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
There were some epic matches and unexpected results in the world of professional volleyball over the last week and a half. Playoffs were in full swing in the CEV Champions League, Italy, Brazil, Germany, Russia, Belgium, and Switzerland. The finals are now set in the Champions League after two very different yet exciting semifinal matchups. A few Americans finished their seasons with classification matches in Finland and Poland. One American player is linked to an offseason transfer and another finished his season early due to an injury.
Transfer Rumors: Dustin Watten is being linked with a move to GKS Katowice in Poland. This was reported by a sports news twitter account in Poland (@PrawdaSiatki). When asked, Watten did not confirm this was the case.
Injury: James Shaw has left ZAKSA and returned to California. An injury had kept him out of the lineup for the last two matches of the regular season and Shaw announced he was returning home for treatment and recovery,
Champions League: Brenden Sander did not play for Lube Civitanova on April 3, but the Italian club swept its way to win in the first leg of the semifinals against PGE Skra Belchatow. Tsvetan Sokolov and Yoandy Leal paced Lube with 13 points each while Osmany Juantorena added 12.
The second match of the day was highly anticipated and did not disappoint as Zenit Kazan prevailed in five sets against Sir Safety Perugia. Matt Anderson struggled with passing — most do against Leon and Perugia — but his attacking production was phenomenal.
Despite being neglected in the first two sets (he was set four times total), Anderson ended the match with 15 kills. He did not commit an attack error and hit .833. Anderson added four blocks and an ace to finish the match with 20 points. Earvin N’Gapeth led Kazan with 22 points on 16 kills, two blocks, and one ace. Wilfredo Leon led the match with 25 kills but also committed nine errors. He did not earn an ace yet finished the match with eight service errors. Aleksandar Atanasijevic put 24 points onto the stat sheet with 23 kills and an ace.
Lube followed up with a second sweep over Skra on April 10 to earn a spot in the finals. Osmany Juantorena was the high-scorer with 12 points. His teammate, Yoandy Leal, chipped in 11 points, and Tsvetan Sokolov contributed 10 for Lube. Brenden Sander did not dress out.
Zenit Kazan returned home and beat Perugia in four sets on April 10 to book its spot in the finals. Anderson scored 13 points on 12 kills and a block (a solo block on Atanasijevic). He hit .526 from the left side. N’Gapeth contributed 14 on 13 kills and a block with a .259 hitting percentage. Mikhailov bounced back from last week’s lackluster performance and led the way for Kazan with 17 points on 15 kills and two blocks while hitting .333. Aleksandar Atanasijevic scored 24 points from 20 kills, three blocks, and an ace. The Serbian opposite hit .433 in the defeat. Wilfredo Leon produced 18 points on 15 kills, two aces, one block, and a .375 attack average. Jonah Seif played as a substitute for Perugia in every set but the first.
Russia: Fakel Nova Urengoy dropped its first playoff match to Belogorie Belgorod in five sets on Saturday. Erik Shoji led Fakel with 18 percent of his passes being perfect and 44 percent being rated as positive. The next match in this best-of-three quarterfinal series will be on April 14.
Brazil: EMS Funvic Taubate jumped out to an early lead in the best-of-five semifinal series against Taylor Sander and Sada Cruzeiro. Taylor Sander scored 15 points for Sada Cruzeiro on 11 kills and four aces in a four-set loss. Sander hit .318 in the loss.
Taubate took a 2-0 lead in the series on April 9 with a 3-2 win over Sada Cruzeiro. Sander hit .300 and finished with nine kills, two blocks and two aces. Sada Cruzeiro must defeat Taubate three straight matches to reach the finals.
Italy: The Italian playoffs got much more interesting due to the results of Sunday’s matches. Micah Christenson and Azimut Leo Shoes Modena were the first team to reach the semifinals after defeating Revivre Axopower Milano in four sets. Christenson set Modena to .443 attack average (59% success rate) and scored two points in the victory. Max Holt finished with two kills and hit .333. Ivan Zaytsev led the match with 15 kills, one block, and three aces.
Lube Civitanova beat Calzedonia Verona in four sets to advance to the semifinals. Robertlandy Simon (15), Yoandy Leal (14), Tsvetan Sokolov (15), and Osmany Juantorena (16) all finished with double-digit scoring for Lube. Sander did not dress out for his team on Sunday.
Aaron Russell led Itas Trentino (along with Luca Vettori) with 12 points on 11 kills and an ace with a .304 attack average in a surprising sweep at the hands of Kioene Padova. Uros Kovacevic led Trentino with nine kills, three assists and one ace with a .412 hitting percentage. Uros Kovacevic was slated to start for Trentino but was left out of the starting lineup due to a back problem aggravated during the warmup. This matchup will be decided in a third match on Saturday.
Jonah Seif played as a substitute in the last four sets of Sir Safety Perugia’s 3-2 loss to Vero Volley Monza on Sunday. Leon scored 23 points, but Oleh Plotnitskiy’s 29 for Monza helped push the series to a deciding third match. As with the other quarterfinal match, these two teams will play each other on Saturday for a spot in the semifinals.
Poland: Asseco Resovia Rzeszów finished the season in seventh place after beating GKS Katowice in consecutive sweeps. Dave Smith scored nine points in the first match on six kills, one block, and two aces with an .857 hitting percentage. He followed that up with four points on two kills, one block, and one ace on Saturday. Kawika Shoji set Resovia to hitting percentages of .351 and .348 while scoring a total of nine points. Seven of those points came in the second match, including a match-high four aces.
Germany: Berlin Recycling Volleys had its 10-match winning streak ended when it lost to SWD powervolleys Düren in five sets last Wednesday in the second match of the quarterfinals. Ben Patch scored 22 points on 22 kills, but only hit .238 with 12 errors. Jeff Jendryk scored 10 in the middle on seven kills, one block, and two service acees while hitting .286. Kyle Russell was used as a substitute in each set, earning a kill and a block. Daniel Ford came off the bench in the fourth and fifth sets for Düren. Dustin Watten did not play for Berlin.
Berlin prevailed in a win-or-go-home match against Düren on Sunday to advance to the semifinals. Patch again led Berlin with 10 points in the sweep. He scored all of his points on kills and hit .3338. Kyle Russell was used on as substitute in every set and scored five points on five kills, hitting a perfect 1.000. Jendryk hit .667 on his way to six kills to go along with two blocks and an ace. Watten sat again and Ford was used as a substitute for Düren in all three sets.
Tanner Syftestad started the second match of the quarterfinals for United Volleys Frankfurt. He finished with three kills and an ace while hitting .091. He started the first two sets in a 3-2 victory over SVG Lüneburg. Cody Kessel recorded nine points on nine kills for SVG Lüneburg and hit .364.
Kessel responded with 13 points on 10 kills, two blocks, and an ace while hitting .269 in a 3-1 victory for SVG Lüneburg to advance to the semifinals. Syftestad was used as a substitute in the first, second, and fourth sets for Frankfurt in this last match of the season.
Griffin Shields scored 20 points for WWK Volleys Herrsching to stay alive in the quarterfinal series against Hypo Tirol AlpenVolleys Unterhaching. His points came on 17 kills and three blocks with a .325 hitting percentage and led to a Herrsching victory in five sets. Matt Pollock hit .500 in the middle to finish with five kills and three blocks.
Unterhaching finished of the best-of-three series on Sunday with a 3-1 win. Pollock again hit .500 with four kills and a match-high five blocks. Shields contributed 12 points for Herrsching, a team-high, on ten kills and two aces. Shields hit .250 in his last match of the season.
WWK Volleyball Bisons Bühl bowed out of the playoffs after being swept last Wednesday by VfB Friedrichshafen. Jake Arnitz was the leading scorer for Bühl with 13 kills and a block. He hit .375 in the defeat.
The semifinals started on April 10 with the top two seeds getting victories in each of the best-of-five series. VfB Friedrichshafen swept SVG Lüneburg in a match in which Cody Kessel scored eight points. The outside hitter for Lüneburg finished with six kills and two blocks while hitting .000.
Hypo Tirol AlpenVolleys Unterhaching earned an important win at home to open the semifinal series against the Berlin Recycling Volleys. Pollock finished with 11 points on eight kills and three blocks. The middle blocker for the AlpenVolleys hit an impressive .636 on the night. Patch led Berlin with 20 points, but his 17 kills came with seven hitting errors. Patch hit .294 and also scored on three blocks. Jendryk scored 12 points on nine kills, two blocks, and one ace. The middle blocker in his rookie season out of Loyola of Chicago hit .533 in the defeat. Kyle Russell scored three points on three kills in his role as a substitute for Berlin, hitting .111. These two teams will meet again on April 13.
France: Tours needed five sets to defeat AS Cannes, but remains in first place. Mitch Stahl started at middle blocker and scored 13 points. He put away nine kills to go with two blocks and two aces with a .417 hitting percentage.
Chaumont fell to 13-10 in Ligue A with a 3-1 loss to Ajaccio on Saturday. Taylor Averill scored 14 points on eight kills and six blocks while hitting .438. Michael Saeta set Chaumont to a .416 hitting percentage while scoring on two kills 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 was used as a substitute in the first four sets of Knack Roeselare’s 3-2 win over Par-Ky Menen. Holt did not score any points. Roeselare remains in second place with just two matches left before the finals.
Czech Republic: Mitch Beal started the final two sets for VK Ostrava in a 3-1 loss to VK Jihostroj České Budějovice in the semifinals. Beal produced on four kills and one block in the defeat.
Greece: Garrett Muagututia scored five points all from kills for PAOK Thessaloniki in a 3-1 win over Iraklis Petosphalisis to qualify for the semifinals.
Switzerland: Scott Fifer and Volley Schönenwerd were knocked out of the semifinals after a 3-0 sweep at the hands of Lausanne UC. Fifer scored a point from a block while setting Schönenwerd to a .146 attack average.
Finland: Hurrikaani Loimaa finished the season in third place after beating Savo Volley 3-0 and 3-1 last week. Matt West set Hurrikaani Loimaa to hitting percentages of .345 and .374 while scoring eight points in the series.
VaLePa is one match away from the Finnish Mestaruusliiga title after beating Etta Oulu 3-0, 3-1, and 3-1 in the fianl series. Arvis Greene has not played yet in this series for VaLePa.
Italy: Sir Safety Perugia vs. Vero Volley Monza, April 13 — I do not think anyone forecast this series to go to a third match, but Monza pulled off a remarkable upset last week orchestrated by Dragan Travica. Leon and company are coming into the match on three consecutive losses counting the pair of defeats to Zenit Kazan in the semifinals of the champions league. It would be difficult to see last year’s champions and Wilfredo Leon not even reach the semifinals, but Monza has a chance to eliminate a struggling Perugia.
Russia: Fakel Nova Urengoy vs. Belogorie Belgorod, April 14 — Erik Shoji and Fakel suffered an 18-16 defeat in the fifth set of the opening match of the quarterfinal series to Belogorie on Saturday behind 26 points from John Gordon Perrin of Canada. While Fakel was near the top of the Russian Super League standings for much of the season, its descent to fourth place is exactly where it was last season. Like last season, it is just one match away from being swept in the quarterfinals by the team finishing fifth.