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
Fewer and fewer teams remain as the playoffs in many countries make their way towards the finals.
The CEV Champions League finals in Berlin are still a month away. The semifinals are set in Brazil. The quarterfinals concluded and the semifinals got under way in Italy and Russia. The semifinals in Germany, Belgium, and Greece continued this past week.
Also last week, seasons concluded in Finland and the Czech Republic. The French Ligue A finally completed its regular season and the playoffs got underway this past weekend. Though not much of a secret, news broke of a huge transfer sending one of the best players in the world back to a former club.
Anderson transfers: While some transfers have been all but confirmed by the clubs, last week saw an official announcement made by Azimut Leo Shoes Modena on the signing of Matt Anderson for the 2019-2020 season.
Both Anderson and Modena announced the deal on Friday. Anderson took to Instagram to say he will be joining Max Holt and Micah Christenson to play as an outside hitter for Modena. This dispelled the rumor that USA Volleyball was going to make him play professionally as an opposite next season leading up to the Olympics, since Anderson plays opposite for Team USA. Modena also addressed this issue when responding to a fan who asked if the acquisition of Anderson meant that Ivan Zaytsev would be leaving the club (Zaytsev one of many players linked with a move to Revivre Axopower Milano). Modena’s response was that Anderson will be playing as an outside hitter, and Zaytsev will remain the club’s opposite.
Anderson returns to Modena, where he played the 2012-2013 season, after seven seasons with Zenit Kazan of Russia. During that time he has won the Russian Super League, the Russian Cup, and the CEV Champions League four times in addition to the 2017 FIVB Club World Championships. Before Anderson leaves the club he will finish out the Russian Super League playoffs, in which Kazan is currently in the semifinals, and will try to win his fifth Champions League crown against Lube Civitanova on May 19.
Anderson was honored by Zenit Kazan before its semifinal match against Fakel Nova Urengoy on April 21. The club raised his jersey to the rafters as a tribute to his service to the club over the past seven seasons.
Russia: Fakel Nova Urengoy leveled its quarterfinal series with Belogorie Belgorod 1-1 after a 3-0 win on Sunday. Erik Shoji led with 56 percent of his passes being rated as positive and 39 percent being classified as perfect. Fakel secured its spot in the semifinals on April 17 after a 15-8 win in the fifth set. Shoji led the match with 22 percent perfect passes and led his team with 50 percent positive receptions. Shoji and Fakel will move on to play Zenit Kazan in the semifinals. Fakel is is the only club to defeat Zenit Kazan twice this season. The first time came on November 28 at the FIVB Club World Championships, and the second occurrence came on February 10 in the Russian Super League.
Zenit Kazan qualified for the semifinals with a 3-0 sweep of Ural Ufa on Sunday. Anderson finished the match with 12 points on 12 kills while hitting .526. Maksim Mikhailov was the only other player for Kazan to break into double-digit scoring. The Russian opposite scored 19 points from 17 kills, a block and an ace. Mikhailov hit .773 without an error in attack.
Anderson hit .522 in the first match of the semifinal series with 14 kills, one block and one ace in a 3-0 victory over Fakel on April 20. Anderson also led his team in passing with 75 percent of his receptions being positive and 30 percent rated as perfect. Shoji finished the match with 30 percent positive receptions and 15 percent perfect for Fakel. The second match of this best-of-three series will take place on April 25.
Brazil: EMS Funvic Taubate ended Taylor Sander’s season in Brazil with a 3-2 win over Sada Cruzeiro on Saturday. Sander scored 19 points on 16 kills, one block and two aces in his last match with Sada Cruzeiro. The outside hitter, linked with a move to Dynamo Moscow next season, hit .444 in the defeat. Taubate will advance to SESI-SP in the finals.
Italy: Saturday’s playoff matches saw four teams trying to earn the last two places in the semifinals. Azimut Leo Shoes Modena and Lube Civitanova had already earned places after winning their respective quarterfinals series 2-0. Sir Safety Perugia and Itas Trentino, the first and second seeds in the playoffs dropped the second match of each of their matchups and had to play on Saturday to clinch spots in the next round.
Aaron Russell put in an MVP performance for Trentino in a sweep of Kioene Padova. Russell tied a match-high 16 points on 16 kills while hitting .714. Uros Kovacevic also scored 16 poitns on 13 kills, two blocks and an ace. Kovacevic, the left-handed outside hitter from Serbia, hit .440 in the win. Maurice Torres, the Puerto Rican opposite who played at Pepperdine, led Padova with 12 points. He was the only player for Padova to reach double-digit scoring on 11 kills and an ace with a .450 attack average. Trentino moved on to start its semifinal series on Tuesday against Lube.
Vero Volley Monza had no answer for Wilfredo Leon on Saturday as the outside hitter for Perugia hit .482 on his way to 15 kills. Leon added two aces to finish with a match-high 17 points. Aleksandar Atanasijevic scored 11 points on 10 kills and a block to help produce a 3-0 win for Peruga and secure the club’s spot in the semifinals. Jonah Seif did not play.
After a routine sweep, much of the excitement on Saturday came during the handshake, which led to multiple suspensions. Santiago Orduna, Monza’ setter, apparently spit at Atanasijevic through the net as the teams shook hands. This prompted Atanasijevic to cross the net and start a physical altercation.
His Perugia teammates got him away from Orduna, only to see him run around the pole to continue the spat. Orduna was given an eight-match suspension next season. Atanasijevic was handed a two-match suspension to be served in the semifinal series against Modena. That punishment was reduced to a single match, so he was not on the floor on Tuesday. The incident can be seen below.
Atansijevic’s suspension did not hold Perugia back as it started the semifinals with a 3-1 win over Modena. Alexander Berger, filling in at opposite, only scored four points but that did not keep Perugia from the win. Leon shouldered the load with 24 points on 20 kills and four aces, though he only hit .268. Filippo Lanza scored 12 on 10 kills and two aces. Modena needed to pass well in order for Micah Christenson to run an effective offense. That did not happen. Modena passed less than 20 percent of its receptions perfectly and Perugia earned 10 service aces. Perugia held a 12 percent advantage in positive serve receptions (47 to 35). With that being the case Christenson set Modena to just one percent less of a success rate in attack than DeCecco of Perugia (50 to 49). Both Tine Urnaut and Ivan Zaytsev struggled to get offensive production going with 10 and nine points respectively. Bartosz Bednorz came on strong as the match progressed with a team-high 14 kills. Max Holt scored seven points on five kills, one block, one ace and a .444 attack average.
Atansijevic was back in the lineup for Perugia on April 19, but Modena responded with a 3-2 victory to tie up the series at one match each. Zaytsev registered 30 points on 26 kills, one block and three aces with an impressive .667 attack average from the right side. Max Holt contributed 13 from the middle from eight kills, three blocks and two aces. Holt hit .615 on the night without a hitting error or getting blocked. Christenson set Modena to a .422 hitting percentage while scoring from a block and a kill. Seif was used as a substitute in the first three sets for Perugia.
Christenson and Modena looked poised to take a 2-1 advantage in the series. With the match tied at one set apiece on April 22, Modena was up nine points at 19-10 in the third set before collapsing. Perugia clawed its way back into the set with solid defense and tough serving from Leon. Modena was one point away from the set at 24-22 before a service error from Bednorz. Zaytsev’s attack went off the net tape and out of bounds to tie the match at 24. The momentum Perugia gained in that comeback carried it through the fourth set to take a 2-1 lead in the series. Zaytsev scored 14 in the loss with Holt adding 8. Holt scored on 6 kills, one block and an ace with a .667 hitting percentage. Christenson scored on two aces and set Modena to a .384 attack average. Jonah Seif came off the bench in the last three sets for Perugia.
Trentino squandered a chance to take a lead in the semifinal series at home against Lube Civitanova. It failed to convert match-points in the fourth set and fifth set to drop a 3-2 decision. Tsvetan Sokolov’s 36 points led the way, even though he committed two costly errors. The first was at 13-13 when he turned his back on a free ball he thought was going out. Then he had an attack error at 13-14. Russell finished with 12 points on 10 kills, one block, one ace and .231 attack average. Luca Vettori contributed 18 points for Trentino, and Uros Kovacevic led his team with 24 points from 21 kills, two blocks and an ace. These two teams will play each other again on Friday.
Lube kept its foot on the gas pedal on April 19 with a 3-1 win at home to put a berth in the finals within view. Aaron Russell was held to five kills and an ace with a .167 hitting percentage. Uros Kovacevic was the only Trentino player to score are least 10 points, as he finished with 18 in the loss. Yoandy Leal was the most productive player for Lube, scoring 23 with match-highs in kills (18) and aces (3).
With its back against the wall, down 0-2 in the series, and 1-2 in the third match, Trentino fought back at home to force a tiebreak on April 22. Lube jumped out to an 8-5 lead at the side change, and held the three-point advantage at 10-7. Trentino chipped away, tying the match at 12 with a block by Simone Gianelli and taking the lead at 15-14 with a block by Russell. An error by Sokolov gave Trentino a victory and kept it alive in the series. Russell finished with seven points on six kills and a block. Uros Kovacevic led the way for Trentino with 21 kills, three blocks and two aces. Leal again was the high-scorer for Lube with 19 kills and a block.
Germany: Berlin Recycling Volleys and Hypo Tirol AlpenVolleys Unterhaching split the first two matches of the best-of-five semifinals. After dropping a 3-1 decision on April 10, Berlin bounced back to earn a sweep on April 14 behind 11 points from Jeff Jendryk, Ben Patch, and Reichert Mortiz. Jendryk finished with eight kills, two blocks and an ace in the middle with a .636 attack average. Patch contributed nine kills and two blocks while hitting .467. Kyle Russell was used as a substitute in each set and put away four kills on four attempts for a perfect 1.000 hitting percentage. Matt Pollock scored seven points on five kills and two blocks. Pollock did not commit a single attack error, and hit .714 in the defeat.
Berlin took a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five series after beating the AlpenVolleys 3-1 on April 17. Patch led his team with 15 points, and Jendryk was right behind with 14. Patch scored on 13 kills and two blocks with a .241 attack average. Jendryk put away 10 kills and four blocks while hitting .563. Kyle Russell was utilized as a substitute in the first three sets and contributed three kills with a .400 hitting percentage. Matt Pollock finished with four kills and a block. He hit .500 without making an error in attack.
Berlin claimed its spot in the finals after a 3-0 sweep on April 20. Jendryk scored 12 points on nine kills and three blocks in the series-clinching win. The middle blocker from Loyola hit .667 from the middle. Patch finished with eight kills and hit .200. Kyle Russell came off the bench in each set and put away six kills to go with a block. Russell did not commit an attack error and hit .750 on eight swings. Matt Pollock finished with five points on two kills and three blocks for the AlpenVolleys in its last match of the season.
VfB Friedrichshafen claimed its spot in the finals with victories on April 14 and April 17. It earned its second victory of the semifinals with a 3-1 win over SVG Lüneburg on Sunday. Cody Kessel scored nine point on eight kills and a block in the first three sets before being replaced in the fourth. Kessel’s attack efficiency was up from .000 on April 10 to .227 on Sunday. He scored another nine points on April 17 in a 3-0 sweep to eliminate Lüneburg. Kessel hit .263 on his way to eight kills and a block.
France: The final matches of the regular season in Ligue A of France took place on April 13, and the playoff bracket was finalized. Tours claimed the top seed in the playoffs with a 3-1 victory over Montpellier on Saturday. Mitch Stahl was not featured by Tours in the match. Levi Cabral, a former player at Cal Baptist, scored points from 10 kills and three aces for Montpellier, who finished the regular season in third place.
Montpellier’s opponent in the playoffs will be Chaumont, who remained in sixth place after a 3-1 win over Cannes. Michael Saeta set Chaumont to a .432 hitting percentage in addition to scoring seven points. Saeta finished with four kills, a block, and two aces from the service line. Taylor Averill only played in the first set and put away two kills on two attempts. Chaumont and Montpellier will open the playoffs in a best-of-three series on Friday.
Chaumont and Montpellier began the playoffs on April 19 in the first match of a best-of-three series. Chaumont drew first blood with a 3-0 sweep. Saeta set Chaumont to a .407 hitting percentage while earning an ace, a kill and a block. Averill finished with five points on four kills and a block. Chaumont was able to hold Cabral to just two kills and a .000 attack average.
Mitch Stahl did not play the first quarterfinal match for Tours against Nantes Reze. Tours won the match in four sets.
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 every set of Knack Roeselare’s 3-1 win over then first-place Greenyard Maaseik. Holt scored a point from an ace, serving nine times. He also attempted an attack but did not earn a kill. That win moved Roeselare to the top of the standings and guaranteed the club a spot in the finals with one match left to go.
Roeselare defeated Lindemans Aalst in four sets on April 19 to keep its top spot in the standings at the end of the semifinal stage. Holt played in the second, third and fourth sets. He did not score any points in the win. Holt and Roeselare will face Greenyard Maaseik in the finals.
Greece: Garrett Muagututia and PAOK Thessaloniki picked up three wins over Kiffisias in the semifinals series to claim a 3-0 victory in the best-of-five series. Garrett Muagututia scored 11 points on eight kills and three aces on April 13 in a 3-0 sweep. Muagututia followed it up with 19 kills on April 15 to lead the team to a 3-1 win. PAOK clinched a spot in the finals with a 3-1 win on April 19. Muagututia finished with nine kills and a block. Olympiakos awaits Muagututia and PAOK in the finals.
Switzerland: Scott Fifer and Volley Schönenwerd finished the season taking third place in the playoffs with a pair of sweeps over Volley Lucerne on Saturday and Sunday last weekend. The stats from the matches were not published.
Biogas Volley Näfels finished fifth after beating Chênois Genève Volleyball 3-0 and 3-2 last weekend. Lucas Yoder was not in the lineup for Näfels in either of the matches.
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 claimed the Finnish Mestaruusliiga title after beating Etta Oulu 3-0, 3-1, 3-1, and 3-2 in the final series. Arvis Greene did not play in the first four matches of the series for VaLePa. He came off the bench in the final match and started the fourth and fifth sets in the comeback victory. Greene scored 14 points on 12 kills and two blocks. This is the second title of the year for VaLePa, which also won the Finnish Cup.
Czech Republic: Mitch Beal and VK Ostrava won the bronze medal after winning a pair of matches against Kladno Voleijbol CZ. Beal played in the second set of a 3-2 win on April 18 and finished with a kill. Ostrava clinched third place with a sweep of Kladno on April 22. Beal did not play.
Italy: Lube Civitanova vs. Itas Trentino, April 25 — This series has been everything volleyball fans have expected. Two of the three matches have gone to five sets. Uros Kovacevic has been shouldering the load for Trentino. The club needs more production from Aaron Russell, the MVP of the FIVB Club World Championship, if it hopes to come back from a 2-1 deficit to make it to the finals.
Russia: Fakel Nova Urengoy vs. Zenit Kazan, April 25 — As mentioned earlier, Fakel is the only team to beat Zenit Kazan twice this season. While Shoji and his club fell back to fourth position in the standings, every match with Kazan before the playoffs (even the match Kazan won) has been a hard-fought battle. This series has the potential to go to four or five matches. It will be interesting to see how Matt Anderson and his teammates perform after the announcement that he will be leaving for Modena at the end of the season.
Germany: Berlin Recycling Volleys vs. VfB Friedrichshafen, April 27 — These two teams are the only clubs active in the German Bundesliga that have ever won the league crown. One has to go back to 1998 to find the last time the championship was not won by either of these two clubs. Berlin has won the last three championships but comes into this series as the underdog after finishing the regular season in third place. It is important to note that VfB Friedrichshafen was the top seed in the playoff last year but lost the final series to Berlin in five matches.