Pro men’s notebook: Big week for Patch, Tuaniga and DeFalco make pro debuts

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Pro Mens notebook 10/31/2019-Aaron Russell
Aaron Russell had a successful first match for Itas Trentino/Trentino 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

It has been a busy week in the world of professional volleyball. The Polish PlusLiga and Russian Super League started their seasons. Poland also played its Super Cup with an American player earning a trophy from that competition.

A few players from Team USA made their professional debuts as TJ DeFalco and Josh Tuaniga, teammates at Huntington Beach High School and Long Beach State University, played their first professional matches with their respective teams. The CEV Champions League draw took place on Friday. There are a number of American players who will take part in this competition when the group stage kicks off on December 3.

Three Stars: This week’s picks were difficult to make because many players played multiple matches, and it was difficult to have multiple consistent performances. There were players who may have been the MVP in one match, but hit less than .200 in another. Someone may have produced over 25 points in one match and then struggle to find kills at a high rate a few days later. These three players produced each time they walked on the court this week and are worthy to be designated as stars.

Ben Patch, opposite, Berlin Recycling Volleys, Germany: Patch finds himself on this list by virtue of having two incredibly solid performances. He came off the bench on Wednesday to help his team get a win in five sets. He finished with match with 19 points on 17 kills, two aces, and a .542 attack average. He followed it up over the weekend by hitting .333 on his way to 10 kills. He also added a block finish with 11 points in a 3-0 sweep.

Josh Tuaniga, Setter, Ślepsk Malow Suwałki, Poland: Tuaniga opened up his professional career with a newcomer to the PlusLiga and defeated one of Poland’s most successful clubs. In a 3-1 win over Asseco Resovia, he set his squad to a .403 hitting percentage. He also posted a match-high four service aces and converted four kills in five attempts.

Jalen Penrose, opposite, WWK Volleys Herrsching, Germany: While Herrsching did not win both of its matches this week, it could count on Penrose to put up big numbers. He came off the bench last Wednesday to score 20 points on 14 kills, two blocks and four aces while hitting .346. He hit .360 on Saturday while putting away 15 kills, two blocks, and one ace.

Champions League Draw: The CEV Champions League got started with the first round matches last week, but no American players are on any of those teams. In fact there will be no American players taking the court until the fourth round of the tournament. The drawing of lots for the fourth round took place on Friday at the CEV Gala to decide the composition of those five pools.

Pool A: the winner of last year’s CEV Cup and Champions League will be in this pool. Aaron Russell and Itas Trentino, winners of the CEV Cup are in this pool with Lube Civitanova, the champions of last year’s Champions League. Those two Italian clubs will be joined by České Budějovice of the Czech Republic and Fenerbahçe of Turkey.

Pool B: This pool has teams with a combined total of seven American players on rosters. Berlin Recycling Volleys has five American players in Patch, Kyle Ensing, JT Hatch, Cody Kessel, and Jeff Jendryk. Fakel Novy Urengoy of Russia has Erik Shoji in its lineup. He will be playing his former club in the fourth leg of the group stage when Fakel visits Berlin. Kyle Dagostino and ACH Volley of Slovenia were drawn into this group along with Kuzbass Kemerovo, the Russian champions.

Pool C: This is the only group without an American player. Zenit Kazan of Russia, Jastrzebski Wegiel of Poland, Halkbank Ankara from Turkey, and Greenyard Maaseik of Belgium round out the participants in this group.

Pool D: Price Jarman and his Tours VB club will be in this group with Sir Safety Perugia, the runners-up in Italy, and Projekt Warsawa, the runners-up in Poland. Those teams will be joined by one of the winners from the third round..

Pool E: There will be four American players in this pool. The Polish champions, ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Koźle, will be taking the floor with David Smith. Knack Roeselare, finalists in Belgium last season, are in this group with Joe Norman. Brendan Schmidt and Joe Worsley will be suiting up for VfB Friedrichshafen. The last team in this pool will be determined from the third round.

Italy: Kupono Fey and Globo Banca Popolare Frusinate del Sora had the tall task of taking on Lube Civitanova on Wednesday in a match from the 13th week that had to be rescheduled due to Lube’s involvement in the FIVB Club World Championships in December. Fey started in the third set and scored three points in the 3-0 defeat to the defending Italian champions. He finished with two kills and a block while hitting .333. Yoandy Leal led Lube with 12 kills and three aces. Robertlandy Simon and Osmany Juantorena got the night off for Lube.

Azimut Leo Shoes Modena remained one of three perfect teams in this young season by defeating Gas Sales Piacenza in a sweep. Micah Christenson led Modena to a .466 hitting percentage and contributed an ace from the service line in the win. Max Holt scored five points in the middle on two kills and three blocks, but he only hit .000. Matt Anderson added 10 points on six kills, one block and three aces. The Team USA outside hitter hit .364 on 11 attempts. As with last week, much of the passing duties have been moved from Anderson to the team’s opposite, Ivan Zaytsev. The somewhat altered serve-receive formation has been successful so far for as Modena has yet to drop a set.

Garrett Muagututia arrived in Verona on Friday, which gave him one day to train with his new team before its match against Sir Safety Perugia on Sunday. The good news is that Perugia entered the match on a run of bad form after being taken to five sets by Top Volley Latina last weekend, and getting swept by Allianz Milan (behind 26 points from Nimir Abdel-Aziz) on Thursday. Verona was not recreate Milan’s magic and Perugia prevailed in three sets. Jennings Franciskovic came off the bench in the second and third sets, while Garret Muagututia was utilized by Verona in the defeat. Aleksandar Atanasijevic led Perugia with 17 points, and Wilfredo Leon was the next-highest scorer for the victors with 11.

TJ DeFalco made his highly anticipated professional debut for Tonno Callipo Calabria Vibo Valentia on Sunday in its match against Kioene Padova. While he was not in the starting lineup, DeFalco came off the bench in the second set and played the rest of the match. He hit .500 on his way to four kills and a block in the 3-0 defeat.

Aaron Russell played in his first match of the season as Itas Trentino defeated Vero Volley Monza in straight sets on Sunday. Russell scored 12 points on ten kills, one block, and one ace while hitting .333. Luca Vettori led Trentino with 13 points from 11 kills and 2 blocks, and the Italian opposite also hit .611 from the right side.

Sora remained winless in three attempts after losing to Consar Ravenna on Sunday in four sets. Fey came off the bench in the first set and played the rest of the match for Sora. He finished with six points on five kills and a block. Fey also led Sora with 48 percent of his receptions being rated as perfect.

Russia: There is only one American player in the Russian Super League this season. Erik Shoji is back with Fakel Novy Urengoy and the club celebrated its first win of the season with a 3-1 decision over ASK Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday. Shoji led Fakel with 62 percent positive receptions. He also had 19 percent of his receptions rated as perfect. Egor Kliuka led the match with 32 points for Fakel. These included 26 kills, four blocks, and two aces.

Poland: David Smith won a trophy in his first match with ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Koźle.The Polish champions from 2019 won the Polish Super Cup with a 3-1 victory over Projekt Warsaw. Smith scored seven points in the middle from five kills, one block, and one ace. He hit .214 before being replaced in the third set due to a minor calf injury. ZAKSA was led by Łukasz Kaczmarek’s 20 points and 19 from Aleksander Śliwka. Smith did not play in ZAKSA’s 3-0 victory over MKS Bedzin.

Another match in Poland with American participants took place on Sunday when GKS Katowice defeated Asseco Resovia Rzeszów in five sets. Dustin Watten started at libero for Katowice and passed 23 percent of his receptions perfectly. Kawika Shoji was not the starting setter for Resovia, but he played as a substitute in every set. He finished with an ace and two kills in the defeat.

Josh Tuaniga, blocking on the right, in his first professional match against Resovia/plusliga.pl photo

Tuaniga was successful in his pro debut on Wednesday as Ślepsk Malow Suwałki defeated Resovia in four sets on Wednesday. Tuaniga set Suwałki to a .403 hitting percentage and scored eight points. He led the match with four service aces and converted four kills. Kawika Shoji played in the second and third sets as a serving sub.

Watten passed 50 percent of his receptions perfectly in Katowice’s tiebreak defeat to PGE Skra Bełchatów on Wednesday. He led his team in passing and did not commit an error in reception.

France: The French Cup kicked things off with its first round on Tuesday. Most of the teams from Ligue A were playing Ligue B teams, and plenty of clubs in Italy’s top flight have byes to the next round. Matt West and Kyle Russell led AS Cannes through to the next round by virtue of a 3-0 sweep of Grand Nancy Volley. James Shaw and Narbonne won in five sets over St. Nazaire. Max Chamberlain’s Tourcoing was eliminated by Paris Volley in five sets.

AS Cannes remained the only undefeated in France after a 3-2 win over Rennes on Saturday. Matt West scored two points from blocks and set Cannes to a .286 attack average. Kyle Russell led Cannes with 20 points and four service aces. He also contributed 13 kills, three blocks, and hit .200 in the win.

Shaw led all players with 20 points in Narbonne’s 3-1 defeat to Toulouse on Friday. Shaw put away 17 kills to go with two blocks, and one ace while hitting .326 in the defeat.

Tours earned its first victory of the season by virtue of a 3-0 sweep of Tourcoing. Max Chamberlain was used as a substitute in all three sets for Tourcoing and served four times. Price Jarman was not utilized in the match for Tours.

Paris Volley earned a big win over Chaumont 52 VB on Saturday. Mitch Stahl started and played the whole match in the middle for Chaumont. He led Chaumont with 3 aces to go with five kills and three blocks. Stahl also hit .400 in the defeat.

Germany: There was a full slate of mid-week matches in the German Bundesliga. Berlin was tested for the first time this season in Innsbruck against Hypo Tirol AlpenVolleys Unterhaching on Wednesday but earned a win in five sets. Kyle Ensing got the start at opposite but was replaced by Patch in the second set after earning four kills and hitting .231. Patch stepped in and ended up leading Berlin with 19 points. He hit .542 from the right side on his way to 17 kills and two blocks. While he was utterly unstoppable from the net in attack, Patch finished with five service errors and no aces in the win. Jeff Jendryk scored 10 points in the middle on seven kills, two blocks, and an ace. JT Hatch was utilized as a substitute in the first, second, and third sets. He ended up two kills on two attempts. Cody Kessel started the fifth set (after being used as a substitute in the third and fourth), scoring three points on three kills with a .167 attack average.

Brendan Schmidt scored eight points for VfB Friedrichshafen on Wednesday in a 3-1 win over SVG Lüneburg. His points came from four kills, three blocks and an ace with a .500 hitting percentage. Schmidt did not commit an error in attack. Joe Worsley was utilized as a serving sub in the last three sets for Friedrichshafen. Michael Michelau came onto the floor as a serving sub in the third set for Lüneburg, and Leo Durkin was used as a substitute in each set for the club.

Greg Petty started the opening set for Volleyball Bisons Buhl in a 3-1 loss to United Volleys Frankfurt. He finished with four kills, hitting .091. Though Petty led Buhl in serve receive with 75 percent positive and 58 percent perfect passes.

Karl Apfelbach led TV Rottenburg with 19 points on Wednesday in a 3-2 defeat to WWK Volleys Herrsching. The rookie from UC Irvine scored on 17 kills, one block, and on ace while hitting .342. Mitch Penning scored six points in the middle for Rottenburg from three kills, two blocks and an ace. Jalen Penrose may not have been in the starting lineup for Herrschong, but he came onto the floor in the first set and never looked back. Penrose hit .346 from the right side and finished with match with 14 kills. In addition to his kills, he added two blocks and led the match with four aces.

Michael Wexter put forth another exceptional performance for Helios Grizzlys Giesen on Thursday with 27 points in a 3-1 win over SWD powervolleys Duren. Wexter hit .468 and only committed one attack error in 46 attempts on his way to 23 kills. The rookie from Pepperdine also led his team with three blocks and chipped in an ace. David Wieczorek, also a rookie from Pepperdine, scored 12 points on 10 kills and two blocks with an impressive .500 hitting percentage from the left side.

Penrose followed up his 20-point performance with 18 more on Saturday in a 3-2 defeat to SVG Lüneburg. He was back in the starting lineup and put away 15 kills to go with two blocks and an ace. Penrose also hit .360 in the defeat. Michelau was named the match MVP after coming off the bench in the first set to score 14 points. His points came from eight kills, one block, and a match-high five aces. He also led Lüneburg in passing efficiency when errors are taken into account. Durkin started the first four sets and came off the bench in the fifth for Lüneburg. He set the team to a .292 hitting percentage during his time on the court.

Petty bounced back with an impressive 17-point outing in Buhl’s win over Netzhopperz KW-Bestensee. He put away 13 kills and had a match-high four service aces. Petty also hit .524 from the left side in the 3-1 victory.

Kessel got the start for Berlin on Saturday and led the team with 14 points on 12 kills and two blocks in the sweep of Rottenburg. The outside hitter from Princeton hit .588 on the night. Patch started the match and hit .333 on his way to 10 kills. He also added a block finish with 11. Jendryk scored 10 in the middle on seven kills, two blocks, and an ace. He hit .700 without committing an error in attack. Hatch was used as a substitute in all three sets and finished with a point. He converted one kill on his only attack attempt. Ensing did not see the court for Berlin, and it was reported he suffered a knee injury that kept him from playing. Apfelbach was used as a sub in the first two sets and started the third. He scored four points on three kills and an ace but only hit minus .059. Penning finished with three kills and a block, hitting .500 in the defeat.

Heitec Volleys Eltmann claimed its first victory of the season with a 3-0 sweep over Giesen. Wexter scored 12 points on 10 kills, one block, one ace, and a .161 hitting percentage. Wieczorek was held to three kills and two blocks, hitting .429 in the defeat.

Belgium: In a rematch of last years finals and the Belgian Super Cup, Greenyard Maaseik defeated Knack Roeselare in four sets on Saturday. Joe Norman did not see any action for Roeselare in the defeat.

Czech Republic: Two setters from the United States squared off in the Czech Republic on Saturday when Ústí nad Labem and Zach Melcher defeated Scott Fifer’s Příbram in five sets. Melcher set his team to a .225 hitting percentage and posted four blocks in the win. Fifer chipped in an ace and two blocks while setting his team to an attack average of .230.

Kevin Gear was five for five in attack as Odolena Voda lost to Praha in straight sets. Gear hit a perfect 1.000 to go with a block and an ace.

Matt August scored 12 points in the middle for Brno, but his team still fell in five sets to České Budějovice. He finished with 10 kills, one block and one ace. He hit .353 in the narrow defeat.

Finland: Blake Leeson scored six points for Raison Loimu in a 3-0 sweep of the Vantaa Ducks on Wednesday. Leeson put away four kills in the middle with a .667 hitting percentage to go with an ace. Avery Aylsworth passed 67 percent of his receptions positively and 33 percent perfectly without an error in serve receive. Leeson followed it up with six points on five kills and a block on Sunday in a 3-0 defeat to Savo Volley. Aylsworth passed 71 percent positively and 22 percent perfectly in the defeat. Josh Ayzenberg passed 67 percent of his reception positively and 25 percent perfectly in the win for Savo.

Earlier in the week, Ayzenberg posted a 46 and 26 percent performance in a 3-1 win for Savo over Karelian Hurmos. That performance also came with three errors in reception. Kyle Foley scored four points in that match on two kills, one block and one ace. He started the fourth set for Hurmos in the loss. Foley did not play in the 3-1 loss to Aka-Volley on Sunday.

Ryan Manoogian passed 50 percent of his receptions positively and 15 percent perfectly for Team Lakkapää in a 3-2 defeat to Etta Oulu on Thursday. He followed it up on Saturday with a 54 and 15 percent performance in a 3-0 sweep of the Vantaa Ducks.

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

MEZVA: ACH Volley won its third straight match of the season on Friday by way of a sweep of Union Raiffeisen Waldviertel of Austria. Kyle Dagostino passed 67 percent of his receptions positively and 21 percent perfectly.

Netherlands: Colin Mahan contributed 15 points to SAMEN Lycurgus to help the club stay undefeated in the Dutch Eredivisie. He put away 12 kills and added three more from the service line in a 3-0 victory over RECO HSH. George Perinar was not in the lineup for Lycurgus.

Looking Ahead
Italy: Italian SuperCoppa, November 1-2 — What makes the Italian SuperCoppa so much more exciting than other super cup competitions is the fact that it includes four teams, a semifinal set of matches, and a final. Most super cup competitions take the winner of the league championship and the cup champion from the year prior. Italy takes those two teams and the next two highest-finishing teams in the league. Modena, winners of last year’s trophy, will face Lube Civitanova on Friday in one semifinal. Trentino will square off against Perugia on the other side of the bracket. The finals will be on Saturday.

France: AS Cannes vs. Arago de Sete, November 1 — AS Cannes has established itself early as a contender for the French championship. Kyle Russell and Matt West have been a vital part of the club’s success. They will take on a Sete team that is 3-1, and its only loss was to 3-1 Nantes Reze in five sets. A win for Cannes here will lead to a 5-0 record with three wins over teams with winning records and one win over Tours.

Russia: Zenit Kazan vs. Fakel Novy Urengoy, November 2 — Kazan may be without Wilfredo Leon and Anderson, but they did add Tsvetan Sokolov to join Earvin N’Gapeth. Mikhailov looked a bit shaky in serve receive this week, so having him on the left side might not be ideal, though Sokolov showed he has adjusted nicely to Russia. Erik Shoji and Egor Kliuka will be looking to make a statement win early against one of the projected favorites.

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