This is Blair Lambert’s VolleyballMag.com 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 and follow him on Instagram @blvolley2
Joe Worsley, who was an All-American when he played at Hawai’i from 2016-19, has had an incredibly accomplished week. The setter for VfB Friedrichshafen in the German Bundesliga has been playing the backup role for most of the season, but was called upon to run the offense against TSV Unterhaching on January 23.
Worsley had been slotted to get the start knowing the following week would be crowded with matches. Players such as Linus Weber, Nicholas Marechal, and Dejas Vinic (the starting setter), got to rest ahead of an upcoming match against Berlin. Worsley led Friedrichshafen to a 3-0 win and set his team to a .461 attack average and also scored on a kill, an ace, and two blocks.
While Unterhaching is at the bottom of the league standings, Worsley got to start again January 28 against the Berlin Recycling Volleys after Vinic got hurt in a training session.
Berlin has won seven of the last eight Bundesliga championships, and is currently in second position. Worsley, in his second season as a professional, handled the moment like a seasoned veteran. He set Friedrichshfaen to an attack average almost as efficient as the match against Unterhaching (.460) and added a kill and two aces. His serve proved to be effective at leading to break points as he led the match with 22 attempted and 20 completed serves.
After the injury to Vincic, the team had to rewrite its game plan.
“We had to change our defense,” Worsley told us. “It is very different when you go from a 6-7 setter to a 6-1 one. In the end it worked, and we were able to defend them very well.”
Berlin was held to a .386 hitting percentage, compared to a .460 from their opponents. One bright spot for Berlin was the return of Ben Patch. The American opposite missed the previous few matches with an ankle injury. He came into the match for the third and fourth sets, hitting .500, getting nine kills.
The result allowed Friedrichshafen to open up an eight-point lead at the top of the standings with four matches left in the regular season.
“The win really put us in a good position and in control of the league,” said Worsley, the product of Moraga, California.
They are now gearing up for Helios Grizzlys Giesen next weekend before hosting Champions League Pool E against Trentino, CEZ Karlovarsko and Lokomotiv Novosibirsk from February 9-11. Worsley and his team are currently in second place in the group with six points. The only defeat came to Trentino on its third match in as many nights.
“If there was ever a time you were going to beat them (Trentino), that was the time,” Worsley explained after Trentino was taken to five sets by Novosibirsk and was trying to get back to full strength after COVID 19 hit its setter, Simone Gianelli.
“Fatigue was definitely a factor. That has been a big emphasis going into the second half. We had a three week break where we pushed hard in the weight room. We knew we had three Champions League matches in a row, and we have to be in shape for that.”
With February upon us, one of the most prominent leagues in the world is gearing up for its playoffs. The Italian SuperLega has just two match days remaining on its calendar before the playoffs start on February 21. It is worth noting that the league was on hiatus this weekend due to the Coppa Italia quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. Lube Civitanova claimed a 3-1 victory over Sir Safety Perugia on January 31.
The Italian Legapallavolo has increased the scope of its major competitions this year. Every team got a chance to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia this year while in previous years the top eight teams at the halfway point of the season qualified. The top 11 of 12 teams in the league will qualify for the playoffs, instead of just the top eight.
The new development means that all six American players will take place in the playoffs this year. The top five teams will receive a bye into the quarterfinals. Sir Safety Perugia, Lube Civitanova, and Itas Trentino seem to have the top three positions locked up with 52, 49, and 44 points respectively.
TJ DeFalco and Tonno Callipo Calabria Vibo Valentia are currently in fourth position with 34 points and a 12-8 record. The club plays the last-placed team in Kevin Tillie’s Top Volley Cisterna, before finishing the season with Lube Civitanova. That is a great opportunity to pick up three points, but Vibo Valentia has suffered three consecutive defeats.
Gas Sales Piacenza is looking to break into the top five places to finish the regular season. Aaron Russell and company currently are 11-9 with 32 points. Piacenza’s path to finish the season is a bit more daunting than Vibo Valentia. The last match is against Allianz Milano, who is having a bit of a disappointing season after the last two years and sits in eighth position. Before that, Russell will have to square off against Max Holt and Vero Volley Monza.
Monza is probably the one of the hottest clubs in Italy at the moment after Trentino. It is in fifth position with a 12-7 record and is just one point behind Vibo Valentia with 33 points. It has a match in hand over fourth place Piacenza, giving it three more chances to move up in the standings. As mentioned earlier, Holt’s team will play Piacenza in a match featuring two Penn State alumni. It will also play top-ranked Perugia before facing Thomas Jaeschke and NBV Verona. While Verona is in ninth place and on a two-match losing streak, none of those matches are easy victories.
Micah Christenson’s Leo Shoes Modena sits in seventh place after dropping its last three matches. Two of those matches were to Lube and Perugia, the top two teams in the league. Christenson is playing phenomenal volleyball, especially on defense, but Modena has had difficulty establishing a consistent trio of attackers at the pins. Despite seeing such a decline from the previous few seasons, Italy’s most storied club is still alive in the Coppa Italia and is in great position to qualify for the playoffs of the CEV Champions League.
Kawika Shoji is having a difficult season with Kioene Padova. While the club was picked by European media to finish at the bottom of the league standings, it sits in 11th place and has clinched a place in the playoffs. Padova surprisingly qualified for the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia, going 3-0 in its pool back in September. Shoji suffered a finger injury and had to exit his last match against Milan.
Michael Michelau, who played in the German Bundesliga for SVG Lüneburg last year, found himself back in Sweden this season. Michelau played in Sweden for Falkenbergs back in 2018-2019. He is suiting up for Hylte Halmstead this year, and his club is currently in second place. Michelau scored 19 points in a winning effort of the finals of the Swedish cup competition, the Grand Prix on January 24. He scored on 19 kills, one block, and two aces with a .385 hitting percentage in a five-set win over Sollentuna.
Michaelau followed that up with a match-high 23 points against his old club on January 27. He hit .447 on his way to 22 kills in a four-set victory over Falkenbergs. He also contributed a block. As mentioned previously, Hylte Halmstead is in second place in the league standings behind Sollentuna with five matches left in the regular season.
Greg Petty was a player that was particularly struck hard by the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. While he is fortunate to have found an opportunity to play this year, the outside hitter from Lewis University landed in Cyprus. Petty worked his way up through Finland and Greece to land in the French Ligue A. After a horrific injury left him on the sideline, he made his way back through the French Ligue B and earned a spot in the German Bundesliga.
The financial fallout of the pandemic left many clubs not able to pay decent salaries, particularly foreign players. This left Petty having to take a chance in Cyprus this year. His club, Pafiakos, started the season 7-2, with its only losses to league-leading Omnia Nicossia. Though the club decided to release Tanner Syftestad and has lost its last two matches since his departure, Pafiakos dropped to third place and sits at 11-5.
Petty has a goal of playing well enough to land an even greater opportunity next season.
“Honestly I am working hard to focus on my game, play well, and get a chance to play in a bigger league next year,” he said. “I like our coach and he makes sure our practices are pretty solid.”
Libero Ryan Manoogian, formerly of Long Beach State, was forced to leave his club in Finland, Raision Loimu. Manoogian announced last weekend that he was not able to get approval for his Finnish residence permit due to COVID stipulations.