International men’s notebook: Good starts for Christenson, Franciskovic, Ensing

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International men 10/22/2019-Micah Christenson-Matt Anderson
Micah Christenson, left, and Matt Anderson react after a point in a win on October 20, modenavolley.it photo

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

The Italian SuperLega kicked off its 2019-2020 season and a number of American players took the court to start the season. A handful of Americans also competed on both sides of the net in the first trophy competition of the season in the German Super Cup. The French Ligue A saw the return of a few players who just got back to their clubs from the FIVB World Cup. A successful summer campaign and an injury also led to a late transfer for an outside hitter on the national team.

Transfer News: Garrett Muagututia has signed with Calzedonia Verona. The outside hitter, who played with PAOK Thessaloniki in Greece last year, was a mainstay in the lineup for Team USA throughout the summer as it earned a silver medal in the Volleyball Nations League, qualified for the 2020 Olympic Games, and left the World Cup with a bronze medal. His role was vital for Team USA, who dealt with injuries to Taylor Sander and Thomas Jaeschke this summer. He joins Jennings Frankiskovic, Corey Chavers, and Thomas Jaeschke on the Verona squad.

Jennings Franciskovic celebrates during Verona’s win to open the season on October 20/legavolley.it photo

Three stars: One of the players who made the list appeared already this season, and it is difficult to deny the impact he has made in his rookie year. There were also a number of impressive performances by setters this past week.

Micah Christenson, setter, Leo Shoes Modena, Italy: Fresh off of earning the title of Best Setter at the FIVB World Cup, Christenson jumped right back into the swing of things with his club. Taking a team that had not had more than a few days to train together and leading to a sweep in its opening match is impressive. Running an offense to a .400 efficiency with an opposite having to pass and an outside hitter who was playing on the right side for the past five months is what earned him a spot on this list.

Jennings Franciskovic, setter, Calzedonia Verona, Italy: Verona was opening the season without Thomas Jaeschke on the outside due to a shoulder injury. Franciskovic utilized a world-class opposite and two experienced middle blockers to set Verona to a .365 hitting percentage in a sweep. He also chipped in four points on two aces, a block, and a kill in addition to being named the match’s most valuable player.

Kyle Ensing, opposite, Berlin Recycling Volleys, Germany: The rookie from Long Beach State has been making the case to be the starting opposite once Ben Patch gets settled with the club after national team duties. He led Berlin for a second straight match, averaging 5.33 points per set in a sweep. His 13 kills came by way of a .357 hitting percentage.

LCD Court: The TUI Arena in Hannover was the site of the 2019 Germany Super Cup, which pits the German Cup winner from last year against the champion of last year’s German Bundesliga. This year the match was played on a floor that doubled as an LCD screen. The court, produced by ASB Glassfloor, played full motion video and animation during the introduction of the match. It also showed animations and statistics during breaks in the match. There have been many pregame video shows on the court that have used a projection system from above the floor, but this is the first time a volleyball match has been placed on such a court. The Berlin Recycling Volleys beat VfB Friedrichshafen to claim Germany’s first trophy of the season.

France: AS Cannes has gotten off to one of the hottest starts in the Ligue A. Matt West and Kyle Russell helped Cannes pick up two more wins this past week. Russell led the team with 14 points on Tuesday in a 3-0 victory over Nantes Reze. He finished with 13 kills and a block from the right side while hitting .307. West set Cannes to a .295 hitting percentage on the night in addition to earning points from two blocks.

Cannes remained undefeated, though dropped a point, after beating Tours in five sets on Saturday. Russell scored 11 points on 10 kills and an ace. Tours, the defending French champions, were able to hold Russell to a .129 attack average. West set Cannes to a .231 hitting percentage in the win. Their team is now 3-0 with eight points on the season.

Tours have yet to win a match this young season, but have earned a point in the standings by virtue to forcing Cannes to a tiebreak. Price Jarman was not featured in that match for Tours. Jarman played in the third and fourth sets for Tours in a 3-1 defeat to Narbonne on Tuesday. He finished with one point on one kill and hit .000 with three attempts.

James Shaw had not yet reported to Narbonne in its match against Tours on Tuesday. He was in the lineup on Saturday after arriving in France from Japan. He got the start at opposite, but was replaced after the second set. Shaw led the team with three aces to go with four kills. He finished the match with a .154 hitting percentage.

Mitch Stahl started the match at middle blocker for Chaumont in its 3-0 loss to Ajaccio. Stahl scored five points on 2 kills, a block and two aces. His two kills were accompanied by three attack errors for a minus .143 hitting percentage. He did not start the third set but came in as a substitute.

Tourcoing is in first place with a 3-0 record and a perfect nine points. Max Chamberlain did not see any action in the club’s sweep of Ajaccio on Tuesday. He was used as a serving substitute in a sweep of Toulouse on Saturday. He attempted one serve that resulted in an error.

Micah Ma’a has not made his way into the lineup for Poitiers since the conclusion of the World Cup. His club beat Nice on Tuesday in three sets and lost to Nantes Reze on Saturday.

Micah Christenson is joined by his son at the press conference after Modena’s victory/Micah Christenson Instagram

Italy: Coming into the weekend, a team like Leo Shoes Modena would have a tough task ahead of its first SuperLega match. All three of its American players were slated to start the match, but all of them were in Japan for the FIVB World Cup. Many of them got to Italy later in the week and had to get ready for a match on Sunday. Micah Christenson set Modena to a .400 hitting percentage in a 3-0 sweep over Kioene Padova. Christenson also scored on two aces and a kill. Max Holt hit .750 on his way to six kills and a block to finish with seven points. He did not commit an attack error in eight attempts. Matt Anderson moved back out to the left side after playing opposite all summer with Team USA. He finished with five kills (hitting .176), one block, and two aces. What was most interesting was that Modena pushed Anderson out of the passing rotation in serve receive and called upon its opposite, Ivan Zaytsev to shoulder the load in that area of the match. Anderson completed just five receptions compared to 10 from Zaytsev. The opposite from Modena led the team with 16 points on 12 kills, two blocks and two aces.

Calzedonia Verona was in an unenviable situation heading into the season. For the second season in a row it is without Thomas Jaeschke, who injured himself again during duty with Team USA. While the club announced the signing of Garrett Muagututia, that did not happen until after the first match. The result was only 13 points combined from the outside hitters, but that did not hold back Jennings Franciskovic’s offense. The American setter orchestrated a .365 hitting percentage en route to a 3-0 sweep of Globo Banca Popolare del Frusinate Sora. Stephen Boyer, a French opposite, led all players with 21 points from 19 kills, a block, and an ace. Boyer hit .410 from the right side. Corey Chavers did not see any action for Verona in the win. Kupono Fey did not start for Sora, but he played as a substitute in the second and third sets. Fey finished with a point from a kill on one attack attempt. Stijn Van Tilburg, outside hitter from the University of Hawai’i, did not see any action for Sora in the match.

Itas Trentino started its season off with a sweep of Consar Ravenna. Aaron Russell got the night off as Uros Kovacevic (16), Luca Vettori (14), and Srecko Lisinac (12) led the scoring efforts for the defending FIVB World Club Champions.

Germany: Berlin had a very successful week, claiming the German Super Cup over its biggest rival and remaining undefeated in the German Bundesliga. Kyle Ensing led the club again with 16 points in a 3-0 win over Hilo’s Grizzlys Giesen on Tuesday. Ensing put away 13 kills to go with a block and two aces while hitting .357. Cody Kessel played in the second and third sets as a substitute and scored five points on four aces and a block. Kessel did not commit an error in attack and hit .500. J.T. Hatch came off the bench in the third set and did not scored a point in three service and attack attempts. David Wieczorek was Giesen’s best player, scoring 13 from 12 kills and a block. The rookie from Pepperdine hit .333. Fellow rookie Michael Wexter also scored 13 on 11 kills and two blocks with a .205 attack average.

SVG Lüneburg picked up its second win of the season after beating TV Rottenburg on Wednesday in five sets on Friday. Michael Michelau started the first two sets at outside hitter and scored eight points on seven kills and a block with a .278 attack average. Leo Durkin started the first two sets at setter for Lüneburg and set the team to a .242 hitting percentage. Durkin also scored a point from a kill. Karl Apfelbach registered 16 points for Rottenburg. He earned 14 kills, a block, and an ace. He took 42 swings and hit .119 in the defeat. Mitch Penning scored six points on the middle on five kills and a block but only hit .143.

VfB Friedrichshafen earned a victory over Volleyball Bisons Buhl in four sets on Wednesday. Brendan Schmidt started the match in the middle for Friedrichshafen. He contributed four points on two kills and two blocks, but he only hit minus .111 in the win. Joe Worsley started the second set and set Friedrichshafen to a .174 hitting percentage. Greg Petty was used as a substitute in all four sets for Buhl. He attempted four serves and six attacks without scoring a point.

WWK Volleys Herrsching dropped a heartbreaker in five sets to Hypo Tirol AlpenVolleys Unterhaching on Wednesday. Jalen Penrose, a former Penn State Nittany Lion, finished with 15 points on 12 kills and three aces. Penrose is still struggling to find consistency in attack, hitting .100 for the night, an improvement from a minus .036 performance a week ago.

Belgium: The EuroMillions Volley League in Belgium completed its first two rounds last week. Joe Norman did not see any action for Knack Roeselare, who defeated Canuur Volley Gent in straight sets and Lindemans Aalst in four.

Czech Republic: Scott Fifer scored four points on two blocks, one kill, and an ace. Most importantly he set Prigram to a .417 hitting percentage in a 3-0 decision over Zlin. It was Pribram’s first victory of the season.

Kevin Gear posted 10 points against Ústí nad Labem, but it was not enough to push his squad to victory. Gear finished with nine kills and a block while hitting .571 in the middle. Zach Melcher scored four points in the middle for Ústí nad Labem. His points came from came from two kills on two attempts, one block, and one service ace. This was the second consecutive match that Melcher did not commit a single attack error.

Finland: Blake Leeson scored 11 points for Raison Loimu in a 3-0 defeat to Hurrikaani Loimaa on Wednesday. Leeson put away nine kills in the middle with a .444 hitting percentage to go with a block and an ace. Avery Aylsworth passed 45 percent of his receptions positively and 23 percent perfectly, but he also committed four errors in serve receive.

Josh Ayzenberg passed 54 percent of his receptions positively and 25 percent perfectly in Savo Volley’s tiebreak victory over Etta Oulu on Wednesday. Savo followed that up with a sweep over Team Lakkapää on Thursday. Ayzenberg only received three balls in serve receive, and all of them were positive passes. Ryan Manoogian passed 69 percent of his receptions positively and 15 percent perfectly for Lakkapää in the defeat.

Kyle Foley was used as a substitute for Karelian Hurmos in a four-set loss to VaLePa on Saturday. He came in the third set against Hurrikaani Loimaa on Friday and did not score a point.

Netherlands: Unfortunately the expediency and quality of stats published by the Dutch Eredivisie leaves much to be desired, so there will be a delay in the reporting of action from Holland. On Wednesday, Colin Mahan, Samr Perinar and Lycurgus defeated Taurus in three sets. Perinar led the team with 16 points on 15 kills and an ace. Mahan added nine points from eight kills and a block.

MEZVA: Both teams with American players squared off in Croatia on Saturday. Kyle Dagostino and ACH Volley of SLovenia defeated Dalton Sobrig and OK Mladost Ribola Kastela of Croatia in straight sets. Unfortunately neither the league nor the clubs have released the match statistics at this time.

Looking Ahead
Germany: Berlin Recycling Volleys vs. Hypo Tirol AlpenVolleys Unterhaching, October 23 — Both teams are undefeated at this point in the season. After Berlin’s domination of VfB Friedrichshafen in the German Super Cup, it looks like the defending champions have no intention of slowing down. This will be the first Bundesliga match that Berlin will have all five of its American players available.

Poland: ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Koźle vs. ONICO Warsaw, October 23– Dave Smith will be playing in his first match with the Polish champions in the Polish Super Cup. Warsaw is without Bartosz Kurek this year but picked up Kevin Tille and Artur Udrys. ZAKSA lost Sam Deroo to Dynamo Moscow this summer, who is filling the void left by an injured Taylor Sander. Benjamin Toniutti has set ZAKSA to success on many occasions in domestic competitions, and this is a chance to see if Simone Parodi and Aleksandar Sliwka can pick up that offensive production.

Italy: Calzedonia Verona vs. Sir Safety Perugia, October 27 — It took Perugia five sets to earn a win against Top Volley Latina on the opening day of play this past week. Verona looked to be firing on all cylinders in its first match of the season. Since its opening victory, Verona has brought in Garrett Muagututia into the squad to fill a much-needed position at outside hitter. Perugia should be the favorites, but its star-studded lineup only won the Coppa Italia last year, and its roster must be feeling the effects of a long summer international season.

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