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
The last of the European and South American leagues have completed their 2018-2019 seasons. The CEV Champions League final is the only match that remains before the international seasons commence with Volleyball Nations League.
A number of American players won championships this past week, and there was quite a shock in Russia. With seasons finishing up, eyes are now focused on the transfer market, and there have been a number of signings announced in the past week.
Transfer News: Dave Smith’s move to ZAKSA in Poland has been finalized. Smith played this season with Asseco Resovia. After the worst start in the club’s history, Smith helped Resovia win nine of its last 11 matches (including a sweep of league-champion ZAKSA) and claimed seventh place in the Polish PlusLiga. Resovia also finished fourth place at the FIVB Club World Championships.
Smith played in 24 matches in the Polish PlusLiga this season. He scored 212 points on 135 points, 48 blocks, and 29 aces. Smith hit .570 from the middle for Resovia. He scored 37 points in the four matches of the FIVB Club World Championships, and that made him the third-most productive middle blocker. Smith finished the tournament with 23 kills, seven blocks, and seven aces.
While ZAKSA is welcoming the arrival of an American player in Smith, another American is leaving the club for another league. James Shaw will be playing in France next year. It was recently announced that Shaw has signed with Narbonne in the French Ligue A. Narbonne finished 10th place in the regular season this year and was two wins away from playoff contention.
Shaw took the fall off from volleyball to finish his education at Stanford. He signed with ZAKSA back on February 3, and played in nine matches of the Polish PlusLiga. He scored six points on four kills and two blocks. In the CEV Champions League he played in two matches and scored a total of eight points. All of those points came on February 13 against CEZ Karlovarsko. He finished the match with seven kills and a block. The setter-turned-opposite had to leave ZAKSA back on April 4 to tend to an injury. ZAKSA went on to win the Polish PlusLIga championship back on May 4.
Ben Patch will be staying with the Berlin Recycling Volleys next season. There was a rumor he would be heading to Brazil to play for Funvic Taubate, but he announced on his Instagram account that he will be returning to Berlin in a few months. Patch had the most kills in the German Bundesliga playoffs with 132. He finished with 143 points, good enough for second on the list of top scorers in the league. He played in four Champions League matches, scoring a total of 64 points. This included a match-high 33 points on February 13 in a 3-2 win over Greenyard Maaseik.
Joining Patch at Berlin will be Cody Kessel. The outside hitter from Princeton just finished the season at SVG Lüneburg. He scored 286 points at 3.4 points per set in the regular season, which was ninth-best in the German Bundesliga. Kessel’s points came on 239 kills, 13 aces, and 34 blocks. Lüneburg finished the regular season in fourth place and defeated United Volleys Frankfurt in the quarterfinals before being eliminated from the playoffs by VfB Friedrichshafen.
Erik Shoji will also be staying with his current team. The libero from Hawaii announced he will be playing next season in Russia with Fakel Nova Urengoy. The club will be taking part in the CEV Champions League next season after finishing third in the Russian Super League.
Mitch Beal will be returning to Switzerland to play for TSV Jona in the Swiss Nationalliga A. Beal played with TSV Jona during the 2017-2018 season where he was the team’s leading scorer with 225 kills, 9 service aces, and 29 blocks. Beal played this last season with VK Ostrava in the Czech Republic. He won the bronze medal in the UNIQA Extraliga, the national championship of the Czech Republic. He played in 11 sets and scored 15 points.
TJ DeFalco — the VolleyballMag.com national co-player of the year — is linked with a move to Tonno Callipo Vibo Valentia in the Italian SuperLega. A report from the Italian website, volleyball.it, said the club is finalizing the terms of the contract. DeFalco just finished his senior season at Long Beach State. DeFalco won two NCAA championships (2018 and 2019), was a four-time All-American, and the AVCA player of the year in 2017 and 2019. He finished his collegiate career with 1661 kills and 199 service aces.
Russia: With all of the other classification series completed, only Zenit Kazan and Kuzbass Kemerovo were left playing in Russia. On the brink of elimination, Zenit Kazan responded on May 7 with a sweep to move the series to 1-2 in favor of Kuzbass. Matt Anderson hit .333 on his way to seven kills. He also added two blocks to finish with nine points. Earvin N’Gapeth scored 12 points on 10 kills, one block, one ace, and a .278 attack average. Maxim Mikhailov contributed a match-high 15 points on 12 kills and three blocks with a .474 hitting percentage. Artem Volvich scored 14 in the middle for Kazan from 12 kills and a pair of blocks. Victor Poletaev, the left-handed Russian opposite, led Kuzbass with 14 points on 12 kills, one block, and one ace.
The two teams faced each other again on May 8 with Kuzbass having the opportunity to end the series at home. As it saw the day prior, knocking out Kazan is not an easy task. Kazan has been the victor of the Russian Super League nine of the last 10 years, with 2013 being the last year it did not take the crown. Victor Poletaev knew what it took to win a championship. He replaced an injured Maxim Mikhailov at opposite when he was only 18 years old to help Zenit Kazan win the championship back in 2014. Poletaev carried Kuzbass to a 3-1 victory with his left shoulder. He finished with 23 kills, two blocks, and three aces with a .320 hitting percentage. Mikhailov led Zenit with 19 from 18 kills and a block. Matt Anderson, in his last domestic match for Zenit Kazan, finished with 10 kills, two blocks, two aces, and a .292 hitting percentage.
Italy: Wilfredo Leon showed why he is regarded as arguably the best player in the world on May 8. The Polish outside hitter by way of Cuba scored more than seven points per set and hit .609 from the left side in Perugia’s sweep of Lube Civitanova. Leon put away 16 kills to go with a block and three aces. Aleksandar Atanasijevic was the only other Perugia player to produce double-digit points with 14. The Serbian opposite finished with 12 kills, one block, one ace, and hit .417. Luciano DeCecco set Perugia to a .452 attack average in the win. Jonah Seif was used as a substitute in the first and third sets. Tsvetan Sokolov led Lube with 10 kills, two blocks, and two aces, though the Bulgarian opposite hit only .208. Robertlandy Simon, the top scoring middle blocker for Lube throughout the season, did not start the match. He came onto the court during the second and started the third set, scoring on three kills, one block, and an ace.
Perugia had a chance to claim the title on May 11, but Lube kept the series alive with a 3-0 sweep to force the series to a fifth match. Sokolov hit .625 on his way to 12 kills to go with a block and an ace as the match’s leading scorer. Robertlandy Simon was on fire from the service line and at the net in defense. He led the match in both aces (4) and blocks (3). Wilfredo Leon scored 12 for Perugia on 10 kills, a block, and an ace. Jonah Seif came off the bench in the second and third sets for Perugia.
The fifth and deciding match took place on May 14. Perugia jumped out to a 2-0 advantage at home, but Lube came storming back to win 15-10 in the fifth set behind 19 points from Tsvetan Sokolov. Osmany Juantorena and Robertlandy Simon both contributed 16 points each. Yoandy Leal finished the match with 15. Wilfredo Leon led all scorers with 20 point, including seven aces, but only hit .143 in the defeat. Jonah Seif played as a substitute in the first, fourth, and fifth sets for Perugia. This win breaks a streak of five consecutive losses in the finals for Lube. These losses included the FIVB Club World Championships in 2017 and 2018, the Coppa Italia in 2018 and 2019, and the 2018 CEV Champions League.
Germany: Vital Heynen entered Max Schmeling Hall in Berlin on May 8 just one match away from winning his third championship in the past 12 months after winning the FIVB World Championships at the helm of Poland last summer and the German Cup with VfB Friedrichshafen back in February. The Berlin Recycling Volleys were trying to deny the celebration and push the series to a fifth match. Berlin defended its home court and won 3-1.
Ben Patch was back in the starting lineup at opposite for Berlin. He finished with 10 kills and an ace, but he only hit .240. Jeff Jendryk scored nine points on six kills and a match-high three blocks. Kyle Russell came off the bench in the first and third sets, but did not earn a kill in three attempts. Mortiz Reichert and Samuele Tuia led Berlin 19 and 18 points respectively. Dustin Watten did not feature in the match for Berlin.
Patch stepped up for Berlin on May 12, leading the match with 27 kills, one block, and one ace in the a 3-2 victory to claim the German Bundesliga title. Patch hit an impressive .487 on 47 attempts for the match. Jeff Jendryk played a remarkable match in the middle, hitting .818 without committing an error or getting blocked. Jendryk put away nine kills and added a match-high four blocks in the win. He finished as the top-scoring middle blocker in the playoffs. Kyle Russell was used as a substitute in the third set but did not score.
France: Tours and Chaumont opened the best-of-three final series on May 7 in a five-set marathon which saw Tours taking the first win. Taylor Averill had an exceptional outing in attack with an .800 hitting percentage and no errors. He finished with eight kills and two blocks. Michael Saeta scored three points on one kill and two blocks. Saeta set Chaumont to a .387 hitting percentage (as opposed to .404 from Tours). Mitch Stahl was not featured in the match for Tours.
Tours finished out the series with a 3-0 win on May 10. Averill was held to two points on two kills. Michael Saeta set Chaumont to a .153 hitting percentage and scored a point from a block. Mitch Stahl was not featured in the match for Tours.
Belgium: Sam Holt came off then bench as a serving sub in each of the five sets of in Knack Roeselare’s five-set win over Greenyard Maaseik on May 8. That win evened the best-of-five series at two matches each. Holt scored on two aces and Roeselare averaged 2.4 points every time he went back to the service line.
Maaseik overturned a two-set deficit to win the title 15-13 in the fifth set on May 11. Holt was used as a substitute in every set of the match. He averaged 1.4 points each time he went back to serve and scored from a kill on one attempt.
Greece: Garrett Muagututia scored 10 points on 10 kills in the final match of the season for PAOK Thessaloniki. PAOK fell to Olympiakos on May 9 and dropped the series 0-3.
CEV Champions League: Lube Civitanova vs. Zenit Kazan, May 18 — While there is an FIVB World Club Championships, the CEV Champions League is the biggest and most prestigious competition in the world of club volleyball. There are no wildcards awarded for this tournament. The field consists of the champions of all the European countries that choose to enter and the other top teams from the best leagues on the continent. Teams have to get through a minimum of 11 matches to win the crown.
Saturday’s match will be a rematch of last year’s final, and it will be Matt Anderson’s last match with Zenit Kazan. Anderson will be heading to Italy to play with Micah Christenson and Max Holt at Modena next season.
National Volleyball Association: Team Pineapple vs. Icemen, May 18-19 — OK, so it’s not overseas, but the National Volleyball Association (NVA) is in its second season, and the second regional event will take place at the Ball Sports Academy in Angola, Indiana. Each team involved will play three matches over the two days.
This puts last season’s champions (Team Pineapple) up against the lone team to beat Team Pineapple last month at the first regional event. The NVA’s leading scorer, Kyle Overby, will be suiting up for the Icemen. Tomás Goldsmith of Team Pineapple led the first event with 11 aces in three matches and was the second-leading scorer for the weekend. Pineapple will also be run by Lloy Ball, the Olympic gold medalist.