This is our weekly report on USA men playing International professional volleyball:
The semifinals of the CEV Champions League started on Wednesday and it was a pair of domestic derbies in the semifinals with Italian and Polish clubs.
Jastrzębski Węgiel, now at the top of the Polish PlusLiga, faced off against ZAKSA Kędzierzyn-Koźle. These teams have been opponents in the Polish Super Cup (won by Jastrzębski) and the finals of the Polish Cup (won by ZAKSA). They will play one more time in the regular season this weekend, as the first match of the regular season was a sweep by ZAKSA.
That was a similar result on Wednesday, with ZAKSA needing just 76 minutes and held Jastrzębski to 20 points or fewer in each set. David Smith had seven kills in as many attacks. Erik Shoji led with both 78 percent positive and 33 percent perfect passes. It was an efficient and balanced performance from ZAKSA’s pins, getting 12 points from Lukasz Kaczmarek, and 14 from both Aleksandar Sliwka and Kamil Semeniuk. ZAKSA will have to win the return leg, or lose in five sets. A loss in three or four sets will lead to a golden set to see who reaches the finals.
The other match, featuring two Italian giants, had a similar buildup but a much different outcome. Itas Trentino and Sir Safety are also familiar foes. Trentino beat Perugia in the semifinals of the Italian SuperCoppa, and lost in the finals of the Coppa Italia. They split two matches in the regular season, but Perugia won both of their matches in the group stage. This was a marathon that went five sets. Wilfredo Leon led all scorers with 29 points for Perugia. Alessandro Michieletto paced Trentino with 26 points as his team outlasted Perugia in five sets. Both Kamil Rychlicki for Perugia and Matey Kaziyski for Trentino scored 25. Matt Anderson scored 15 points on 15 kills (.219) in the defeat. Perugia must win in three or four sets to qualify directly for the finals. A five-set victory will prompt a golden set to 15 points.
The Italian playoffs started last weekend, and the match-ups were not very compelling. The higher seed won every opening match and those matches were won by a total set score of 12-1. The only team not to be swept was Top Volley Cisterna, who were able to take a set off of Sir Safety Perugia. Anderson was back in Italy and scored 15 points on 14 kills with no errors and hit .483 to go with an ace. Wilfredo Leon led with 26 kills (.550) and a block. Stephen Maar, a Canadian outside hitter, paced Cisterna with 15 points.
Thomas Jaeschke and Allianz Milano went into the first quarterfinal match with Leo Shoes Modena without Olympic gold-medalists Barthelemy Chinenyeze and Jean Patry in the starting lineup. Jaeshcke led Milano with 12 points on 10 kills (.350) and two blocks, but his 21 percent positive receptions kept the offense off balance. Milano as a team only passed 31 percent positively (compared to 51 percent from Modena) and committed 10 reception errors. Yoandy Leal (17), Earvin N’Gapeth (15), and Nimir Abdel Aziz (14) all finished with double-digit scoring for Modena. Bruno set the team to a .459 hitting percentage.
Max Holt hit a minus .143 in the middle, scoring on two kills and a block as Gas Sales Piacenza was swept by Itas Trentino. The lineup of three outside hitter employed by the SuperCoppa champions led to a .422 hitting percentage with Alesaandro Michieletto leading the way on 15 points (including five aces).
Gabi Garcia was used as a serving substitute for Lube Civitanova in a sweep over Vero Volley Monza. Robertlandy Simon hit a perfect 1.000 on six attempts in the middle for Lube. Luciano DeCecco set Lube to an impressive .552 attack average.
While there was not much drama in the Italian SuperLega last week, the Polish PlusLiga is providing some surprises as the regular season winds down. Indykpol AZS Olsztyn and GKS Katowice, the current clubs of TJ DeFalco and Micah Ma’a, respectively, found themselves outside of the playoff picture last season. Ma’a set his club to a .319 attack average in a losing effort to PGE Skra Bełchatów. Skra, home of Taylor Sander last season, has won its last eight matches. Despite the loss, Katowice is holding firm to the last playoff position.
DeFalco led Olsztyn with 18 kills (.536) and a block in a sweep of Projekt Warsaw on March 28. Taylor Averill added 10 points in the middle on seven kills (.666), one block, and two aces. Olsztyn is in sixth place, and has a chance to get into fifth with a win this upcoming weekend paired with a loss by Asseco Resovia Rzeszów.
Ma’a served five aces for GKS Katowice in a 3-0 sweep over Projekt Warsawa on March 18. Ma’a set Katowice to a .337 hitting percentage as the club currently occupies the final playoff position with two matches remaining.
Josh Tuaniga set Ślepsk Malow Suwałki to a .229 hitting percentage in a 3-2 defeat to Trefl Gdansk on March 25. Unfortunately, there is no way for Tuaniga’s squad to reach the playoffs. That is also the case for LUK Lublin and Dustin Watten. Lublin was swept by last-place Stal Nysa on March 28. Watten passed 53 percent of his reception positively but had four reception errors.
ZAKSA found itself in unfamiliar territory after the weekend, in second place. The defending champions of the CEV Champions League were swept by Cuprum Lubin on March 26. While they just played in the Champions League, a match between ZAKSA and Jastrzębski on April 3 will likely decide the top seed in the playoffs.
Watten posted a 73% positive and 18% perfect reception rate in LUK Lublin’s 3-1 defeat to Trefl Gdansk. Watten’s club is currently in 10th place and no longer in playoff contention.
Micah Christenson and Zenit Kazan continued their impressive form with a sweep of Belogorie Belgorod. Christenson had an ace and set his team to a .385 hitting percentage. Kazan has clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs with three matches remaining in the regular season.
The German Bundesliga playoff continued the past week. The quarterfinal matchups concluded and the semifinals series began. Brandon Rattray bowed out of the playoffs after Netzhoppers KW-Bestensee lost to SWD powervolleys Duren on March 24. Rattray finished with eight points on six kills (.000), a block, and an ace. Max Chamberlain scored five in the middle from four kills, a block, and a .273 attack average. Blake Leeson hit .900 in the middle on his way to nine kills.
Joe Worsley set SVG Luneburg to a .326 attack average and scored on three aces in a 3-1 loss to United Volleys Frankfurt. He also contributed two kills and a block in the loss that eliminated his team from the playoffs. Jordan Ewert led Luneburg with 18 kills (.275) and three blocks. Dalton Solbrig was used as a substitute in the first and fourth sets. He completed five serves but did not score any points.
It took VFB Friedrichshafen five sets, but the Mark Lebedew-coached squad overcame a match deficit to advance to the semifinals with a win in the deciding match over WWK Volleys Herrsching. Avery Aylsworth was subbed for defense in the third and fourth sets.
The semifinals started on March 30, and the Berlin Recycling Volleys kicked things off with a 3-1 victory over Frankfurt. Ben Patch led Berlin with 22 points on 19 kills, 2 blocks, an ace, and a .429 attack efficiency. Jef Jendryk scored 11 points in the middle on nine kills (.750) and two blocks. Cody Kessel came off the bench, contributing two kills and a block. Matt West was used as a serving sub in the third and fourth sets.
VfB Friedrichshafen defeated SWD powervolleys Duren in the other semifinal match on March 30. The match went five sets, and Aylsworth came off the bench and passed a ball in the third set. The best-of-five playoff semifinal series will continue this weekend.
Spor Toto Ankara was swept by second-place Fenerbahce on March 25. Kawika Shoji contributed a block while setting his squad to a 41 percent kill percentage. Spor Toto is in fifth position with one match to go in the regular season.
Dan McDonnell scored four points in the middle for Arkas Spor.He finished with two kills (minus .100), an ace, and a block in the 3-1 win over Halkbank Ankara. That was Halkbank’s first loss of the regular season. Arkas Spor sits in fourth place.
Funvic Taubate opened up its quarterfinal series with a 3-1 defeat to top-seeded Fiat Minas. Pat Gasman, who is linked with a move to Chaumont in the offseason, finished with five kills, an ace, and hit .444.
Ray Barsemian, rookie out of Concordia University, Irvine, led Conectabalear CV Manacor with 21 points in a 3-1 loss to Melilla Sport Capital to open the quarterfinals. He finished the match with 18 kills (.264) and three aces.
Matt Knigge scored nine points in the middle for CV Guagas in a 3-2 defeat to CV Teruel. His points came on three kills (.600) and a match-high six blocks. Greg Petty did not feature in the match for Teruel.
OFI Crete finished its best-of-seven play out series with a 3-0 sweep of Filippos Veroias on March 22. Dave Wieczorek hit .619 on his way to 15 kills, five blocks, and an ace. Randy Deweese finished with 13 kills (.429), three blocks, and an ace.
While Kyle Dagositno and Raison Loimu were eliminated in the quarterfinals, Michael Michelau is one match away from the finals. His Savo Volley team won the first two matches of the semifinal series against Hurrikaani-Loimaa on March 28 and 29. Michelau led his team with 15 points on 11 kills, three blocks and an ace in the first match. He was not used in the second match.
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