saturday against Yenisei, who worked to keep serves away from the starting libero on the US National Team.
Brazil: Taylor Sander won his first title with Sada Cruzeiro on Sunday when the club won the Copa Brasil against Fiat/Mina. This was the first domestic trophy won by Sander since he helped Al Raayan win the Qatar Cup back in 2017. Sander was brought in with Gyorgy Grozer after he finished the Chinese season in order to only compete in the Qatar Cup and the Emir Cup. In 2016 Sander won the CEV Challenge Cup with Calzedonia Verona in Italy.
Italy: The four quarterfinal matches of the Coppa Italia took place on Wednesday. All of the higher seeds advanced to the semifinals, which is commonplace in Italy. Only once in the last six editions of the tournament has a team seeded outside of the top four reached the semifinals (Piacenza beat Perugia in 2017). There are Americans on each of the four teams still in contention for the cup.
Aaron Russell led Itas Trentino to a 3-0 win over Calzedonia Verona behind 15 kills and two blocks. Russell led the match with 75 percent positive passes and a .429 hitting percentage. Luca Vettori and Srecko Lisinac both contributed 12 points in the win, and Uros Kovacevic finished with 11.
Azimut Leo Shoes Modena reached the semifinals by way of a 3-1 victory over Revivre Axopower Milan, a team who beat Modena in the SuperLega just two weeks ago. Milan opened the match with a 30-28 win in the first set. Micah Christenson set Modena to a .356 hitting percentage and scored four points on two kills, one block, and one kill. Max Holt was back in the starting lineup after an ankle injury, scoring seven points on four kills and three blocks. He posted a .222 hitting percentage. Bartosz Bednorz of Poland earned 23 points, including a match-high six aces.
Jonah Seif was used as a substitute in the second and fourth sets for Sir Safety Perugia in a 3-1 victory over Kioene Padova. Seif completed a service attempt that resulted in an error. Wilfredo Leon was the lead scorer with 24 points on 17 kills, four blocks, three aces, and a .640 hitting percentage.
Brenden Sander was not used by Lube Civitanova, who was pushed to the limit by Vero Volley Monza before prevailing 19-17 in the fifth set. Lube trailed 12-14 before making a comeback resembling the one made on November 27 in the fifth set against Zenit Kazan at the FIVB Club World Championships. Osmany Juantorena left the match in the second set, and Monza took sets three and four while using Jiri Kovar and Jacopo Massari to fill in at outside hitter. Tsvetan Sokolov (24) and Robertlandy Simon (17) led the way for Lube.
The SuperLega resumed on Saturday and Aaron Russell was the leading scorer for Trentino again in a sweep of Top Volley Latina. Russell finished with 19 points on 15 kills, three aces, and a block. While he was not the most consistent with passing (five errors), Russell hit .750 without committing an error in attack. Trentino remains in second place with a 16-3 record and 47 points.
Sir Safety Perugia is in first place with an identical 16-3 record and 48 points after a 3-0 win over Tonno Callipo Calabria Vibo Valentia. Jonah Seif was used as a substitute in the second set. Wilfredo Leon (12) and Aleksandar Atanasijevic (13) were the top scorers for Perugia, and Luciano DeCecco set the victors to a .435 attack average.
Lube Civitanova made quick work of Vero Volley Monza on Sunday after suffering a scare to the club earlier in the week in the Coppa Italia. Brenden Sander dressed out again for Lube, but was not used in the sweep. Yoandy Leal finished with match with 14 kills, a block, and two aces to lead Lube.
Azimut Leo Shoes Modena was taken to five sets for the fifth time this season (more than any other club in the top four places of the league table) against Kioene Padova before winning the match. Max Holt hit .500 on his way to eight kills and two blocks. Micah Christenson suffered a knee injury on Friday and did not feature for Modena, who was led by 25 points from Ivan Zaytsev. Christenson has been rehabilitating the affected knee, and there has been no word as to the severity of the injury.
Germany: Berlin started its week against VfB Friedrichshafen on Wednesday, and was handled in a 3-0 sweep by its biggest rivals. Kyle Russell was the only player to score more than seven points for Berlin, scoring 16 on 14 kills and two blocks with a .440 hitting percentage. Jeff Jendryk got the start in the middle and finished with three kills while hitting .500. Dustin Watten played in the second set but did not record any passes at libero. Ben Patch was used as a substitute in the first set, but did not earn any points. Sergei Grankin started the third set in his first match with the club and set Berlin to a .400 attack average.
Berlin came back on Saturday and beat WWK Volleys Herrsching in four sets. Grankin, the setter for the Russian national team and Olympic gold medalist, played the whole match and set Berlin to a .341 hitting percentage. He also contributed three blocks. Kyle Russell led Berlin again with 18 points on 13 kills, four blocks, and one ace while hitting .360. Jendryk got the start in the middle and contributed six kills on a .556 hitting percentage. Patch came off the bench in the first and third sets, earning four kills on five attempts without committing an error in attack. Dustin Watten played as a libero in the first set. Nick West played the whole match at middle for Herrsching and scored five points from four kills and an ace with a .571 hitting percentage. Griffin Shields scored 13 points at opposite on 12 kills and a block. The Carthage alum hit .233 in the defeat. Berlin is currently in fourth place with a 10-4 record and 29 points.
Earlier in the week, WWK Volleys Herrsching left Düren with two points after a five-set victory. Griffin Shields finished the match with 19 points on 16 kills and three blocks. He struggled a bit with efficiency, hitting .153. Daniel Ford played in the second set for SWD Powervolleys Düren and finished with one kill on one attempt. Herrsching is currently in seventh place in the standings with a 6-8 record and 18 points. Düren sits at sixth with a 9-5 record and 27 points.
Right above Düren in fifth place is United Volleys Frankfurt with a 9-4 record and 27 points. Frankfurt suffered a shocking defeat to Helios Grizzlys Giesen on Wednesday. After going down 0-2, Tanner Syftestad started the third and fourth sets for Frankfurt and earned nine points on kills while hitting .500. Antwain Aguillard scored nine points in the middle for Giesen. Aguillard scored on six kills and three blocks while hitting .714. That was Giesen’s second win of the season and is in tenth place out of twelve teams.
United Volleys Frankfurt bounced back to earn a win over Volleyball Bisons Bühl on Saturday in three sets. Oliver Martin scored seven points for Bühl on four kills, two blocks, one ace, and a .500 hitting percentage. Jake Arnitz was used as a substitute in the first set for Bühl and finished the match without any points. Tanner Syftestad was used as a substitute in the second set but did not register any points.
Volleyball Bisons Bühl lost its match earlier in the week against Hypo Tirol AlpenVolleys Unterhaching, but it gave the first-place team all it could handle. Oliver Martin scored five points on five kills with a .715 hitting percentage in the five-set defeat. Jake Arnitz came off the bench in the third set, completed one attack attempt, but did not score. Matt Pollock started the first two sets and came off the bench in the fifth set for the AlpenVolleys. The middle blocker from Pepperdine scored three points on three kills while hitting .500.
The AlpenVolleys remain in first place after a sweep of TV Rottenburg. Pollock played the whole match in the middle and scored 13 points. His points came from six kills, two aces, and a match-high five blocks. He did not commit an error in attack and hit .667 on the night. Mitch Penning scored three points for Rottenburg on three kills while hitting .100. Rottenburg is in eleventh position with two wins on the season.
SVG Lüneburg remains in third place with a 10-4 record and 29 points after picking up a pair of victories last week. On Wednesday Cody Kessel scored 10 points as Lüneburg swept Netzhoppers SolWo Königspark KW. Kessel finished with nine kills, one block, and hit .615 in the win. He followed that up with 16 points in a sweep of VCO Berlin. Kessel hit .591 on his way to one kill without committing an attack error from the left side. He also added two blocks and one ace in the win.
France: Taylor Averill, Michael Saeta, and Mitch Stahl will be advancing to the semifinals of the French Cup with Chaumont VB 52 and Tours VB after matches on Tuesday and Wednesday. The semifinals and finals of the competition will take place on March 9 and 10. Tours will play Narbonne and Chaumont will play Rennes in the next round.
French Ligue A resumed on Saturday and Chaumont suffered another defeat. Narbonne beat Chaumont 3-1 behind 17 points from Arpad Baroti. Taylor Averill scored seven points in the first three sets on six kills and a block with a .667 hitting percentage. Michael Saeta scored two points from the service line and set Chaumont to a .330 attack average in the loss. Chaumont now has a 9-5 record and is in fifth place.
The only team with a record better than 9-5 is Tours VB, currently in first place. Tours swept Sete on Saturday. Mitch Stahl was used in the second set as a substitute and scored a point from a block.
Dan McDonnell started every set but the third for Tourcoing in a 3-1 loss to Montpellier. McDonnell finished with a point from a block. Despite taking nine swings in attack, he did not register a kill and hit -.444. Tourcoing is in eleventh place with a 4-10 record.
Belgium: Sam Holt started at the outside for Knack Roeselare in a 3-0 win over Tectum Achel on Saturday. Holt scored 12 points on 11 kills and a block. He did not commit an attack error and hit .579. Roeselare is in second place with a 12-2 record and 36 points.
Czech Republic: Matt Walsh and Kevin Gear both started in the middle AERO Odolena Voda in a 3-1 win over Fatra Zlín. Walsh posted nine points on nine kills with a .500 hitting percentage. Gear scored seven points came on five kills and two blocks while hitting .167.
Jalen Penrose was used as a substitute for CEZ Karlovarsko in a 3-0 win over VK Benátky nad Jizerou. He played in the second and third sets, scoring three points on three kills while hitting .400.
Mitch Beal was not used by VK Ostrava in a 3-0 victory over VK Jihostroj České Budějovice.
Finland: The finale of the Finnish Cup took place on Saturday. Arvis Greene did not take the court for VaLePa, who beat Hurrikaani Loimaa in four sets. Matt West set Hurrikaani to a .323 hitting percentage and scored three points of his own on two kills and a block.
Hurrikanni Loimaa beat Etta earlier in the week in four sets. West set Hurrikaani to a .310 attack average while scoring from two kills and an ace on Tuesday. West followed it up on Wednesday with a sweep over Kokkola Tiikerit in which he set his team to a .619 hitting percentage. Mind you that was only in the first set as that was the only set he started.
Switzerland: Lucas Yoder started at outside hitter for Biogas Volley Nafels in a 3-0 victory over TSV Jona Volleyball on Saturday. Yoder finished with ten points on ten kills and hit .600 in the win. Nafels is in sixth place out of eight teams with a 5-9 record and 14 points.
Scott Fifer started the match at setter for TV Schönenwerd in a 3-0 sweep over Chênois Genève Volleyball on Sunday. Fifer set his team to a .338 hitting percentage and added a block to the stat page. Schönenwerd is 11-3 and in second place with 32 points.
Saeta and Averill visit students in France: Michael Saeta and Taylor Averill, players from Chaumont VB 52, visited fourth and fifth grade students from the Raymond Boin Primary School of Bourmont. The students interviewed the players about their way of life, their interests outside of volleyball, and their favorite cities. Averill and Saeta delighted the students with autographs and pictures after addressing the class and answering questions.
Jarman Celebrates Young Fan’s Birthday: Luiza, one of Volei Um Itapetininga’s fans in Brazil, wanted to celebrate her birthday with her favorite team. Price Jarman and the rest of the team was happy to oblige and threw her a memorable celebration on the day she turned 11.
Erik Shoji on playing abroad: Playing professional volleyball provides many challenges off the court that are tired with having to live out of the country in order to make a living. Erik Shoji, Olympic bronze medalist, has played in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Russia since graduating from Stanford in 2012. He currently plays for Fakel Novy Urengoy in Russia and gave this insight on playing far from home.
“There are a couple of challenges that we face as athletes playing in other countries. The first is simply being in a foreign country away from family and friends. Some players are lucky with other Americans, but it honestly can get lonely. I think FaceTime is my No. 1 App!
“The second, depending on which country you play in, is the language barrier. Daily dialogue can often be tough, and in certain countries the written language is completely different. Thank goodness for Google Translate.
“And the third, also depending on where you play, is the weather. Personally, as someone who grew up in Hawaii, living in Russia can be challenging simply because of the weather. Where I am now, It currently feels like -21 degrees Fahrenheit out. I am so thankful for the great jackets my club provides for me!
“However, as volleyball players, we all know there are sacrifices we have to make to play professionally. Playing overseas helps us grow both in our games and as people, and I would encourage any player with goals to play at the next level to try it out for at least a year! It is always an adventure and one I would not change for anything.”
Champions League: Chaumont VB 52 vs. VfB Friedrichshafen , January 30 — Chaumont’s story is one of two seasons. The French club has played exceptionally well in the Champions League. Its only loss has come at the hands of Zenit St. Petersburg on the road in five sets. It currently sits level with Zenit with seven points. Though each time Chaumont has an exceptional performance in the continental competition, it stumbles domestically. Coming off of a loss last week in the French Ligue A, it needs a solid performance to remain in contention for the Champions League playoffs. Friedrichshafen is coming into the week after handling its biggest rival in Berlin Recycling Volleys. It is currently in second place in the German Bundesliga and in real danger of being eliminated from the Champions League on the group stage.
Champions League: Azimut Leo Shoes Modena vs. ZAKSA Kedzierzyn-Kozle, January 31 — Modena had a difficult time getting a win against Kioene Padova last weekend without Micah Christenson. The setter is listed as day to day and did not train with the team on Tuesday. ZAKSA is still undefeated in Poland and won the Polish Cup on Sunday. Its achilles heel is that it is currently 0-2 against clubs from Italy. The leader of the Polish PlusLiga must win its next three matches in three or four sets and hopes someone else beats Modena to have a chance to reach the playoffs. ZAKSA should be playing with urgency against a Modena team that might not be at full strength.
Russia: Zenit Kazan vs. Kuzbass Kemerovo, February 2 — The top two teams in the Russian Super League will be in action this weekend. Victor Poletaev will be facing the team he helped win the championship for as an 18 year-old stepping in for an injured Maxim Mikhailov back in 2014. Matt Anderson has not been playing lately for Zenit and inquiries about a possible injury have not been returned at time of this writing. Mikhailov has been a steady shoulder on the right side and has been giving Earvin N’Gapeth time to adjust to his new team.