The polish Cup quarterfinals started in Kędzierzyn-Koźle. Skra had to play without Mariusz Wlazły, but Artur Szalpuk was finally available after his injury. The most interesting game, at least on paper, took place there, but this match didn’t deliver. Zaksa dominated the first and second set very easily, even Deroo’s injury during the 2nd set didn’t stop them. Artur Szalpuk was back in starting lineup for the 3rd set, while Andrea Gardini kept Rafał Szymura, who replaced Deroo. That’s when something clicked for the team from Bełchatów, while Kaczmarek’s hitting dropped from 75% to 22% and we finally saw some fighting. Skra even led 24:22, but Zaksa scored their 23rd point and followed it up with a block on Kochanowski (who was spiking from 1st zone) after a time-out called by Piazza. A few moments later Śliwka finished his 2 spikes and Zaksa won 3rd set 28:26. Kaczmarek was fantastic for 2 sets but struggled in the 3rd one, so he finished with decent stats (13 points, 1 ace, 1 block, 52% kills).

Szymura filled in for Deroo really well (11 points, 3 blocks, 67% kills), but if I had to choose MVP, it would be (once again) Paweł Zatorski, who defended a lot of spikes and averaged 77% positive and 62% perfect reception. Meanwhile, Skra still has a lot of problems. Karol Kłos is slowly improving (9 points, 3 blocks, 1 ace, 56% kills today), but Teppan was back to his usual (this season), horrendous level (6 points, 30% kills, 5% efficiency, -2 ratio) and Piazza was desperate with his attempts to hide their weak right wing, but neither Szalpuk, nor Kochanowski (yes, libero was replacing Teppan instead of Kochanowski) was able to do the job.

The second game was the shortest. Jastrzębski Węgiel quickly smashed BBTS in 3 sets. The home team didn’t rise to the challenge, but it’s not surprising, they are playing in the 2nd division after getting relegated in the previous season. Really solid from Fromm (12 points, 1 block, 50% kills, but let’s not talk about his reception) and Konarski (14 points, 3 blocks, 1 ace, 50% kills), but Julien Lyneel was star of the show once again. 13 points, but 2 blocks, 2 aces and 82% kills (with 82% efficiency), while serving the most out of all players (23 times, 2nd Krikun had 13, others 11 or less) sums up his another great performance.

The third quarterfinal was the second one between 2 Plusliga teams. 4th in league table Cerrad Czarni Radom were visited by 6th Aluron Virtu Warta Zawiercie. The guests started with a lineup that won their previous match, so starting OHs were Ferreira and Waliński, while Robert Prygiel also didn’t make any changes, so Michał Filip was starting (not a surprise after 2 MVPs in a row) and Maxim Zhigalov had to sit on the bench. The first set was interesting and almost equal for the most part. Both teams were unable to get ahead of their opponents by more than 1 point. It all changed, when the score was 18:17 for guests. Norbert Huber made a spiking error, Ferreira followed with 2 aces and Zawiercie was leading 21:17. From that point, Czarni completely stopped playing and lost this set 25:18.

Next set started well for Aluron, they went up 3:0 after 3 mistakes made by Cerrad, but Waliński’s error and 2 hits from Żaliński and the scoreboard was showing 3:3. Zawiercie regained 3 points lead, but Michał Filip quickly equalized with an ace and spike. Warta was slightly ahead of Radom, but they had to wait until 18:16 scoreline to increase the gap to 3 points again. From that point, the guests easily won the 2nd set too.

Robert Prygiel decided to replace Wojciech Żaliński with Kamil Kwasowski. It helped his team because the home team was leading for almost the whole set, even though Ferreira’s ace made the score 13:12 in favour of Radom, Cerrad stayed ahead of their opponents. Then an ace from Ostrowski and block from Kwasowski increased the gap to 5 points and the fans were waiting for a 4th set. The following set was competitive too. Both teams had their leads, but couldn’t keep it. Changes started to happen when the score was 17:17. Ferreira ended one rally and his team went up 19:17, a few moments later Bociek did the same and guests were leading 21:18. Filip answered, but another successful spike by Grzegorz Bociek, followed by his ace and the scoreboard showed 23:19. Cerrad didn’t recover from that and got eliminated.

Czarni Radom lost, but Michał Filip can be satisfied with his performance. 19 points, 2 blocks, 1 ace, and 64% kills are the best numbers in his team. Kamil Kwasowski (10 points, 1 block, 75% kills) and Tomasz Fornal (15 points, 4 blocks, 48% kills), but disappointing performances from the middles (10 points, 29% kills, 2 aces and 3 blocks combined) and a disappointing Żaliński (7 points, 1 block, 46% kills, but only 24% positive reception) cost them massively. Marcin Waliński was definitely the best player of this match. He scored 22 points (top scorer), added 3 aces, 2 blocks and fantastic 71% hitting. Ferreira was solid (11 points, 3 aces, 50% kills), while Bociek made up for average hitting (41% kills, but he was blocked 9 times) with great service (4 aces). Personally, I’m very happy to see this team improving, they have amazing fans, atmosphere around the club is awsome and they are aiming high, Polish Cup final four is a big success for them for sure. Our current top teams need some kind of impulse to get better, this club might bring it.

Last game took place in Nysa, where local Stal was facing Onico. It was definitely an emotional match for Bartosz Kurek, because not only his opponent (back then known as AZS Nysa) is his first professional club, but Kurek grew up in Nysa and Bartek was awarded honorable citizenship of his childhood town. Of course, as Onico is currently 2nd in Plusliga, while Stal is 4th in 2nd division (1. Liga), there was only one clear favourite. First set went according to Antiga’s (and his players) plan. But the home team turned up their service, Onico reacted quickly and Piotr Łukasik was replaced by Nikolay Penchev, but Nysa was too far ahead and surprisingly won the set.

The home team was still going strong in next set. After double aces by Makowski they were leading 8:5 and managed to stay ahead of Onico for a long time. But Antoine Brizard went to serve, caused a lot of problems, added an ace and the guests took the lead (19:18). After a missed spike by Makowski and ace from Vigrass the score was 23:20, but Stal was still fighting. When Wrona’s spike landed out we saw the biggest controversy of the game. The referee gave the point to Onico (block touch) and then didn’t allow a challenge called by Stal, because in his opinion they were too late. Protests didn’t help and the point went to Onico. If there was no block the score would be 23:22. But the score was 24:21 and team from the capital city won the 3rd set. The last set was quite easily won by Kurek and his teammates, but Stal Nysa can be proud of their performance, they pushed Onico really hard and deserve a lot of praise.

Good game played by middles, Mateusz Nożewski (7 points, 1 block, 75% kills) and Moustapha M’Baye (10 points, 3 blocks, 88% kills). Bartosz Bućko (16 points, 1 ace, 1 block, 50% kills) was their best wing. Onico fans should be happy for Niko Penchev (6 points, 1 block, 1 ace, 40% positive and 30% perfect reception), who played alright this time around. Very good performances by Antoine Brizard (24 services, 7 more than anyone else, 2 aces + solid setting), Bartosz Kwolek (15 points, 1 block, 2 aces, 62% kills) and Bartosz Kurek (19 points, 2 blocks, 50% kills), but personally I would call Canadian Graham Vigrass (12 points, 7 Breakpoints, 4 blocks, 1 ace, 70% kills) the best player of this match.

Zaksa Kędzierzyn-Koźle 3:0 PGE Skra Bełchatów

25:16, 25:19, 28:26

ZAKSA: Kaczmarek (13), Toniutti, Wiśniewski (6), Bieniek (8), Śliwka (10), Deroo (8), Zatorski (libero) and Stępień, Koppers (3), Szymura (11)

Skra: Teppan (6), Kłos (9), Kochanowski (3), Ebadipour (14), Łomacz, Orczyk (6), Piechocki (libero) and Szalpuk (6)

BBTS Bielsko-Biała 0:3 Jastrzębski Węgiel

19:25, 20:25, 14:25

BBTS: Macionczyk, Buniak (4), Piotrowski (2), Sukhatskiy (8), Cedzyński (5), Krikun (10), Koziura (libero) and Nowak (2), Sawicki, Adamczyk (2), Łysiowski, Marek (libero)

Jastrzębski: Fromm (12), Kosok (7), Konarski (14), Lyneel (13), Kampa (4), Hain (6), Popiwczak (libero) and Bucki (4), Wolański, Ferens (1), Janicki (libero)

Cerrad Czarni Radom 1:3 Aluron Virtu Warta Zawiercie

18:25, 19:25, 25:23, 21:25

Czarni: Pajenk (6), Żaliński (7), Vincic (2), Filip (19), Huber (2), Fornal (15), Ruciak (libero) and Ostrowski (2), Giger, Zhigalov, Kwasowski (10)

Warta: Waliński (22), Rejno (2), Ferreira (11), Gawryszewski (7), Bociek (18), Masny, Koga (libero) and Dosanjh, Malinowski, Semeniuk

Stal Nysa 1:3 Onico Warszawa

18:25, 25:21, 21:25, 18:25

Stal: Zajder, Kaczorowski (12), Bućko (16), M’Baye (10), Szczurek (3), Makowski (10), Czunkiewicz (libero) and Ochrymczuk (libero), Mucha, Bułkowski, Nożewski (7), Owczarz

Onico: Kwolek (15), Brizard (4), Łukasik (1), Wrona (5), Vigrass (12), Kurek (19), Wojtaszek (libero) and Kowalczyk, Nowakowski (1), Araujo, Penchev (6)

Final Four preview

1st semifinal:

Zaksa Kędzierzyn-Koźle vs Aluron Virtu Warta Zawiercie

The best team of this season against the biggest surprise of this season. Sam Deroo is injured and will probably miss the finals, so Zaksa will be severely weakened. Meanwhile, Aluron finally found their optimal lineup (at the moment) and a lot of their players would like to show their old club (Bociek, Rejno, Semeniuk, and Masny used to play in Kędzierzyn-Koźle) how good they are. This final tournament will be a big challenge for Śliwka, Kaczmarek, and Szymura, but Ben Touniutti and middles will do their best to help them. It’s also a great time to remind Vital Heynen about their existence because there are some spots on the NT that are available. Warta Zawiercie can definitely count on their fans, I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a lot of yellow in the stands this weekend with the passionate cheering. For them, qualifying for the finals is a huge achievement, so there will be no pressure and it should work in their favour. Of course Zaksa is expected to win, even without Sam Deroo, but it is a perfect dark horse scenario, so upset is absolutely possible. But whoever wins this match will not be a favourite in final. Zaksa still has the same playstyle, strenghts (and weaknesses), but Deroo is their key player, it lowers their chances. Zawiercie will be the weakest team in Wrocław, but they are capable of upseting strong opponents, so they have a chance to surprise everyone.

2nd semifinal:

Jastrzębski Węgiel vs Onico Warszawa

Both teams went through massive changes during this season. Onico signed Kurek and Penchev, Jastrzębski lost De Giorgi and hired Roberto Santili as his replacement. It worked wonders for both clubs. Onico with Kurek became a completely new team, strong enough to beat every team in a league. Meanwhile since Santili’s arrival in Jastrzębski, Kampa, Fromm, and Konarski have improved massively and finally play like they did last season (Kampa) or at their standard level (Konarski and Fromm) instead of the poor form they were showing earlier. Jastrzębski Węgiel is in great form at the moment, which probably makes them slight favourite. Onico definitely can beat them (especially if Kurek plays at his highest level), but their play in recent games after a few injuries to key players (Kurek and Kwolek have nagging issues) is not impressive. Personally, I think that as long as Jastrzębski plays like they did in last few weeks, they should win. The only thing stopping them in this match is in my opinion Kurek going mental or Onico suddenly improving massively in 3 days. Whoever wins here will be a favourite to win the whole thing (unless Zaksa with Szymura somehow look just as good as they do with Deroo). If I had to bet on anyone, it would be Jastrzębski Węgiel, but there are a lot of surprises in the Polish Cup, so everything is possible.

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