This is a report by USA Volleyball that touches base with top men’s national-team players and what they’re up to:
The U.S. Men’s National Team is now tied with Poland at No. 2 in the world in the FIVB rankings after its bronze-medal finish at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The U.S. Men finished fifth in the 2016 FIVB World League and will return to the top group in 2017. The 2017 World League will retain the 2016 format, meaning just three weekends of pool play before the top five teams plus the host country advance to the Final Round on June 28-July 2 at a site to be determined.
The U.S. will open pool play on June 2-4 with host Serbia along with Canada and Belgium. On June 9-11, it will go to France along with Russia and Italy. Finally, on June 16-18, Poland will host the United States, Russia and Iran.
Although the U.S. will not host a World League weekend in 2017, it will host the NORCECA Men’s Continental Championship, tentatively scheduled for August.
ITALY — Middle blocker Max Holt (Cincinnati) and outside hitter Brian Cook (Santa Cruz, Calif.) are off to a strong start with Azimut Modena in Italy’s Serie A League.
On Sept. 25, Modena defeated Sir Safety Perugia, which includes U.S. outside hitter Aaron Russell (Ellicott City, Md.), 25-22, 19-25, 25-22, 24-26, 17-15, to win the Italian SuperCup. Holt started all five sets and scored 11 points on five kills, three blocks and a match-high three aces. Cook played as a substitute and scored one point with a kill. Russell started all five sets for Perugia and scored 18 points on 16 kills and two aces.
The regular season began on Oct. 2. Modena defeated Biosi Indexa Sora, 25-22, 25-23, 25-14. Holt scored 15 points on 11 kills, one block and a match-high three aces. Cook played as a substitute.
Perugia opened the regular season against LPR Piacenza, winning 25-18, 23-25, 25-16, 25-21. Russell scored 14 points on 13 kills and one ace. His receptions were 56 percent positive.
U.S. setter James Shaw (Woodside, Calif.) and middle blocker Taylor Averill (San Jose, Calif.) are playing together for Kioene Padova. In their first match, they defeated Bunge Ravenna, which includes Shaw’s former Stanford teammate, middle blocker Conrad Kaminski (New Berlin, Wis.), 25-20, 31-29, 25-22. Shaw scored three points on three kills, including a setter dump over his back, and helped his team to a .522 hitting efficiency. Averill started the first two sets and scored six points on three kills and a match-high three blocks. Kaminski started the first two sets for Ravenna and scored three points on two attacks and one block.
RUSSIA — Russia’s SuperLeague has already played three matches. U.S. libero Erik Shoji and his brother, setter Kawika Shoji, are both playing for Lokomotiv Novosibirsk and are 3-0 so far.
Most recently, on Oct. 3, Novosibirsk defeated Yenisey Krasnoyarsk, 25-15, 26-28, 25-22, 22-25, 15-11. Erik Shoji, who wears No. 1, was credited with 27 receptions, 44 percent positive. Kawika started the first three sets and substituted in the fourth. He scored two points on one block and one ace. Novosibirsk had a .495 hitting efficiency.
Matt Anderson, who plays opposite for the U.S. Men, is back playing outside hitter for Zenit Kazan, which is also 3-0 to open the season. On Oct. 3, Kazan defeated Orenburg, 25-17, 25-9, 25-17. Anderson started the first two sets and scored four points on three kills and one ace.
POLAND — Middle blocker David Smith and libero Dustin Watten are playing for Cerrad Czarni Radom, which defeated AZS Częstochowa on Oct. 4, 27-25, 25-21, 25-17. Smith scored 10 points on six kills, three blocks and one ace. Watten was credited with seven receptions, 71 percent positive.
Setter Jonah Seif and outside hitter Kyle Russell are playing for MKS Będzin, which lost its opening match to PGE Skra Bełchatów on Oct. 5. Russell entered the second set as a substitute and started the third, finishing with four points on two kills, one block and one ace. He was credited with six receptions, 33 percent positive. Seif started the first two sets and subbed in the third. He scored one point with an attack. Będzin had a hitting efficiency of .347.
Outside hitter Scott Touzinsky helped Jastrzębski Węgiel to a 25-19, 23-25, 22-25, 29-27, 15-7 win over Indykpol AZS Olsztyn on Oct. 1. Touzinsky entered the match as a substitute in the third set and started the fourth and fifth. He scored one point with an attack and was credited with 11 receptions, 100 percent positive.