International men: Aaron Russell, Trentino win CEV Cup

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Aaron Russell-Trentino-Pro men's notebook 4/2/2019
Aaron Russell and Trentino after winning the CEV Cup, its second international championship this season/cev.eu 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

This edition includes recaps of Americans competing all throughout Europe and South America. The CEV Cup concluded last week, and the semifinals are now set in Champions League. We also have updates of Americans competing in domestic leagues in Russia, Brazil, Italy, Poland, Germany, France, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece and Norway. Playoff matchups are underway in Italy, Poland, Germany, Brazil, Switzerland and Belgium, while the finals are set in Norway and Finland. Another American player earned a medal in an international competition last week. Als, some transfer rumors are gaining traction and making waves.

Transfer News/Rumors: While it has not been confirmed by the club, a Brazilian broadcast noted that Taylor Sander will be playing in Russia with Dynamo Moscow next season. Max Holt was the last American player to suit up for Dynamo Moscow, which finished the regular season of the Russian Super League in seventh place and will start its quarterfinal series against Kuzbass Kemerovo on April 6. It reached the playoffs of the CEV Champions League and was knocked out by Lube Civitanova.

Middle blocker Dave Smith will be staying in Poland next year, but will not remain at Asseco Resovia Rzeszów. Two sources in Poland have Smith making a move to ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Koźle, but this is not official until it is announced by the club. ZAKSA finished the regular season of the Polish PlusLiga in first place, and qualified for the semifinals of the playoffs. It played in the CEV Champions League, but did not reach the playoffs.

Aaron Russell and Itas Trentino left Italy just two sets away from claiming the tournament title after defeating Galatasaray in straight sets on Tuesday. Russell scored nine points on eight kills and an ace. He hit .294 and passed 75 percent of his receptions positively. Luca Vettori and Uros Kovacevic both finished with 12 points. Vettori hit a blistering .693 from the right side without committing a single error in attack.

Needing to win just two sets, Trentino dropped the first two on March 26 in Istanbul before prevailing in five. Russell scored 14 points and was pulled after the fourth set when  the title had been claimed. His points came on 11 kills, two blocks and one ace with a .174 hitting percentage. Uros Kovacevic, who also only played the first four sets, put up 24 from 18 kills, four blocks and two aces. The Serbian left-handed receiver hit .316.

Champions League: The second leg of the quarterfinals of Europe’s top club competition started with a monumental match that lasted six sets and over three hours. Zenit Kazan won last week’s match in five sets in Poland, and it needed any type of victory to move on to the semifinals. A loss in less than five sets would see it eliminated, and a loss in five sets would send the match to a golden set. Trefl Gdansk came out of the gate with a sense of urgency, taking the first two sets. Kazan fought off four match points to stave off elimination but lost in the fifth set. Matt Anderson, who scored 21 points on 20 kills and a block, led Kazan to a 15-12 win in the golden set to advance to the semifinals. Anderson hit .432 in the win.

Chaumont VB 52 had its Champions League season come to an end on Wednesday after losing 3-0 to Sir Safety Perugia. Taylor Averill scored on four kills and three blocks with a .571 hitting percentage. Michael Saeta started the third set and ran the Chaumont VB 52 to a .318 attack efficiency in that final set. Jonah Seif was used as a substitute in each of the sets for Perugia. Wilfredo Leon led Perugia with 16 points (including five aces), and Aleksandar Atanasijevic scored 15. While Chaumont is now eliminated, it leaves the tournament with a tournament-best nine wins after the three qualifying rounds and the group stage.

Lube Civitanova moved onto the semifinals after earning a 3-0 sweep over Dynamo Moscow. Osmany Juantorena gave a rare less-than-stellar performance, earning only three kills with a -.231 hitting percentage. Tsvetan Sokolov and Yoandy Leal picked up the slack with 15 and 16 points respectively. Brenden Sander did not play.

Russia: Fakel Nova Urengoy closed out its regular season with a win against Lokomotiv Novosibirsk to finish in fourth place. Erik Shoji finished with 43 percent of his receptions being rated as positive in the sweep. Fakel will start its best-of-three quarterfinal series against Belogorie Belgorod on April 6.

Zenit Kazan finished the regular season with a 25-1 record and 74 points after a 3-0 victory over Dynamo-Lo. Anderson and the rest of the starting lineup were rested by Zenit Kazan ahead of the Champions League semifinal match against Sir Safety Perugia next week.

While Fakel did not start its playoff series last week, Zenit Kazan opened the quarterfinals with a 3-0 sweep Ural Ufa. Anderson scored seven points on six kills and a block while hitting .136. Earvin N’Gapeth led the match with 16 points on fourteen kills and two aces with a .346 hitting percentage.

Brazil: Volei Um Itapetininga had a tough task ahead of it in its first-ever playoff match. Price Jarman was held to two kills and an ace in a 3-0 defeat at the hands of SESI-SP. William set SESI to an impressive .420 in the opening win. Jarman and Itapetininga were knocked out of the playoffs on Thursday after losing 3-1 to SESI. Jarman finished his rookie season with 13 points on seven kills, five blocks and one ace. The middle blocker from BYU hit .636 without an attack error in his last match of the season.

It took Sada Cruzeiro five sets to claim its first victory of the playoffs over Copel Telecom Maringa. Taylor Sander led all scorers with 27 ppoints on 24 kills, a block, two aces and a .512 attack average. Sander followed it up with 13 points on 12 kills and an ace. He hit .611 in the match that earned Sada Cruzeiro a place in the semifinals against EMS Funvic Taubate. That series will start on April 6.

Taylor Sander-Sada Cruzeiro-Pro men's notebook 4/2/2019
Taylor Sander was the player of the match on Friday/Sada Cruzeiro Facebook

Italy: The Italian playoffs started in an uneventful fashion with every one of the higher seeds winning the first matches of each best-of-three quarterfinal series and only one match lasted longer than three sets. The reintroduction of Micah Christenson to the lineup has done wonders for Azimut Leo Shoes Modena. Christenson started things off on Saturday by leading Modena to a 3-0 decision over Milan. He set Modena to .414 attack average and scored two points in the victory. Max Holt finished with six kills and an ace while hitting .625. Ivan Zaytsev led the match with 12 kills and four aces.

Russell scored 11 points on nine kills and two aces with a .533 attack average for Trentino in its sweep of Kioene Padova on Sunday. Uros Kovacevic led Trentino with nine kills, three assists and one ace with a .412 hitting percentage.

Jonah Seif played as a substitute in the first two sets of Perugia’s sweep of Vero Volley Monza. Seif scored a point on a kill. Wilfredo Leon led the match with nine kills, three blocks, and three service aces.

Lube Civitanova needed all of Tsvetan Sokolov’s 28 points and Yoandy Leal’s 27 in order to escape Sunday with a 3-2 win over Calzedonia Verona. Matey Kaziyski scored 22, and Stephen Boyer added 19 for Verona. Brenden Sander did not dress out for Lube.

Poland: Asseco Resovia Rzeszów will not take part in the playoffs, but won its last match against Cerrad Czarni Radom in four sets. David Smith scored 11 points on 6 kills, three blocks and two aces. Smith hit .556 on the night without committing an attack error. Kawika Shoji set Resovia to a .320 hitting percentage. Resovia finished the regular season in seventh place, just one spot away from playoff contention.

MKS Będzin finished the season at the bottom of the standings, but earned a win in its final match against Trefl Gdańsk. Jake Langlois started the first two sets and finished with four kills for Będzin.

ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Koźle heads into the playoffs as the top seed after beating PGE Skra Bełchatów in four sets. James Shaw was not used by ZAKSA in the match. His club will get a bye in the quarterfinals and pick things up in the semifinal series.

Germany: Berlin Recycling Volleys finished the regular season on a nine-match winning streak. It has the best record in 2019, only losing one match. It extended its winning streak to 10 matches after sweeping SWD powervolleys Düren in the first match of the quarterfinals. Ben Patch led the match with 14 points on 12 kills and two aces. The opposite from BYU hit .333 on the night. Jeff Jendryk scored 10 in the middle on five kills, three blocks and two service aces. Jendryk hit .714 without committing an attack error. Kyle Russell was used as a substitute in the first and third sets, earning a kill. Daniel Ford came off the bench in the third set for Düren. Dustin Watten did not play for Berlin. The second match of this best-of-three series will be on Wednesday.

Cody Kessel recorded seven points for SVG Lüneburg in a four-set win over United Volleys Frankfurt on Saturday. Kessel scored on six kills and a block while hitting .286. Tanner Syftestad came off the bench in the first set and started the next two for Frankfurt. He finished with two kills but hit .000. Lüneburg has a chance to advance to the semifinals with a win the next time the two teams meet on Wednesday.

Griffin Shields scored 27 points for WWK Volleys Herrsching in its last match of the regular season against TV Rottenburg a week ago. On Saturday he was held to just six points after coming off the bench in the first set to complete the match against Hypo Tirol AlpenVolleys Unterhaching, a match in which Herrsching lost 3-0. Nick West started in place of Shields and put up six kills. Matt Pollock scored five in the middle for Unterhaching on three kills and two aces. The second match of the series will take place on Thursday.

Griffin Shields-Herrsching-Pro men's notebook 4/2/2019
Griffin Shields put up big numbers in Herrsching’s last match before the playoffs/www.geilsterclubderwelt.de photo

WWK Volleyball Bisons Bühl claimed the last spot in the playoffs, but had reality set in on Saturday when it faced top-seeded VfB Friedrichshafen. Lucas Yoder started for Bühl and scored nine points on eight kills and a block with a .105 hitting percentage in a 3-0 defeat. Oliver Martin did not see the court for Bühl.

France: Tours remained in first place after beating Toulouse in five sets. Mitch Stahl started the match and scored 16 points in the middle for Tours. Stahl hit .583 on his way to seven kills to go along with a match-high nine blocks.

Another American middle blocker, Taylor Averill, also scored 16 last weekend. Averill finished with 10 kills, three blocks, and three aces while hitting .500 in Chaumont’s four-set win over Poitiers. Michael Saeta set Chaumont to a .431 attack average and scored seven points of his own on two kills, three blocks and two aces.

Belgium: The top four in the Belgian Euro Millions Volley League take part in a double round-robin group to determine the last two teams playing for the championship. Sam Holt did not play for Knack Roeselare in a 3-2 win over Greenyard Maaseik. Holt did take the floor as a substitute in the third set of Roeselare’s 3-0 sweep of Par-ky Menen without scoring any points. Halfway through this stage of the playoffs, Knack Roeselare is in second place.

Czech Republic: CEZ Karlovarsko dropped three matches to VK Ostrava in the quarterfinals. Jalen Penrose played in the second set of Karlovarsko’s 3-1 defeat on Monday and scored four points. He did not play in his club’s 3-2 defeat on Saturday. Mitch Beal played in the first and third sets of the opening win for Ostrava but did not feature in the 3-1 victory on Monday. Ostrava is still waiting for its opponent in the semifinals.

Mitch Beal-Pro men's notebook 4/2/2019
Mitch Beal celebrates after his team advanced to the semifinals/Beal’s Instagram, taken by Jaroslav Obsadny

Matt Walsh and Kevin Gear scored five and six points respectively for AERO Odolena Voda in a 3-1 win over Dukla Liberec in the first match of the quarterfinals. Gear followed it up with a nine points on five kills, one block and three aces in a 3-0 defeat on Monday. Matt Walsh played in the first two sets and finished with one point. The series now sits at 2-1 in favor of Liberec. Walsh scored seven points in a 3-1 loss on Thursday. He scored on three kills, two blocks and two aces with a .600 hitting percentage. Kevin Gear hit -.100 on his way to three kills and an ace. That loss knocked AERO Odolena Voda out of the playoffs.

Greece: Garrett Muagututia scored 11 points with three aces and eight kills, but he only hit .050 for PAOK Thessaloniki in a 3-1 defeat to Olympiakos. He finished out the regular season with 10 points on nine kills and an ace in a sweep of A.E.K. on Saturday. Muagututia hit .471.

Switzerland: Scott Fifer and Volley Schönenwerd dropped the first match of a best-of-three series to Lausanne UC on Friday in four sets. Unfortunately the stat sheet was not published but Fifer started and set the whole match for Schönenwerd.

Finland: Hurrikaani Loimaa fell in its semifinal series against Etta Oulu this past week in six matches. Matt West set Hurrikaani to a .248 attack average in the sixth and final match of the series. Hurrikaani will play Savo Volley for third place this week.

VaLePa beat Savo Volley in five matches to advance to the finals. Arvis Greene made an appearance in the fourth match (a 3-1 loss) on Saturday. He was used as a substitute in the third and fourth sets, earning four kills.

Norway: Ryan Manoogian was utilized at libero by TIF Viking’s in a 3-2 semifinal loss Førde Volleyballklubb on Saturday. The series went to a golden set which was won by Førde Volleyballklubb.

Looking Ahead
Champions League: Sir Safety Perugia vs. Zenit Kazan, April 3 — This is the match that every volleyball fan in the world wanted to see.

There is sentiment that this matchup should be the final, but due to the nature of the drawing of lots, the teams will meet up in two matches in the semifinals. Zenit Kazan had a huge hiccup at the FIVB World Club Championships, losing to Fakel and Lube in five sets and failing to get out of the group stage. Since that tournament, Matt Anderson and Kazan have won 35 of its 37 matches between the Super League, Russian Cup, and Champions League (one of those losses being its latest match against Gdansk in the second leg of the quarterfinals when it then won the golden set to advance).

Maxim Mikhailov is producing at a rate that has helped Kazan win the last four Champions League crowns. While Wilfredo Leon is no longer at the club, Earvin N’Gapeth has filled in nicely, and Matt Anderson has been able to carry more of an offensive load this year. Sir Safety Perugia chose not to compete at the FIVB World Championships, but it has an impressive 33-4 record in the SuperLega, Coppa Italia and Champions League. Wilfredo Leon is the most prolific server the Italian League has ever seen in the rally scoring error. This is also the case with his attack efficiency as measured by the Ponder Average, a metric used in Italian volleyball similar to an ERA in baseball. He is easily the most explosive player in the world, and he joins Aleksandar Atanasijevic, the highest-scoring player of the last eight years of Italian volleyball.

There will be plenty of firepower on display orchestrated by two highly-skilled setters: Luciano DeCecco for Perugia, Aleksandar Butko for Kazan.

Germany: Berlin Recycling Volleys vs. SWD powervolleys Düren – April 3- This match will obviously be overshadowed by the matchup between two of the best teams in world mentioned earlier. This match may not be especially competitive, but it will be interesting to watch Berlin while it is on such a tear. Berlin is coming into the playoffs as the hottest team in Germany. It is riding a ten-match winning streak and is 12-1 in 2019. As mentioned before, the addition of Sergey Grankin has turned the Berlin offense into a well-oiled machine. Ben Patch, while not spending a majority of his time on the court in 2018, finished the regular season at fifth in terms of points per set. He is peaking at the right time with Berlin, and it is an encouraging sign for John Speraw and the rest of the USA Volleyball.

Italy: Azimut Leo Shoes Modena vs. Revivre Axopower Milano – March 30 – Modena is back to full strength and Milano just defeated Sir Safety Perugia. Both of these teams finished the regular season with 49 points. While Kevin Tillie has not provided much impact for Modena, Christenson’s addition back into the lineup saw the production of Max Holt increase significantly. It would not be surprising if this best-of-three series is decided in the third match.

Titles Won by Americans: This list includes domestic cups, continental cups, the world championships and domestic leagues. This list does not include super cup competitions except for Italy since that is the only super cup which takes more than one match to win. This list will continue to grow as more cup competitions and seasons conclude.

This last week saw another title added to the list. Aaron Russell and Itas Trentino won its second international competition this week, taking home the CEV Cup, Europe’s second-most prestigious trophy.

Matt Anderson, Zenit Kazan, Russian Cup
Micah Christenson, Modena, Italian SuperCoppa, Italian SuperCoppa MVP
Arvis Greene, VaLePa, Finnish Suomen Cup
Max Holt, Modena, Italian SuperCoppa
Sam Holt, Knack Roeselare, Belgian Cup
Michael Michelau, Falkenberg VBK, Swedish Cup
Aaron Russell, Trentino,FIVB Club World Championship (MVP), CEV Cup
Taylor Sander, Sada Cruzeiro, Copa Brasil, South American Club Championship (MVP)
Jonah Seif, Perugia, Coppa Italia
Mitch Stahl, Tours VB, French Cup

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