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 Russia, Brazil, Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Switzerland, Greece and Norway plus an important update on USA setter Micah Christenson and his knee surgery.
Poland, Russia and Germany both had matches in the middle of the week and this past weekend. The Coppa Italia finished up with its semifinals and finals. We also have an update from Taylor Averill highlighting the challenges faced by living and playing abroad. As always, there is a look at key matches ahead.
Russia: Erik Shoji and Fakel Novy Urengoy earned two victories this past week starting with a 3-2 victory over Yaroslavich on Tuesday. Erik Shoji finished the match with 31-percent positive passes (19-percent perfect) on 16 receptions in serve receive. Shoji followed up with a match-high 60-percent positive passes and 13-percent perfect on Sunday against Zenit Kazan. Fakel came back from being down 0-2 to hand Kazan its first defeat in the Russian Super League in five sets. Arthur Udris led Fakel with 16 points, and Egor Kliuka added 14. Matt Anderson contributed 13 points for Kazan on 12 kills and one ace. Most of Kazan’s points came with Anderson at the service line, but seven errors accompanied the pressure he put on Fakel’s pass. Anderson also hit .500 from the left side.
Earlier in the week, Anderson led Zenit Kazan with 19 points in a 3-1 victory over Belogorie Belgorod. Anderson hit .286 on his way to 14 kills in addition to two blocks and three aces. Earvin N’Gapeth was right behind anderson with 18 points on 17 kills and an ace with a .480 attack average.
Zenit Kazan remains in first place with an 18-1 record and 54 points. Kuzbass, they team Kazan defeated a week prior, is in second with a 15-4 record and 45 points. Fakel has a similar 15-4 record, but they are in third position with 43 points.
Brazil: Taylor Sander and Sada Cruzeiro remain in first place but had a close call against Corinthians-Guarulhos. Sander played in the first two sets, scoring three points on three kills with a .143 attack average. He was replaced after Sada Cruzeiro took a 2-0 lead. Corinthians stormed back to take the next two sets before the league-leaders prevailed in the tie-break.
Volei Um Itapetininga moved into sixth place with a 3-1 win over Copel Telecom Maringa Volei on Saturday. Price Jarman played the whole match at middle blocker and scored six points on six kills. Jarman hit .750 and did not commit an error in attack. Itapetininga is now 8-8 on the season.
Italy: The Coppa Italia took center stage in Italy this past weekend. The semifinals took place on Saturday with Sir Safety Perugia sweeping Azimut Leo Shoes Modena. Micah Christenson set Modena to a .174 hitting percentage and scored points from two service aces. Max Holt contributed three points on two kills and one ace with a .500 attack average. Nobody for Modena scored double-digit points; Ivan Zaytsev and Bartosz Bednorz finished with 9 each. Aleksandar Atanasijevic led the match with 16 points while Wilfredo Leon chipped in 10. Jonah Seif was used as a substitute in the second and third sets.
In the other semifinal, Aaron Russell scored 14 on 12 kills and two blocks for Itas Trentino in a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Lube Civitanova. Russell hit .172 in the loss. Luca Vettori also scored 14 points, and Uros Kovacevic led his club with 17. Tsvetan Sokolov led all players with 18 points on 17 kills and a block. Brenden Sander did not feature in the match for Lube.
Lube got up 2-0 in the finals before Perugia stormed back to take the next three sets behind 26 points from Wilfredo Leon. The Polish outside hitter from Cuba put away 22 kills with a .405 hitting percentage to go with a block and three aces. Aleksandar Atanasijevic finished with 18 on 15 kills, one block, and two aces while hitting .219. Sokolov scored 25 points at opposite for Lube. Seif was used as a substitute in each set except the fourth, and Sander did not dress out for Lube. Leon was named the MVP of the Coppa Italia.
Poland: A struggling Asseco Resovia Rzeszów picked up two wins last week. Dave Smith scored six points in a 3-1 victory over MKS Będzin on Tuesday. Smith scored on three kills, two blocks, and one ace while hitting .429. Jake Langlois scored nine for Będzin on eight kills and a block. The outside hitter turned opposite posted a .438 hitting percentage in the defeat. Kawika Shoji did not feature in the match for Resovia.
Shoji came off the bench in the first set and finished the match at setter for Resovia in a 3-1 upset of PGE Skra Bełchatów. Shoji scored 3 points on aces and set Resovia to a .391 hitting percentage. Dave Smith scored 12 points on eight kills, three blocks, and one ace. Smith did not commit an error in attack while posting a .727 attack average.
Jake Langlois scored nine points again on Saturday for MKS Będzin in a 3-0 defeat to Cuprum Lubin. Langlois again finished with eight kills and a block while hitting .636. The coach for MKS Będzin, Emil Siewiorek, continued to put Langlois at the opposite position.
James Shaw took part in his first two matches for league-leading ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Koźle. The setter turned opposite was used as a substitute in the second set of a 3-1 won over Indykpol AZS Olsztyn on Wednesday. He did not score any points in the match. Shaw saw more court time Saturday in a sweep of Jastrzębski Węgiel as a substitute in each of the three sets. He made three attack attempts without registering a kill and also attempted three serves. ZAKSA remains undefeated in the Polish PlusLiga.
Germany: Berlin just played one match this week against United Volleys Frankfurt on Thursday. Ben Patch got the start at opposite and scored 15 on 13 kills and two aces in a 3-1 victory for Berlin. Patch hit .269 in the win. Kyle Russell was used as a substitute in the third and fourth sets, scoring three points on two kills and an ace while hitting .400. Jeff Jendryk got the start in the middle and led the team with 17 points. The rookie from Loyola University finished with 13 kills, three blocks and one ace with a .765 attack average. Dustin Watten was not utilized in the match. Tanner Syftestad came off the bench for Frankfurt in the second, third, and fourth sets but did not finish with any points in the loss.
Earlier in the week, WWK Volleys Herrsching faced stiff competition against VfB Friedrichshafen. Griffin Shields scored seven points on five kills, one ace, and one block in the 3-0 defeat while hitting minus .111. Nick West played middle blocker the entire match and finished with two kills, two blocks, and a .167 hitting percentage. Herrsching bounced back to earn a 3-2 victory over United Volleys Frankfurt on Sunday. Shields started the first two sets at opposite and produced five points on four kills and an ace with a .083 attack average. He was replaced by Nick West in the second set who led Herrsching with 20. West’s points included 17 kills, two blocks, and an ace while hitting .368. Tanner Syftestad started the final three sets for Frankfurt, contributing 11 kills and a block.
Neither Jake Arnitz or Oliver Martin saw any action for Volleyball Bisons Bühl in its 3-1 win over VCO Berlin on Saturday. Arnitz was used as a substitute in the third set of a 3-2 victory over Netzhoppers SolWo Konigspark KW on Sunday but did not score any points.
The Hypo Tirol AlpenVolleys Unterhaching got tested against Helios Grizzlys Giesen but prevailed in five sets. Matt. Pollock started the match at middle blocker and played in the first two sets. He scored five points on four kills and a block with a .571 attack average. Antwain Aguillard scored 12 points in the middle for Giesen. His points came on seven kills, four blocks, and one ace while hitting .400.
Pollock played the whole match for the AlpenVolleys on Sunday in a 3-0 win over VCO Berlin. He scored six points on four kills, one block, and one ace with a .500 hitting percentage.
SVG Lüneburg started its week with a 3-0 sweep over SWD powervolleys Düren on Wednesday. Cody Kessel scored 19 points and was named the match’s MVP. Kessel finished with 14 kills, four blocks, one ace, and hit .615 in the win. Kessel also led his team with 57 percent positive passes. Daniel Ford did not see any action for Düren. Kessel followed that up with eight points in a sweep of TV Rottenburg on Sunday. Kessel hit .333 on his way to 5 kills while adding two blocks and one ace in the win. Mitch Penning scored two points for Rottenburg on one kill and one ace with a -.111 hitting percentage.
Penning scored 10 points earlier in the week as TV Rottenburg beat Netzhoppers SolWo Konigspark KW in five sets. Penning hit .600 while putting away six kills and also chipped in four blocks.
France: Taylor Averill once again led Chaumont in scoring with 17 points from the middle in a 3-1 win over Montpellier on Saturday. Averill produced 10 kills, three aces, and a match-high four blocks while hitting .692. Michael Saeta scored four points on one kill and three aces while setting Chaumont to a .284 hitting percentage.
Dan McDonnell scored 11 points in the middle for Toucoing in a sweep of Toulouse on Friday evening. His points came on six kills, one block, and a match-high four aces. McDonnell hit .625 in the victory.
Belgium: Sam Holt was used as a substitute in the third and fourth sets of Knack Roeselare’s 3-1 victory over Lindemans Aalst on Saturday. That win moved Roeselare over Aalst into second place in the Belgian Euromillions Volley League.
Czech Republic: Matt Walsh and Kevin Gear both started in the middle AERO Odolena Voda in a 3-1 loss to VK Lvi Praha. Walsh scored six points on three kills, two blocks, one ace, and hit .286 for the match. Gear added five points on four kills and one block while hitting .000.
Jalen Penrose was used as a substitute in the first and third sets for CEZ Karlovarsko in a 3-0 win over Fatra Zlín. He scored two points on a block and an ace with a .500 attack average.
Mitch Beal was not used by VK Ostrava in a 3-0 victory over VK Benátky nad Jizerou.
Finland: Arvis Greene started and led VaLePa with 20 points in a sweep of Savo Volley on Wednesday. Greene finished with 17 kills and three blocks while hitting .448. The next day he started and led his team in scoring again in a 3-0 win over Team Lakkapää. The opposite in his rookie season from Cal State Northridge scored 13 points on 12 kills and one block with a .350 hitting percentage.
Switzerland: Scott Fifer and TV Schönenwerd split a pair of matches this past weekend. On Saturday Fifer set his team to a .429 attack efficiency in a 3-0 sweep over Volley Uni Bern Elite. He also scored a point from a kill. On Sunday his team suffered a 3-1 loss to Lausanne UC. Fifer set Schönenwerd to a .273 hitting percentage and scored four points on two kills, one block, and one ace.
Lucas Yoder was utilized as a substitute in the second set for Bioga Volley Näfels in a sweep of TSV Jona Volleyball. He did not score any points in the victory.
Norway: Ryan Manoogian got the start at libero for TIF Viking in a 3-0 win over Askim VBK. Manoogian led the match with 71 percent of his passes being positive and 19 percent rated as perfect.
Greece: PAOK Thessaloniki was off this past weekend, but last week Garrett Muagututia led the club with 20 points on a 3-1 victory over Heraklis Petosfairisi 2015. Muagututia registered 18 kills and two aces in the victory with a .519 attack average.
Micah Christenson surgery: Leading into the Coppa Italia questions surrounded the left knee of the USA setter. The Italian media was speculating whether or not he was going to have surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his left knee. There was thought that he needed to have an operation sooner than later to be ready in time for the playoffs. After Modena’s defeat on Saturday, Christenson indeed had his knee surgically repaired on Tuesday. Initial reports have his estimated recovery time set at 35-40 days.
While Modena are eager to have Christenson back in time for the playoffs, the club is reported to also have a reinforcement to strengthen serve receive. Kevin Tillie, outside hitter for the French national team and former national champion at UC Irvine, is set to join Modena when the contract with his current team ends. Tillie currently plays in China for Beijing. That season is about to finish as Beijing is in the final series, which starts on Sunday.
Challenges Playing Abroad: Taylor Averill
While most of the United States has been gripped by a grueling winter, there are players that face similar and worse situations abroad. Averill is in his third season playing professionally after finishing his collegiate playing career at the University of Hawaii. He played his first two seasons in Italy with Padova and Milan respectively. This year he plays for Chaumont VB 52 in France.
“It was nice to get some time off for Christmas, which is very rare,” said Averill. “Going back home gave me a chance to get away from the cold, relax and reboot for the next half of the season.”
“This next half is the most difficult as a professional player,” he continued. “By this point you’ve most likely watched everything Netflix has to offer, and everything seems to be frozen. The streets, the water, even the hearts of those willing to step foot outside. This last half of the season takes a lot of grit. But if you’re lucky enough to love what you do, you enjoy every minute of it.”
Champions League: Lube Civitanova vs. Azimut Leo Shoes Modena, February 13 — Modena has seemed to fall back from the pack at the top of the Italian SuperLega standings. Perugia, Trentino, and Lube have created a two-match and five-point separation from Modena, the team which won the Italian SuperCoppa. Modena’s three-set to Lube in the semifinals of the Coppa Italia was the only match that did not reach the tiebreak, and it showed the apparent gap in quality between Modena and the rest of the clubs at the top of the standings. Modena was shocked in the Champions League by a ZAKSA team without Sam Deroo. ZAKSA and Modena both are 2-2 with six points, but Modena needs a result in this Italian derby in order to keeps its playoff hopes alive. What makes this task even taller is that Christenson will be watching from street clothes. The two teams will play again on Sunday in the SuperLega.
Champions League: Chaumont VB 52 vs. Zenit St. Petersburg, February 13 — Logic would say that Zenit St. Petersburg should have already secured a playoff spot by this time in the competition. Chaumont is down in fifth place in French Ligue A and St. Petersburg’s roster consists of Gyorgy Grozer, Oreol Camejo, Evgeny Sivozhelez, and Andrey Aschev: players who have won many Russian Super League, Champions League, and Club World Championship titles. Chaumont worked itself through the qualifying rounds to reach pool play, and it has shown it has plans to reach the playoffs. It’s only loss has been to St. Petersburg, on the road, and in five sets. Chaumont is currently just one point behind the Russian club, and a win in three or four sets will see it atop the standings with just one match to go. Taylor Averill is coming into the match in great form, and Michael Saeta has been continuing to produce from the service line.
Poland: Asseco Resovia Rzeszów vs. ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Koźle, February 16 — If one is to solely look at the standings, then this match should not be in question. Though after last weekend and the glimpses seen at the FIVB Club World Championships, it still remains difficult to count out Resovia for any given match. Kawika Shoji and Dave Smith proved to be a viable connection against Skra. While Gheorghe Cretu has had to work with foreign player limits in the PlusLiga, the team simply plays better when Shoji and Smith are both on the court. It will also be interesting to see what James Shaw’s role will be as he spends more time training with ZAKSA.