International men’s notebook: Americans already playing in pro leagues

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Pro mens volleyball 10/15/2019-Cody Kessel-Berlin Rercycling Volleys
Cody Kessel helped the Berlin Recycling Volleys claim its first victory of the season on October 12/Berlin RV Facebook

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

As the USA national team finishes up the FIVB World Cup in Japan, a few other professional leagues have kicked off the 2019-2020 season and a number of American players have hit the court to start their respective seasons.

While the Finnish Mesatruusliiga, the Czech Extraliga, and MEZVA started a few weeks ago, France, Germany, and Belgium all kicked off competitions this week. We are still a week away from the first round of matches in the Italian SuperLega. The Polish PlusLiga and the Russian SuperLeague will not start for another two weeks.

Roster Absences: The summer international season took a toll on some players, and left some clubs looking to find replacements. Taylor Averill had knee surgery over the summer, and had his contract terminated with Indykpol AZS Olzstyn in the Polish PlusLiga. Averill is currently rehabbing in California.

Taylor Sander traveled with Team USA to the International Olympic Qualifying Tournament, but he did not take the floor due to an injured shoulder. An MRI back in the United States revealed that surgery was necessary. Sander and Dynamo Moscow absolved their contract together. Sander was replaced on the Moscow roster by a former teammate at Calzedonia Verona, Sam Deroo.

Dan McDonnell had shoulder surgery over the summer, and will not be playing with Tours VB in the French Ligue A this season.

Michael Saeta took part in the FIVB World Cup as a serving specialist, but will not be playing professionally this season. Saeta sustained three concussions in the past year playing for Chaumont and training with the national team. He has changed his role from setter to serving specialist.

Joe Norman was the lone American player selected in the 2019-2020 KOVO draft, and was set to play with the Samsung Bluefangs in Korea. The good news is the contract comes with a hefty paycheck. The bad news is the club announced that Norman was suffering from shin and elbow pain, so his contract was absolved. The Korean league is known for intense training routines and relying heavily on its foreign players. When looking at the top 10 single-match scoring performances in the rally scoring era, seven of them have come from foreign players playing for Korean teams. Norman was signed by Knack Roeselare in Belgium, where he will back up Hendrik Tuerlinckx at opposite.

Jake Langlois took part in KOVO tryouts, but was not selected in the draft. The outside hitter from BYU took part in the Volleyball Nations League for Team USA this summer. He signed with Woori Card in late August to replace an injured Liberman Agamez but did not remain in Korea. After two weeks of training, he felt the risk of injury was too great and returned back to California.

Three Stars: Just as hockey has three stars after each game, we will choose three American players who had noteworthy performances. Three opposites could have been chosen this week, but there was also a middle blocker who had a productive and efficient outing on the court.

Michael Wexter, opposite, Helios Grizzlys Giesen, Germany — The rookie from Pepperdine did not start the match against WWK Herrsching Volleys, but he made an impact in his first professional match. Once he came off the bench in the first set he scored from all three areas of the game. Wexter hit .423 on his way to 13 kills. In addition to scoring in attack, he added four blocks and three service aces. Wexter said after the match,

“So far I love Germany and the team. I wasn’t sure what to expect coming out here, but the volleyball has been great,” he said. “I think everyone here has a great chance to succeed.

Kyle Ensing, opposite, Berlin Recycling Volleys, Germany — Ensing has spent the last two summers with Team USA and has seen action in both editions of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League. It is safe to say he was a bit more seasoned coming into his rookie season than most players leaving the NCAA. With teammate Ben Patch representing the United States in Japan at the FIVB World Cup, Ensing seized the opportunity. The opposite from Long Beach State led Berlin with 19 points on 15 kills and four aces while hitting .451.

Kevin Gear, middle blocker, Odolena Voda, Czech Republic — The former Penn State Nittany Lion showed his club it made the right decision bringing him back this season. Gear averaged 3.33 points per set from the middle in a sweep and hit an impressive .778 without committing an error in attack. He finished the match with seven kills, two blocks, and a service ace.

France: The defending French champions, Tours VB, fell to Chaumont in a sweep to start the season. Price Jarman, did not start for Tours, but came off the bench in the third set. The middle blocker in his second professional season hit .750 and converted three kills from four attempts without an attack error. Jarman also added a block to finish with four points in less than one set of action. Mitch Stahl was still with the USA national team.

Pro mens volleyball 10/15/2019-Matt West-Kyle Russell-Cannes
Matt West and Kyle Russell led Cannes to a win on the opening weekend of the French Ligue A/Christian Besson, AS Cannes Facebook

AS Cannes finished at the bottom of the standings last year in the French Ligue A, but started with season with a 3-1 win over Toulouse. Matt West set Cannes to a .295 hitting percentage and a 48-percent success rate in attack. He also added four points from a kill, a block, and two service aces. Kyle Russell was the leading scorer for Cannes. The opposite who played the last two seasons in Berlin, scored 20 points on 17 kills and three blocks with a .364 attack average.

Max Chamberlain started his professional career with Tourcoing on Saturday with a 3-1 victory over Poitiers. Chamberlain was a serving substitute in the first set. He completed one serve successfully but Poitiers was able to concert the point on the play. Poitiers will soon be joined by Micah Ma’a, who like Stahl, is competing in the World Cup.

Germany: As was the case last season, there are many American players in the German Bundesliga this season. The defending champions, Berlin, have five American players on its roster. While Ben Patch, Jeff Jendryk, Sergey Grankin of Russia are still in Japan for the World Cup, the Berlin Recycling Volleys opened its domestic campaign with a 3-1 victory over Netzhoppers KW-Bestensee. Kyle Ensing, a rookie who won two NCAA titles at Long Beach State, led all scorers with 19 points on 15 kills and four aces. Ensing hit .451 in his first professional match. Cody Caldwell contributed 13 points on 12 kills and an ace with a .550 hitting percentage from the left side. J.T. Hatch came off the bench in the first and second sets as a serving substitute. He finished with match attempting two serves with no aces and one error.

SVG Lüneburg started its season in the win column after beating Volleyball Bisons Bühl in four sets. Michael Michelau played as a substitute in the first, third, and fourth sets for Lüneburg. Michelau, in his second professional season after playing last year in Sweden, finished with two kills on three attempts with no errors. Leo Durkin came off the bench in the second, third, and fourth sets. He attempted four serves and committed two errors from the service line. Greg Petty as back in top-flight volleyball after playing in the second division in France last season. His first season back from an injury. He started the first and fourth sets for Bühl, scoring six points on five kills and an ace. Petty struggled with attack efficiency, hitting only -.059 in the defeat.

Jalen Penrose started his first match for WWK Volleys Herrsching in a 3-1 victory over Helios Grizzlys Giesen on Saturday. Penrose, who played his rookie season in the Czech Republic, finished with 10 points on seven kills, one block, and two aces.

“The team has had a little sickness going around, but we were healthy enough to play,” Penrose said. “The perks of being a young team is sometimes a curse. You can play stretches of volleyball well, and at times, not so much.”

The starting opposite from Penn State also acknowledged his -.038 hitting performance.

“Personally I didn’t do as well as I wanted for whatever reason, but we have a solid team that sticks together. We pulled it out for the three points.”

David Wieczorek got the start at outside hitter for Giesen, and while he only put away seven kills (hitting .120), he finished the match with 14 points. The rookie from Pepperdine added three blocks and a match-high four aces to the stat sheet. Wieczorek’s former college teammate, Michael Wexter, did not start the match for Giesen, but came onto the floor in the first set and stayed there the rest of the match. Wexter led his team with 20 points from the right side. He converted 13 kills on 20 attempts to post a .423 hitting percentage. Wexter also contributed four blocks and three aces in the defeat.

VfB Friedrichshafen fell short again in the playoff finals of the German Bundesliga in 2019. The runner-up opened the new season with a 3-0 sweep over Heitec Volleys Eltmann on Saturday. Brendan Schmidt started in the middle for Friedrichshafen and scored four points. Schmidt hit .143 on his way to two kills and two blocks. Hawai’i’s Joe Worsley came off the bench as a serving substitute in the second and third sets. He attempted two serves, finished with no aces and one error in his first professional match.

Karl Apfelbach, a rookie from UC Irvine, scored 14 points for TV Rottenburg in a 3-1 loss to Hypo Tirol AlpenVolleys Unterhaching on Sunday. Apfelbach scored all of his points on kills and hit .370. Mitch Penning started in the middle for Rottenburg, scoring three points on two kills and a block.

Belgium: The Belgian season kicked off on Sunday with the Super Cup. Knack Roeselare defeated Greenyard Maaseik in straight sets to win the trophy. Joe Norman did not play for Roeselare.

Czech Republic: Matt August opened the season on October 5th with six points from the middle for Brno in a 3-1 defeat to Beskydy. August hit .000 on his way to four kills and two blocks. He followed it up on October 12 with three kills and a match-high five blocks in a 3-0 sweep over Ostrava in which he hit .333.

Scott Fifer and his Pribram team have had a rough start to the season. They opened the season with a 3-2 loss to Ostrava. Fifer had two kills and five blocks while setting Pribram to a .219 attack average. That was followed up with a 3-0 defeat to Ceske Budejovice. Fifer only started in the first two sets, and set his team to a .170 hitting percentage during that time.

Kevin Gear opened the season with five points on three kills, two blocks, and a .500 hitting percentage for Odolena Voda in a 3-0 loss to Ceske Budejovice. He came back in his second match with 10 points on seven kills, two blocks, one ace, and a .778 attack average in a 3-0 sweep of Zlin.

The stats for Zach Melcher’s first match against Dukla Liberec were not published by the Czech Extraliga, but he scored four points for Ústí nad Labem in a 3-0 defeat to CEZ Karlovarsko. His points came on two kills and two blocks. He did not commit an error in attack and hit .667.

Finland: Ryan Manoogian passed 50 percent of his receptions positively and seven percent perfect for Team Lakkapää in a 3-1 loss to VaLePa.

Josh Ayzenberg earned a win for Savo Volley this past week over Blake Leeson and Raison Loimu. He passed 59 percent positive and 18 percent perfect in a 3-1 victory. Leeson scored 13 points in the middle on 11 kills, one block, and one ace. He hit an impressive .563 in the defeat.

Kyle Foley was used as a substitute for Karelian Hurmos in a five-set loss to VaLePa. He attempted and missed one serve in the defeat.

MEZVA: The Middle European Volleyball Zonal Association, or MEVZA, started last week. The league consists of eight teams from Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, and Bosnia. While ACH Volley of Slovenia lost its first match last weekend, Kyle Dagostino suited up for the first time on Wednesday. The rookie libero from Stanford received 18 serves in a 3-1 win over OK Maribor of Slovenia. Dagostino passed 56 percent of his passes positively and 28 perfect perfectly.

Dalton Sobrig scored 14 points for OK Mladost Ribola Kastela of Croatia in a five-set win against HAOK Mladost Zagreb back on October 5th. Sobrig scored on 11 kills, two blocks, and an ace while hitting .550 with no attack errors.

Looking Ahead
Germany: Berlin Recycling Volleys vs. Helios Grizzlys Giesen, October 15 — This is a match that Berlin should count on winning. What makes this an interesting fixture on the calendar is the amount of American players on each roster. David Wieczorek and Michael Wexter will both be suiting up for Giesen. Even though Berlin will be without Ben Patch and Jeff Jendryk, it will still have Cody Kessel, Kyle Ensing, and J.T. Hatch.

France: Cannes vs. Tours, October 18 — Matt West and Kyle Russell have established themselves in the starting lineup for Cannes, and both should feature heavily this upcoming Friday. Price Jarman did not start for Tours in its opening loss, but he was highly effective when he was substituted into the match. This match will be interesting to see if Cannes will make a statement early to be a playoff contender, if Tours will continue its routine season-beginning slump, or if Tours will get into stride as the defending champions.

Italy: Calzedonia Verona vs. Globo Banca Popalare del Frusinate Sora, October 20 — It is possible that many of the American players will not be suiting up for their Italian teams this weekend since most are just finishing up in Japan. It will be interesting to see if Jennings Franciskovic can find his way onto the court with his second Italian club. Kupono Fey should be starting for Sora, and it will be worth paying attention to whether or not he has more of a role in the team’s attack.

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