By Adanoos

Setter: Benjamin Toniutti (Zaksa Kędzierzyn-Koźle)

The captain and key player of the best team of this season at the moment. The whole system Zaksa uses revolves around French setter and their unbeaten run proves how well it works for them. Sure, many setters would be jealous of reception and trust put in him by the whole team, but Ben regularly uses all of the advantages given to him. They are using their middles the most out of all teams in the league (22%), with insanely good distribution (every player has less than 30% usage), while keeping the highest kill % and the best spiking efficiency in the league. Not only that, but Zaksa Kędzierzyn-Koźle has been the least blocked team and has made the least spiking errors out of all teams in Poland. He was the first player to extend his contract with Zaksa last year, and he was the first player to extend his contract this year too and it is common knowledge (even Sebastian Świderski, chairman of Zaksa) that the club starts building their team for a new season with Toniutti, because he is the most important player. Sure, Benjamin is less athletic than other top setters, his service and block are not the greatest, he makes up for that with other qualities. Mostly fantastic setting, great decision making, and creativity, but also very good defending. There are no digging stats for Plusliga (or at least I cannot find them), but I’m sure Ben would be really high, probably the best setter on the list. All of that makes him clearly the best setter of Plusliga.

Opposite: Bartosz Kurek (Stocznia Szczecin/ONICO Warszawa)

Bartek followed up the WCH by keeping his fantastic form. First, he was clearly a key part of Stocznia success, often keeping them in the game or scoring the most important breakpoints, leading his teammates to victory. After Stocznia collapsed, he moved to Onico and completely change the team’s dynamic. From an unconvincing top 6 contender that struggled to beat top teams (losses against Radom, Skra, Zaksa, and Stocznia), Onico changed into a title contender that was dominating Jastrzębski Węgiel (until Kurek had to leave) at their arena. When it comes to statistics, Bartek shines in the spiking department with 51% kills, 38% efficiency, and 147 successful hits (with only 14 errors and 23 blocked spikes) and adds 22 points with block (0,67 per set, the most out of all wings). Only his service leaves some room for improvement, just 10 aces (0,3 per set) and 31 errors results in a poor -24% service efficiency. Sure, some players have fairly similar numbers to him, but the most important and difficult balls are passed to Kurek and he keeps scoring, it doesn’t matter who is on the other side of the net. He is the only opposite in the league that consistently delivers, especially against tough opponents, which is why he had to be on that list.

Outside hitter 1: Sam Deroo (Zaksa Kędzierzyn-Koźle)

Sam has been a vital part of Zaksa since he came to the club in 2015 and he is getting better each season. He is looking good in every element of the game. Not only he is the top scorer of his club (212 points on the season), but he has the best statistics out of all OHs in the league. Great reception (53% positive, 27% perfect), blocking (30 points, 0,61 per set) and spiking (54% kills and 40% efficiency) makes him a complete player. In each of those statistics he is top 2 out of all OHs in the league. Even though his service is less impressive (16 aces, 38 errors, -12% efficiency), it is still pretty good. Deroo has fantastic synergy with Toniutti, which definitely helps him too, but without Benjamin he would still be one of the best players in Plusliga. He improved a lot during his time in Kędzierzyn-Koźle and grew to become a vital part of one of the best teams in Poland and one of the most complete players in league.

Outside hitter 2: Julien Lyneel (Jastrzębski Węgiel)

When someone is the best player of a team in almost every element and takes their teammates to the 3rd position in standings, then usually this person makes it to the all-star team. That’s the case with Lyneel, even though I was dilly-dallying between him and Thibault Rossard for some time. Julien scored 191 points, the most out of all Jastrzębski players. His reception stats (49% positive, 17% perfect, 11% efficiency) are not the greatest, but he, along with Jakub Popiwczak, helps Christian Fromm a lot, often they are receiving float services by themselves, without any help from the German player and it influences his numbers for sure. He has high usage (only Konarski has more spikes for the team) with good effectiveness (50% kills and 34% efficiency), great service (20 aces, 16 half point services, only 28 errors, -4% efficiency), and decent blocking (17 points). Fromm and Konarski are not performing, Kampa is playing at lower level than last year, but Julien Lyneel single-handedly leads Jastrzębski to 3rd position, which is why he had to make this list with Sam Deroo, even though Plusliga has plenty of good OHs.

Middle blocker 1: Mateusz Bieniek (Zaksa Kędzierzyn-Koźle)

Every volleyball expert used to mention the lack of a good block as Bieniek’s big weakness. Keyword: used to. Mateusz improved his block massively under Heynen’s eye and came back to Plusliga as a better player. To compare, he finished last season with 49 blocks (0,42 per set) in 32 matches. This season he has already scored 32 points with block (0,62 per set) in 14 games. Obviously, his strengths (service and spiking) are still there. 17 aces (0,34 per set) is a solid number, but 15 half point services (3rd in Plusliga) and 54 services followed by negative reception (3rd in league) with only 27 errors shows how much trouble his service causes on the other side of the net. His 67% kills and 61% efficiency are the best spiking stats in the league (ignoring Toniutti and reserve players with less than 30 points scored). Mateusz scored 154 points, the most out of all middles in the Plusliga, 17 more than 2nd Kochanowski and over 30 more than the rest. All of that makes him the best middle blocker in Plusliga this season.

Middle blocker 2: David Smith (Asseco Resovia Rzeszów)

This was the toughest choice to make. One spot and 3 candidates with very similar skillsets and statistics. I chose David Smith over the other two candidates for his importance in Resovia’s resurgence and his influence on other players from Rzeszów. He was part of the first 2 good matches Resovia played (against Skra and Zaksa) and their first victory. Then, he couldn’t play in the next 2 games due to Masłowski’s injury and Asseco lost both (to Olsztyn and Jastrzębski), but as soon as David rejoined his team in the middle of the game against Chemik, they won next 3 matches (against Chemik, Cuprum, and Radom). Of course, the signing of Kozub and the improvement of the whole team was important too. But while Rossard is their top performer, David Smith is their mental leader and his influence on the whole team is irreplaceable. In terms of raw numbers. the American scored 91 points. 15 with blocks, which gives 0,42 per set, but he was subbed in and out due to foreign player limits few times, so take that with a grain of salt. His spiking has been equally good (65% kills, 57% efficiency), but service is his biggest strenght this season. He served 19 aces (0,53 per set, 2nd in the league) with only 23 errors, which gives great -3% service efficiency.

Libero: Paweł Zatorski (Zaksa Kędzierzyn-Koźle)

Who else could it be? Paweł is one of the best liberos in the World and he definitely is the best libero in Plusliga. While others can keep up with his positive reception (54%), no one can keep up when it comes to perfect reception (30% for Zatorski, next player is Deroo with 27%, the rest is below 25% mark) and reception efficiency (24%, 2nd is Koga with 20%). It would be interesting to see some digging stats because Zatorski’s digs are not as eye-catching as some other liberos, but he is just as effective ,often moreso. I feel like football (soccer if you are not European) fans’ saying about Sergio Busquets that goes like that: “You watch the game, you don’t see Busquets. You watch Busquets, you see the whole game.” would fit player like Zatorski really well.

Honorable mentions:

Thibault Rossard (OH, Asseco Resovia Rzeszów)

Rossard is the top performer of his club for sure. 202 points scored, 17 aces (0,41 per set) with 37 errors (-13% efficiency), 12 blocks (0,29 per set), very good 51% kills and solid 34% spiking efficiency, while keeping solid reception, 53% positive and 18% perfect (13% efficiency). Similarly to Lyneel, he is pretty good (or better) in every element, but Jastrzębski under other French player leadership is currently 3rd in standings, while Resovia led by Rossard is only 11th, which is why Thibault is only mentioned here and Lyneel is on the list above.

Jakub Kochanowski (MB, PGE Skra Bełchatów)

Kochanowski had a poor start of the season, probably caused by the short break after long a World Championship tournament, but he looks better each week and it’s very likely that by the end of the season he will make it to the best team. 137 points scored (2nd in the league), 28 blocks (0,57 per set), 16 aces (0,41 per set) with 37 errors (-13% efficiency), but 17 half point services (the most in the league) makes it look better. Spiking is as good as usual with 67% kills and slightly worse 56% efficiency, but he had two tragic games (against Chemik and Jastrzębski) and it impacted those stats.

Graham Vigrass (MB, ONICO Warszawa)

The only completely new player to Plusliga that made it on this list (Kurek and Lyneel have played in Poland in past). He joined Onico from Berlin and makes the case for being one of the best signings this season. Graham scored 121 points (only Bieniek and Kochanowski have more) and his numbers in every statistic are solid. 16 aces (but only 18 errors, great -1% efficiency), 26 blocks (0,51 per set), 65% kills and 60% spiking efficiency proves that he is complete middleblocker and one of the main factors in Onico’s great 2nd position in league table.

Now, time for the biggest disapointments of the season. First criteria was the gap between expectations and level player presented this season so far. If I were to choose the worst players of the season, most (if not all) of them wouldn’t be here, but the list would be less interesting.

Team of disappointments:

Setter: Kawika Shoji (Asseco Resovia Rzeszów)

When someone tries to say something positive about a setter and avoids their actual setting, then you know there is a problem. Shoji was serving well (4 aces + forced 20 negative receptions in only 51 attempts), defending, hitting and blocking at an okay level, but probably the best thing I could say about him this season is: he was better than Redwitz. For someone who was supposed to be the starting setter for a team with such high ambitions, he doesn’t deliver. The fact that Kozub won a spot in the starting lineup from Shoji in 5 days shows how terrible this season is for the American setter. Of course, his chances are lowered by the foreign player limits in the plusliga, but he has had a lot of opportunities under both coaches and failed to use them.

Opposite: Renee Teppan (PGE Skra Bełchatów)

The Estonian came to Skra to guarantee more rest time for Wlazły, playing against weaker opponents and replacing Mariusz whenever he has a poor game. Renee himself, before the season started, was claiming that he didn’t come to Bełchatów to sit on bench and he wants to take a spot in starting roster. In the first few weeks he was given many chances, but he was absolutely horrendous and usually got replaced by Wlazły when the situation became dire. Interestingly, his only good game was against one of strong teams, Onico Warszawa, when Wlazły couldn’t play due to injury, but that was only one game. He averages only 34% kills with 12% efficiency (25% kills and 0% efficiency ignoring match against Onico), with just 4 blocks (0,1 per set) and 3 aces (0,07 per set) and 16 errors in 49 attempts (-27% efficiency). Considering his huge confidence and definitely not small expectations, his signing has been one of the worst this season. Now he has to work hard and make sure to use next opportunity, otherwise he might be the biggest fail of transfer window this season.

Outside hitter 1: Salvador Hidalgo Oliva (Jastrzębski Węgiel)

How can the MVP of 2016/2017 season (with 664 points scored, 75 aces and 55% kills) and one of the best players of 2017/2018 season (with 606 points, 56 aces and 51% kills) not only lose a spot in starting lineup, but drop off a cliff in terms of his level… His relationship with De Giorgi definitely wasn’t good (Fefe decided who joins and who leaves, and he wanted Fromm and Lyneel, so Oliva was left on the bench), but whenever Salvador is on the court this season, he doesn’t even compare to the sensational player he was two years ago. Only 31 points scored, with a neutral (0) ratio, 3 aces (but 9 errors, -19% efficiency), only 32% positive and 6% perfect reception, 36% kills (with 15% efficiency) and 0 blocks. As you can see, his stats are abysmal and instead of making sure to use Fromm’s weak form against him and retaking his place, he performs even worse than German player. Maybe Roberto Santili will find a way to ressurect Oliva.

Outside hitter 2: Rafał Buszek (Asseco Resovia Rzeszów)

It took me some time to decide which Resovia OH will be here. In the end, I went with Buszek, who dropped massively just like Mika but has less decent matches played this season and doesn’t have any explanation for his sudden fall. Rafał was part of the Polish national team in 2017, he finished 2nd in Plusliga with Zaksa last season, (even though he wasn’t a star and Zaksa didn’t keep him), so no one expected to see Buszek playing so poorly. Rafał got some chances to play due to Mika’s poor form, but he didn’t use them. He scored 40 points, but with a tragic -13 ratio. His service is poor (2 aces, 11 errors in 69 attempts), his blocking okay (5 points scored), but spiking is horrendous (33% kills, 7% efficiency). His only saving grace (that made me consider swapping him with Mika) was very good reception (54% positive, 22% perfect, but only 10% efficiency), but a 31 year-old player should never drop so easily, which is why he takes this spot.

Middle blocker 1: Karol Kłos (PGE Skra Bełchatów)

Karol is one of the World Champions from 2014, but he wasn’t on the Polish NT in 2018, because he asked the coach to not call him up. Despite this, he is still is brought up when people are talking about the best Polish middles and is rumoured to have one of the highest (if not the highest) salaries out of all middles in the Plusliga. A quick look at his stats should show why Kłos is the most disappointing middle in the league. 80 points scored is okay, 24 blocks (0,52 per set) is alright too, but 8 aces and 26 errors (-12% efficiency) are a poor number for a float server (especially number of errors). The worst part is his spiking, only 50% kills and 38% efficiency are below average for a middle blocker. For a player that should be one of the best, that is very disappointing.

Middle blocker 2: Alen Pajenk (Cerrad Czarni Radom)

Middle blocker is a position with the least disappointing players in the league, so I don’t want you thinking that Pajenk is a failed transfer. He is not terrible, but compared to his expectations (probably salary too) he is not doing well. 95 points scored is a pretty good number, but he doesn’t shine in any statistic. 13 aces (0,26 per set) and 46 serving errors (-22% efficiency) is nothing special, only 17 blocks (0,37 per set) is less than half of what Wrona, Morozau or Kosok have, and Pajenk has an average 53% kills (42% efficiency). For a player that was supposed to be at least top 10 MB in Plusliga and is teamed up with his NT setter, his performance is way below expectations.

Libero: Michał Ruciak (Cerrad Czarni Radom)

Michał moved from OH to libero this season, so it might take him some time to get used to digging at other libero’s level, but he was always known as a defensive specialist, so good reception and slow but steady improvement of defending was expected. But Michał has only 47% positive reception (only 3 liberos have less), even worse 16% perfect reception and just 7% efficiency (both the lowest out of all liberos) without good defending to make up for that makes Ruciak one of the worst starting liberos in the league. Those numbers would have been poor for OH with defensive qualities, for a libero they are tragic.

Honorable mentions:

Mariusz Wlazły (PGE Skra Bełchatów)

He no longer is a world-class, superstar player. His age definitely influences his performances, but compared to last year you can easily see his decrease. He kept his great blocking (24 points, it’s 0,59 block per set), his spiking is a bit worse (45% kills, 26% efficiency), but his service dropped off a cliff (only 8 aces and 48 errors, -31% serving efficiency). Overall, he just scored 131 points. Last season he was able to have good performances when it mattered the most, but it has been more difficult this year, but it is still possible. Skra has been disappointing this season in the Plusliga (6th place at the moment) and Champions League (they lost to Maaseik), and Wlazły is part of the problem. In theory, Skra prepared for this situation with the signing of Teppan, but the Estonian underperforming, so Bełchatów is forced to rely on Wlazły once again.

Dawid Konarski (Jastrzębski Węgiel)

He was one of the big signings made by Jastrzębski, but coming back to Fefe De Giorgi hasn’t worked out for him so far. Only 42% kills and 25% spiking efficiency are very poor numbers, service has never been his strength, so 11 aces (0,22 per set) and 43 errors (-19% efficiency) are not a massive surprise. He is known for good blocking and 23 points scored (0,47 per set) with this element is adequate, but not really impressive. For a player that is two-time World Champion and was supposed to be a star, Dawid is heavily underperforming.

Christian Fromm (Jastrzębski Węgiel)

Similarly to some other players, Christian is here mostly for high expectations but only average at best level of play. Problems with reception (38% positive, 17% perfect, 6% efficiency) are not a surprise, even with huge help from Lyneel and Popiwczak, but he was supposed to make up for weak defense with great offensive displays. Fromm has scored only 153 points, just 12 blocks (0,26 per set) and 7 aces (24 errors, -12% efficiency) with average spiking (45% kills, 31% efficiency). This is definitely less than Jastrzębski fans hoped to see.

Mateusz Mika (Asseco Resovia Rzeszów)

Mateusz started the season fairly well. He was unusually poor in defensive elements (37% negative reception in first 3 matches), but he was making up for it in offense (46 points, 58% kills in those 3 games), before something stopped working and Mika’s performances started faltering (negative point ratio in 6 out of 8 next matches). His reception went up to a decent level (46% positive, 16% perfect, 9% efficiency, negative dropped to 29%), but his service is still poor (only 2 aces and 17 errors, -11% efficiency), blocking is tragic (5 points and only 0,11 per set) and only spiking is on average okay (41% kills, 23% efficiency). Only those first games of the season (and the last one against Radom) saved him from taking Buszek’s place a bit higher.

Tomasz Fornal (Cerrad Czarni Radom)

Fornal is a young player with huge talent, but instead of improvement, this season is a lot worse than the last one for Tomek. He starts every game for Radom, but often gets replaced, fails to perform well against top teams (only against Stocznia he looked really good), and just his great reception (53% positive, 20% perfect, 12% efficiency) and block (21 points and 0,49 per set) saves him from absolutely horrendous season at the moment. Only 6 aces (and 29 errors, -17% efficiency) and unimpressive spiking (44% kills, 24% efficiency) boosted in games against weak teams (above 55% kills against Gdańsk, Katowice and Bydgoszcz), but brought down to average levels by woeful hitting against top teams (below 20% kills against Zaksa, Resovia and Jastrzębski with 0 or negative efficiency). Those performances combined with no development convinced me to add him to the honorable mentions list.

The plusliga season will resume on January 11th

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