The all-star game is one of the greatest traditions of North American sports. The Italian volleyball league doesn’t have it, because they don’t like fun. But if they did have it, these players are who I would pick to participate. I made two teams because one wasn’t enough.
OH1: Wilfredo Leon – Perugia (5.3 pps, 1.15 aps, 0.18 bps, 17% passing, 59.8% hitting, 8 mvps)
The easiest choice on this list. Best player in volleyball right now is absolutely wrecking the top league in his first season there. Absurd stat #1 for Leon: 1.15 aces per set, 70 total aces. He has already beaten the previous single-season ace record of 67 set by Osmany Juantorena in 2011/2012. There are only a few instances of players reaching above 0.6 aces per set, and Leon is over double that. Reaching 100 on the season would be one of the most unbreakable records in modern sports. Absurd stat #2: He is hitting at 55% efficiency. There is no other outside in the league hitting above 50%. His efficiency would put him in the top 10 for a middle. Leon rarely makes mistakes and hits the ball like he is trying to burst it open. Usually, hitters have to sacrifice efficiency when they have high usage, but somehow Wilfredo manages to be at the top of the list in both categories
OH2: Uros Kovacevic – Trentino (4.27 pps, 0.39 aps, 0.39 bps, 24.6% passing, 53.8% hitting, 7 mvps)
My other pick for starting outside on this team is the Serbian lefty Uros Kovacevic. You may be thinking that Kovacevic’s stats look lackluster in comparison with Leon, but that’s just because Leon is a freakish outlier. Uros is excelling at every aspect of the game, scoring on almost every ball he touches, pressuring opponents with a powerful jump serve, and providing plenty of resistance at the net against opposing opposites. The one area where Kovacevic bests Leon is in reception. His 18% efficiency is part of a Trentino passing team that is 2nd in the league and allows Giannelli to work his magic.
OPP: Aleksander Atanasijevic – Perugia (4.59pps, 0.7 aps. 0.37 bps, 51.2% hitting, 2 mvps)
Poor Atanasijevic. Formerly the undisputed top dog in Perugia, his amazing play this season has been overshadowed by Leon’s ridiculousness. His 6.88 hitting attempts per game are down from 7.71 last season, but he has used this reduction in offensive load to improve in other areas of his game. Believe it or not, Aleksander is also on pace to break Juantorena’s record of 67 aces. His defense in both the front row and back row has been key in Perugia’s dominance when serving. A couple of stinkers recently against Lube and Trentino made me consider dropping him, but his incredible start to the season means he is overall still the best opposite in the league.
MB1: Srecko Lisinac – Trentino (2.9 pps, 0.29 aps, 0.6 bps, 66.5% hitting, 5 mvps)
Lisinac is one of three Trentino players, one of two rookies to Italy, and one of three Serbians among the “starters”. We are used to the huge vert and crushing arm-swing that made Lisinac a star on Skra, but the thing that has stood out most about his game this season is his blocking. At 0.6 blocks per set, he is behind only the other middles on this team. How much of that is due to personal improvement, playing with fantastic wing blockers, or coaching by Lorenzetti is anyone’s guess, but the end result is impressive.
MB2: Sebastian Sole – Verona (2.74 pps, 0.24 aps, 0.71 bps, 64.6% hitting, 2 mvps)
The 6’8” Argentinian middle blocker makes his return to the Italian superleague in impressive fashion. His instantaneous connection with Verona’s setter Luca Spirito have led to some high-scoring games, and he is no slouch at stopping his opponents from doing the same thing. 48 blocks on the season leads the entire league and Sole shows no signs of slowing down with 35 blocks in his last 10 games. Verona has struggled to find offense from their wings, so Sole’s brilliance has been a big reason they have been able to hold onto 6th place in the standings.
L: Jenia Grebennikov – Trentino (36% passing, 0 mvps)
If you are going to give the best libero award to anyone but Grebennikov, you better have a good reason for doing so. And despite the great play of liberos like Rossini, Danani, Colaci, and Caveccini, none of them can quite replicate the brilliance of the French libero. 29% passing efficiency helps Trentino run an absolutely deadly first tempo offense, and he is able to cover a lot of court to help out Aaron Russell. If the league recorded digs (and they should), Grebennikov would undoubtedly be at the top. Reducing the effectiveness of opposing outside’s cross hitting is incredibly valuable, especially against Trentino where it is often the only angle they have. You can see how painful the downgrade from Grebennikov to Balaso was for Lube Civitanova.
S: Micah Christenson – Modena (0.76 pps. 0.37 aps, 0.24 bps, 51.8% team hitting, 1 mvp)
Modena may not be as high in the standings as they were in year’s past, but that is no fault of the gifted Micah Christenson. Urnaut/Bednorz/Kaliberda is by far the worst offensive outside rotation out of the “big 4” teams, and Max Holt and Ivan Zaytsev have been plagued by injuries, but Micah still has them humming along as the 4th most efficient attacking team in the league. He has taken advantage of Modena’s strong passing to run a rapid-fire first ball, leaving opposing middle blockers in the dust. Of course, Christenson’s value also comes from the fact that he is a great overall player. His blocking, back row defense, and in particular this season his serve, have all helped lead Modena to wins.
OH1: Osmany Juantorena – Lube (4.32 pps, 0.44 aps, 0.32 bps, 23.8% passing, 54.5% hitting, 6 mvps)
Last season’s MVP could easily be on the 1st team given his high level of play this season, but Lube’s slight disappointment means the Cuban is relegated to my hypothetical bench for now. His passing is down a bit without the help of Grebennikov, and his efficiency has dropped without Micah, but Juantorena is still one of the best players in the entire league.
OH2: Aaron Russell – Trentino (3.89 pps, 0.3 aps, 0.36 bps, 23.3% passing, 51% hitting, 0 mvps)
The numbers for American Aaron Russell may not be as eye-popping as the other outsides, but his contributions for Trentino have vital to their success. His massive height for a left-side at 6’10” makes him an intimidating blocker, and it shows in Trentino’s 2.44 blocks per set which is second in the league. We saw some nagging injury issues slow him down at the end of last season and this summer, hopefully those are in the rear-view mirror for Russell.
OPP: Kamil Rychlicki – Ravenna (5.29 pps, 0.36 aps, 0.14 bps, 50.8% hitting, 5 mvps)
This was one of the toughest spots to pick. Tsvetan Sokolov is still a huge blocker, but his numbers are down across the board and he isn’t scoring much. Zaytsev crushed it early for Modena, but he has missed time and his performance is declining as the season goes on. So that leaves Ravenna’s annual “how the heck do they find these guys” player. And that player is 22-year-old Luxembourgian Kamil Rychlicki. In his rookie season in Italy, Rychlicki has scored effectively and efficiently with overwhelming atheltiscm and a heavy arm swinig. With Argenta back in the lineup for Ravenna, we will see how Kamil adjusts moving to the other wing. But regardless of his position, the future is bright.
MB1: Marko Podrascanin – Perugia (2.3 pps, 0.25 aps, 0.61 bps, 72.1% hitting, 1 mvp)
If only Serbians played on their national team like they do for their Italian clubs, the rest of the world wouldn’t stand a chance. Podrascanin has been doing his thing in Italy for over a decade, and at 31 shows no signs of slowing down. Despite his teammates spraying passes all over the court, he is still hitting at a hilarious 70% efficiency and has only made 2 attacking errors this season.
MB2: Viktor Yosifov – Monza (2.25 pps, 0.17 aps, 0.67 bps, 56.3% hitting, 2 mvps)
Last year’s blocking leader has continued the wall this year with an impressive 40 kill blocks on the season and a lot more intimidated attackers. The Bulgarian’s presence at the net has been a key to Monza’s improvement this season. While there are many middles with more offensive prowess, they call it middle “blocker” for a reason, and few are better at sending balls back into the faces of hitters that Yosifov.
L: Salvatore Rossini – Modena (37.2% passing, 0 mvps)
This spot came down to the wire between Rossini and the young Argentinian Santiago Danani. Rossini gets the slight nod because his leadership on Modena helps hold them together. He is the only libero in the league to reach a 30% passing efficiency and anchors the Canaries’ league-best reception. Libero is last on the list of issues for Modena this season.
S: Simone Giannelli – Trentino (0.92 pps, 0.22 aps, 0.4 bps, 52.9% team hitting, 2 mvps)
Hard to believe Giannelli is still only 22 given how good he is and how long he has been the league. We know that a Giannelli offense can be a thing of beauty, but recently it has been marred by needing to feed egos and the flaccid attacking of Filippo Lanza. On this iteration of Trentino though his orchestration has shined. He has used weapons like LIsinac, Russell, and Kovacevic effectively, with Trentino just behind Lube for the 3rd most efficient offense in the league. Even Vettori is playing well! Also, is Giannelli the best blocking setter in the world? His 0.4 blocks per set seem to suggest so.
I hope you guys enjoyed my picks for the Italian All-Stars, it would be a lot of fun if we got to see these players actually play a match. Is there anyone you think I should have picked?