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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Champions League was back in action and five teams have now booked tickets to the playoffs. The German, Belgian, and Dutch Cups concluded this weekend and featured numerous American players. The playoffs started in Switzerland, and two American players took the floor to start their quarterfinals series. The quarterfinals in Belgium and the championship round in the Netherlands are set, but they will not begin until February 22. The weekend concluded with a huge derby in Italy between Modena and Trentino.
Three Stars: There were a number of American players that produced impressive numbers or had solid performances in matches of great importance. Some players put forth great performances one night, but struggled at other times throughout the week. These players took advantage of chances on the court and earned recognition this week.
Max Holt, middle blocker, Leo Shoes Modena, Italy — While Holt got a rest during the CEV Cup on February 12, he showed up for Modena in the derby against Itas Trentino on February 16. He hit .750 on his way to 10 kills, and he only committed a single attack error. Holt also produced points from a block and an ace. This performance helped Modena open up an eight-point lead over Trentino in the standings and kept it within two points of both Lube Civitanova and Sir Safety Perugia.
Karl Apfelbach, opposite, TV Rottenburg, Germany — Apfelbach was not in the starting lineup on February 12 when Rottenburg squared off against SWD powervolleys Duren. After falling behind 0-2, Apfelbach took over attacking roles on the right side. He made the most of his time on the court, leading Rottenburg with 16 points on 14 kills and two aces. He hit an impressive .478 from the opposite position. The win positioned Rottenburg in the final quarterfinal spot in the standings.
Matthew Knigge, middle blocker, Arenal Emevé, Spain — Knigge continued to impress from the middle. He scored 19 points in a win on February 16. Knigge put away 15 kills on 19 attempts and registered a .737 hitting percentage. He also produced two blocks and two aces.
Champions League Pool A: Aaron Russell was not in the lineup for Itas Trentino, who lost to Lube Civitanova 3-1 on February 13. The loss secured a first-place finish for Lube at the top of the pool. Trentino is in a good position to qualify for playoffs with a win over Ceske Budejovice of the Czech Republic on February 19.
Champions League Pool B: Erik Shoji helped Fakel Novy Urengoy sweep Kuzbass Kemerovo on February 12. Shoji passed 47 percent of his service receptions positively, and 16 percent per rated as perfect. This victory gets Fakel close to a place in the quarterfinals, as it has a match against winless ACH Volley Ljubljana on February 19.
It took the Berlin Recycling Volleys five sets to get past Kyle Dagostino and ACH Volley on February 12. While Berlin subbed out many of its starters after the second set, Jeff Jendryk played the whole match and scored 15 points on eight kills, three aces, five blocks, and a .385 hitting percentage. Ben Patch played the first two sets, scoring five points on five kills and hitting .333. Cody Kessel started the first two sets, registering two kills and two blocks. The outside hitter in his first Champions League season hit .200. Kyle Ensing entered in the second set and completed the match at opposite. Ensing finished with seven kills and block, but he hit .000 in the win. JT Hatch was not utilized by Berlin. Dagostino put in an impressive passing performance, passing 70 percent positively and 40 percent perfectly.
Unfortunately both of these teams have been mathematically eliminated from progressing past the group stage of the tournament.
Champions League Group D: Tours VB defeated Verva Warsaw, the first-placed team in the Polish PlusLiga, in straight sets on February 12. Price Jarman did not play for Tours. The result puts both of these teams at 2-3 with six points. While both of these teams have a slight possibility of advancing, they would need a lot of help. Tours would have to defeat Benfica Lisbon in three or four sets on February 19. It would also need Warsaw to lose or win in five sets. If that happens then a series of other results must take place. Two of the possible scenarios in other pools would have to take place for Tours to advance: Trentino loses, Knack Roeselare loses, and Zenit Kazan and Greenyard Roeslare both lose on February 19.
Champions League Group E: ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Koźle had already secured its place in the quarterfinals, but still defeated Vojvodina NS Seme Novi Sad on February 11 in three sets. Dave Smith started the match in the middle but was replaced in the second set without scoring any points. He completed one attack attempt.
Knack Roeselare beat VfB Friedrichshafen in four sets on February 11. Brendan Schmidt earned five points for Friedrichshafen from two kills, two blocks, and an ace. He hit .143 on seven attack attempts. Joe Worsley did not play for Friedrichshafen, and Joe Norman didn’t play for Roeselare. While Friedrichshafen will not reach the quarterfinals, Roeselare will advance with a victory over winless in three or four sets on February 19. If it wins in five sets, it will need Greenyard Maaseik to Jastrzebski Wegiel next week.
CEV Cup: Leo Shoes Modena advanced to the quarterfinals after beating VK Ostrava in four sets of the return leg on February 12. Modena, only needing to win two sets to move on to the next round, rested Matt Anderson, Ivan Zaytsev, Max Holt, and Bartosz Bednorz. Micah Christenson played in the first two sets, setting Modena to a .594 attack average, and he left the match after Modena had secured advancement. The shining star for Modena was Luis Elian Estrada, a 19-year-old opposite from Cuba. The teenager led the team with 19 points on 14 kills, three blocks, and two aces with a .458 hitting percentage. Modena will face GFC Ajaccio of France in the next round.
Italy: Garrett Muagututia scored 18 points (including a match-high four aces) for Calzedonia Verona, but his team fell to Vero Volley Monza in five sets on February 16. While Stephen Boyer also contributed 31, Verona could not overcome 25 points each from Bartosz Kurek and Donovan Dzavoronok. Muagututia hit .429 in the defeat.
TJ DeFalco hit .357 but Tonno Callipo Vibo Valentia fell to Lube Civitanova in three sets on February 16. DeFalco scored seven points on six kills and an ace. Lube was efficient with Osmany Juantorena (12) and Yoandy Leal (15) as the only players reaching double-digit production, and Bruno Rezende orchestrated an offense that hit .466.
Kupono Fey came off the bench in every set of Globo Banca Popolare Del Frusinate Sora’s 3-1 loss to Allianz Milan on February 16. He passed six serves with 100 percent being rated as positive and 67 percent perfect. Nimir Abdel-Aziz carried Milan again with 27 points.
Max Holt puts away a set from Micah Christenson against Trentino/legavolley.it photoHolt hit .750 for Modena in a 3-1 win over Trentino on February 16. He finished with 12 points in the middle on ten kills, one block, and one ace. Anderson put 15 points on the stat sheet with 14 kills and an ace. The outside hitter in his first season with Modena after a seven-year stint at Zenit Kazan hit .385 from the left side. Christenson set Modena to a .355 hitting percentage and contributed a block. Russell led Trentino with 21 points. He hit .441 on his way to 20 kills to go alongside a block.
Russia: Fakel Novy Urengoy dropped its third straight Russian Super League match to Dynamo Moscow on February 15. Shoji passed 44 percent of his reception positively and six percent perfect. Moscow was led by Sam Deroo’s 17 points. Deroo signed with Moscow to replace Taylor Sander who had to cancel his contract with the Russian club to rehabilitate his shoulder.
Poland: Ślepsk Malow Suwałki defeated Indykpol AZS Olsztyn 3-1 on February 14. Josh Tuaniga set Suwałki to a .395 hitting percentage in addition to scoring five points on four kills and a block. That win keeps Suwałki in playoff contention in seventh position on the table.
Asseco Resovia Rzeszów lost to MKS Bedzin in five sets on February 15. Kawika Shoji was a serving substitute in the first and fifth sets and had two serves with no aces or errors.
Brenden Sander kept Cerrad Czarni Radom in eighth place with a 3-1 win over first-placed Verva Warsaw on February 15. Sander scored 18 points on 16 kills, two blocks, and he hit an impressive .560 from the left side. That was only Warsaw’s second loss in the PlusLiga this season.
Radom’s win gave ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Koźle a chance to take over at the top of the standings, but Dave Smith’s club lost to PGE Skra Bełchatów on February 16. Smith started all five sets and scored 11 points in the middle. His points came from 10 kills and an ace with a .571 hitting percentage.
Dustin Watten passed 61 percent of his 18 pass receptions positively and 33 percent perfectly for GKS Katowice in a 3-1 victory over BKS Visła Bydgoszcz on February 17. Katowice is firmly in playoff contention in fifth place with six matches left.
France: Max Chamberlain was used as a serving substitute in Tourcoing’s 3-1 defeat to Montpellier on February 15. He attempted two serves with one of them resulting in an error.
Poitiers jumped into eighth place with a 3-2 win over Cannes on February 15. Micah Ma’a set Poitiers to a .331 hitting percentage while scoring two points from a block and a kill. Matt West set Cannes to a .357 attack average and served tough from the line, completing 30 serves with an ace and no errors. Kyle Russell scored 25 points on 21 kills and four blocks. Russell hit .256 on 43 attack attempts.
Jarman was not used by Tours in its 3-0 victory over Arago de Sete on February 15. The win, coupled with a loss by Rennes, puts Tours in first place with five matches remaining in the regular season.
Mitch Stahl scored 10 points in the middle for Chaumont in a 3-1 defeat to Ajaccio on February 15. Stahl put away four kills to go with a block and five aces. He hit .200 on ten attempts with two attack errors.
Micah Ma’a set Poitiers to a .447 hitting percentage in a 3-1 win over Narbonne on February 4. Ma’a also scored six points on four kills, a block, and a service ace.
Germany: Due to the Champions League and the finals of the German Cup, there was only one German Bundesliga match this week. TV Rottenburg defeated SWD powervolleys Duren in five sets on February 12. Mitch Penning produced 10 points in the middle for Rottenburg on five kills, three blocks, and two aces with a .273 attack average. Karl Apfelbach was a hero off the bench for the victors. The rookie from UC Irvine came into the match in the third set and finished as Rottenburg’s leading scorer. Apfelbach scored 16 points on 14 kills and two aces while hitting .478.
The German Cup finale took place on February 16. While there was plenty of pomp and circumstance (Germany is second to none when it comes to producing a volleyball event), the match itself was rather anticlimactic. Berlin Recycling Volleys remained undefeated in all German competitions with an emphatic 3-0 sweep over SWD powervolleys Duren in front of 10,689 spectators. While Berlin has won the German Bundesliga 10 times, this is only its third German Cup win since the turn of the century (winning in 2000 and 2016).
Patch led all scorers with 13 points. His points came from 11 kills, one block, and an ace. Patch hit .471 from the right side on 17 attack attempts. Jendryk scored nine points on five kills, two blocks, and two aces with a .571 attack average. Kessel came off the bench in the first and second sets without producing any points or receiving any serves. Ensing was used as a serving substitute in the second set, attempting two serves and committing one error. JT Hatch did not play for Berlin. Sergey Grankin, the Russian great in his second season with Berlin, set his team to a .536 hitting percentage in a win that only took 69 minutes.
Belgium: Joe Norman and Knack Roeselare defeated Lindemans Aalst 3-1 in the finals of the Belgian Cup on February 16. Unfortunately the Belgian federation had not published match statistics by February 17.
Czech Republic: Ústí nad Labem picked up a 3-0 win over Volejbal Brno on February 15. Zach Melcher set Ústí nad Labem to a .448 hitting percentage to lead his team to its fourth win of the season. He also put away two kills in the victory. Matt August came off the bench in the first two sets and started the third set for Brno. He ended up scoring fro two kills on two attack attempts.
Odolena Voda were swept by first-place CEZ Karlovarsko on February 5. Kevin Gear scored two points on a kill and a block. He hit .000 on five attempts.
Finland: Team Lakkapää lost to Hurrikaani Loimaa in four sets on February 13. Ryan Manoogian led his team with 68 percent positive and 26 percent perfect passes in the loss.
Kyle Foley set Karelian Hurmos in a 3-0 win over Raision Loimu on February 15. He scored two points from a kill and an ace while setting Hurmos to a .329 attack average. Blake Leeson continued to play at opposite and led Loimu with 20 points. He hit .333 on his way to 17 kills and three aces. Avery Aylsworth passed 38 percent of his receptions positively and 13 percent perfectly in the defeat.
On February 16, Josh Ayzenberg passed 60 percent positive and 20 percent perfect for Savo Volley in a 3-0 defeat to VaLePa, the defending champions of the Finnish Mestaruusliiga.
The Vantaa Ducks defeated Karelian Hurmos in four sets on February 16. Tommy Carmody scored 11 points for Vantaa on nine kills, one block, and one ace. He hit .400 on 15 attempts. Foley set Hurmos to a .326 attack average in the loss. He also scored four points on two kills and two blocks.
Slovenia: Dagostino played in the first two sets for ACH Volley, but was avoided in serve receive. He passed four serves, two of them perfect and positive in a 3-0 defeat of Krka in the second stage of the Slovenian league. ACH Volley sits at the top of the Slovenian standings.
Spain: Unicaja Costa de Almería got a 3-1 win over Conectabalear CV Manacor on February 15. Nick Amado hit .833 with no errors to finish with five kills. Amado also contributed a block in the victory.
Arenal Emevé defeated CV Melilla in four sets on February 14. Matthew Knigge continues to produce the numbers of an outside hitter as a middle blocker. Knigge contributed 15 kills on 19 attempts with just one error (.737) to go along with two blocks and two aces.
Switzerland: The playoffs started in Switzerland and top-seeded Lindaren Volley Amriswil got off to a 1-0 lead in its best-of-five quarterfinal series against Traktor Basel with a 3-0 sweep on February 15. Matt Yoshimoto came in during the second set and finished the match for Amriswil. He set his team to a .360 hitting percentage in the third set. The second match of the series will take place on February 26.
Mitch Beal, who is retiring after this season, scored seven points for TSV Jona Volleyball in a 3-0 defeat to Volley Schönenwerd to start the quarterfinal series on February 15. Beal scored on six kills and a block but hit -.095. Grayson Overman scored four points on two kills and two blocks with a .125 hitting percentage. The best-of-five quarterfinal series will continue on February 22.
Netherlands: Samen Lycurgus defeated Draisma Dynamo 3-1 in the finals of the Dutch Cup on February 16. Unfortunately the Dutch federation had not published statistics by the afternoon of February 17.
Coming Up: Knack Roeselare vs. Vojvodina NS Seme Novi Sad, Champions League, February 19 — Norman was a surprise draft pick of the Korean Volleyball Federation draft back in May 2019. An injury led to his contract being cancelled. He wound up at Roeselare, and is now surprisingly on the cusp of a Champions League playoff berth. A win against the Serbian side will put the Belgian team in a good position to advance. It will need help from fellow Belgian club, Greenyard Maaseik. A win for Maaseik will keep it in second position, its 10 points will likely not be enough to earn a playoff spot, but its potential 4-2 record will keep it ahead of Zenit Kazan (likely to be 3-3 with 11 points) in the group standings. Kazan has a better sets ratio than Roeselare heading into the final match (1.10 to 1.00). Roeselare will have to sweep Novi Sad and hope that Kazan drops a set in order to overtake the Russian giants.
Itas Trentino vs. Ceske Budejovice, Champions League, February 19 — The highest Trentino can place in its group is second, but it is firmly in position to be one of the best three runners-up and claim a spot in the playoffs. Russell did not play in the Champions League last week, but led Trentino over the weekend in the Italian SuperLega. His club simply has to win in order to secure qualification.
TV Rottenburg vs. Volleyball bison Bühl, Germany, February 22 — Rottenburg got itself into the last playoff positions with a win back on February 12. Netzhoppers KW-Bestensee are right behind it in the standings, both have 20 points but Rottenburg currently has one more win. Penning and Apfelbach need to keep picking up wins against teams below them in the standings. Greg Petty and Bühl have five matches left to make up eight points and get into the quarterfinals.