After a tough summer for the USA men, America’s top players are back with their pro teams

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Taylor Sander
Taylor Sander, tooling the ROC block during the Olympics, will not play indoors/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Though the United States won a gold medal in women’s volleyball at the Tokyo Olympic Games, it was a summer to forget for the men’s program.

Most notably, the USA men didn’t medal at either Volleyball Nations League or the Olympics, nor at the NORCECA Continental Championships as a team composed mostly of college players finished third place out of six teams at the Pan-Am Cup.

With a difficult summer now in the rearview mirror, most of the players who competed or trained with the USA are now in Europe starting their professional club seasons. There are some players who made jumps to better leagues, while some are staying with the same clubs. Some players are in leagues with a lesser quality of volleyball, and one player unexpectedly decided to move from the indoor game to the sand.

Most pro leagues will start up this weekend, with the Italian SuperLega opening its season on October 10.

The biggest surprise of the summer has been Taylor Sander’s decision not to return to PGE Skra Bełchatów and take his talents to the beach. It’s been rumored after the Olympic Games that he was going to team with Taylor Crabb, whose partner, Jake Gibb, retired.

The president of Skra, Konrad Piechocki, told a reporter in Poland that the club had lost all contact with Sander. It was then announced on the Peacock TV broadcast of the AVP Chicago that he would no longer be playing indoors. Since that announcement on September 5, there have been videos surfacing of Sander training with Jake Gibb, Sean Rosenthal, Taylor Crabb, and coach Rich Lambourne.

Olympian Matt Anderson, who was slated to play in China, did not play professionally last season but instead had an appendectomy. Anderson is back in Italy with Sir Safety Perugia and will be joining Wilfredo Leon again. The duo of outside hitters played together at Zenit Kazan from 2014-2018 where they won the Russian Cup, Russian Super League, and CEV Champions League every year. The team finished second in the Agrobex Memorial of Arkadiusz Gołaś preseason tournament in Poland, falling to ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Koźle in four sets on September 26.

ZAKSA has two American players in the lineup this season. David Smith is back for his third season with the CEV Champions League defending champions and is joined by Erik Shoji. The American libero comes to Poland after spending three seasons in Russia with Fakel Novy Urengoy. As mentioned before, ZAKSA beat Perugia in the finals of the Agrobex Memorial of Arkadiusz Gołaś.

Christenson led Zenit Kazan to an undefeated weekend in his Russian debut @vczenit on Instagram

After winning the 2014 FIVB World League, a few clubs tried to lure Micah Christenson away from USC and get him to forgo his senior season. Zenit Kazan was the biggest of those clubs. With Matt Anderson taking a break from volleyball for about three months, it left Kazan with room for a foreign player to arrive. Christenson declined the offer at that time, but decided to ply his trade in Russia after six seasons in Italy (three with Lube Civitanova and three with Modena). Christenson made his debut with his new club in the preliminary round of the Russian Cup from September 23-26. After coming off the bench on Thursday and Friday, he started against Oilman Orenburg on Saturday and Fakel on Sunday. Kazan went unbeaten through the weekend and qualified for the semifinal stage.

Max Holt is returning to a familiar setting, joining Aaron Russell in Piacenza. Holt played in Piacenza from 2010 to 2013, though it was technically a different club that has since folded. He won the CEV Challenge Cup in 2013 before heading to Dynamo Moscow. Holt went with his teammate from last year’s Vero Volley Monza squad, Adis Lagumdzija. Piacenza also signed Antoine Brizard, the French gold medalist from Tokyo 2020, and Thibault Rossard.

Rossard was teammates with TJ DeFalco at Vibo Valentia last year. DeFalco, who started at outside hitter for the United States in the absence of Russell, moved to Poland for the upcoming season. He is joining Taylor Averill, French Ligue A champion with AS Cannes last season, at AZS Indykpol Olsztyn.

Mitch Stahl is another middle blocker making the move from France to Poland this year. After playing for Chaumont last season, he is now with Stal Nysa. The team made its PlusLiga debut last season.

Jeff Jendryk had a difficult season in Poland with Asseco Resovia Rzeszów. He is going back to Germany to play for the Berlin Recycling Volleys. Jendryk played in Berlin the previous two seasons, winning a championship and finishing at the top of the standings before the season was cancelled in 2020. He will be joining Cody Kessel and Ben Patch. They were all teammates before Jendryk went to Poland. Matt West is also joining the Berlin squad. He is expected to back up Sergey Grankin, the Olympic gold medalist from London 2012.

Setter Micah Ma’a is making the move to Poland after playing the last two seasons in France for Stade de Poitiers. Ma’a had a successful run of grass tournaments this summer with Joe and Gage Worsley.

Dustin Watten seemingly announced his retirement from the national team this summer, but he will still be playing in Poland this year. He will be suiting up for newly-promoted LUK Lublin.

Olympian Kawika Shoji is going back to Turkey, where he played in 2015-2016, to take the court for Spor Toto Spor Kulübü. Josh Tuaniga is playing with MKS Ślepsk Malow Suwałki for the third consecutive season. He signed with the club after graduating from Long Beach State in 2019.

Kyle Ensing, backup opposite in Tokyo, is staying in Israel. He will continue his career with Josh Ayzenberg and JT Hatch at Maccabi Tel Aviv. The trio of Americans won an Israeil championship last season.

Jake Hanes, who played for the USA in the Volleyball Nations League, saw limited action for Arago de Sete in the French Ligue A last year. This year he will be teaming up with Ryan Coenen in the Polish second division for BBTS Bielsko-Biała. He came off the bench in the second set of his debut on September 24 and scored 10 points on five kills, four aces and a block in his team’s opening win.

Garrett Muagututia and Brenden Sander both played in the Polish PlusLiga last season but have left Europe to find new clubs this year. Muagututia will be playing in Egypt for Al-Ahly, and Sander will be a part of Qatar S.C.

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1 COMMENT

  1. The Taylor Sander news is very interesting. He and Crabb would make a very entertaining, albeit small, team. There would be many high level international teams where the defender is taller (and perhaps even more physical) than both of them though.

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