The match between Castellana Grotte and Latina didn’t look like anything of particular interest, but we were so wrong. The home team started strong by pushing heavily from the line (4 aces for Castellana and 2% reception efficiency for Latina in the first 2 sets) and gaining a 2-0 lead. Then, Latina bounced back tying the game and leaving just 34 points to the home team. When the guests went up 11-14 in the tie break it seemed like Groundhog Day for Castellana, then Zingel (20 points, 43% kills, 2 blocks) said “no way”. An incredible 6-1 break cancelled 3 match balls for Latina and, most of all, gave Castellana their first win of the season. Yay!!! They still have the same chances of avoiding relegation than the Knicks have of winning the NBA but, at least, they avoided the terrible embarrassment of a 0-26 season.
Nothing really interesting happened on top of the standings. Perugia had a supposedly tricky game in Monza, an arena that saw both Lube and Trento narrowly escaping defeat. Perugia escaped defeat, too, but in a much less dramatic way (0-3). The guests’ task became even easier when, during the 2nd set, Plotnytskyi had to leave the game due to shoulder problems. This time, Perugia’s victory was built on a better than usual reception (43% positive, 29% perfect) that allowed De Cecco to have a wider distribution (21 sets to OPP, 25 to OHs, 14 to middles) and Ricci (10 points, 56% kills, 5 blocks) to be a factor once again. Also, it’s worth to note how Soli is still not trusting Buchegger’s health and keeps playing with Ghafour (7 points, 50% kills, 1 block). On Saturday, Trento hosted Padova, with the home team determined to bounce back from Verona’s loss, not to lose any more points to Perugia and to keep Lube behind them. The job seemed harder than it looked in the 1st set (25-23), then Trento started blocking hard (8 in 2 sets) and Padova didn’t stand a chance (50-34). 63% kills for Trento, with no player under 50% and Vettori (14 points, 69% kills, 2 aces, 1 block, no errors, no blocked spikes) snatching that MVP trophy. Among the guests, good losing effort from Torres (13 points, 60% kills, 1 ace). Lube had a supposedly tricky match as well, going to Siena against a team desperately looking for points. Still, the guests torched them in the first 2 sets (33-50) and seemed en route to win the 3rd as well (13-16), but Siena had a proud reaction, bounced back and won the set (28-26) thanks to an ace by Ishikawa (17 points, 42% kills, 2 aces, 1 block). The home team started strong in the 4th as well (8-5), but Juantorena (23 points, 64% kills, 2 aces, 3 blocks) was just too much for Siena to handle and it was game, set (21-25) and match (1-3) for the guests. Siena now has a much easier schedule than their rivals, but, again, only 4 games left to catch up on a 6 points deficit.
What about the race for the 4th place? Well, it looked like a favorable turn for Modena, which hosted Vibo while Milano had to go to Verona. As we all know, though, volleyball is an unpredictable sport and, with a fierce game from the service (3 aces), Vibo took the 1st in Modena (22-25). 7th consecutive set lost by the home team. Modena bounced back immediately, by inflicting 2 identical 25-18 losses to Vibo and turning the table around (2-1). The 3rd set, in particular, saw Modena attacking with 69% kills despite 13% positive reception. Despite the numbers, though, Vibo played hard, especially on defense, but Modena was better in that area as well (33 break points with only 5 aces) and won the 4th (25-20) thanks to a great service turn by Keemink (3 aces). The Dutch setter is still lacking confidence with the middles (47% kills combined and only 15 sets over 107. Bad reception, though, 38% positive and 25% perfect) but found his comfort zone in the backwards set (is this the correct term?) to the opposite (26 points, 57% kills, 1 ace, 1 block for Zaytsev). The Verona match was probably the most anticipated one of the week. The home team was one of the hottest teams in the 2nd half of regular season (6-2, 19 points) and beat Trento just 5 days earlier, while the guests were THE hottest team (8-0, 21 points) and were looking to both extend their streak and keep Verona out of 4th place contest. The home team started strong, gaining a 18-13 lead, then Hirsch went in as pinch server and did his job with 3 aces (19-17). Milano tied the game at 23 and a block by Clevenot (13 points, 52% kills, 1 block) closed the set (24-26). The following sets were a bloodbath. Verona’s comeback? No, Milano’s show of all-around dominance (54% kills, 5 aces, 4 blocks, 54% positive reception, 35% perfect) and only 34 points left to Verona. Abdel-Aziz (14 points, 60% kills, 2 aces) snatched the MVP, but it could have gone to Maar as well (15 points, 50% kills, 1 ace, 5 blocks). Not much to save on Verona’s side, except maybe Boyer’s game (13 points, 50% kills). 9th consecutive win for Milano, still undefeated in the 2nd half of regular season, but they will face all of the top-3 teams in the last 4 games.
In the last game of the day, Sora got a very important win in Ravenna (1-3) and gained 3 precious points that are worth the overtake on Vibo and, most of all, a comfortable +8 margin on the relegation zone. Huge game for the guest in reception (61% positive, 31% perfect, 94% positive in the 1st set!) and a great offensive game by both Petkovic (25 points, 53% kills, 4 aces) and Di Martino (12 points, 64% kills, 1 ace, 2 blocks). Before yesterday, Sora had never beaten Ravenna in all of their history. Hard to understand why, after winning the 3rd set (25-22), Ravenna took off Rychlicki (13 points, 52% kills, 1 ace) for Argenta (4 points, 44% kills) playing the 4th set (20-25) with 6 Italians out of 7.
Finally, trade rumors and speculations have gone crazy (literally!) last week. Of course, Modena is the most-talked-about team, given their disappointing season and their desire to bounce back next season. You should know by now that Modena is the weakest team among the top-4 in terms of economic firepower, but this year sponsorships took a lot of money in their vault. Also, despite the 3rd disappointing season in a row, almost 3,500 season tickets (PalaPanini has about 5,200 seats) were sold and Modena is leading comfortably the attending’s charts with 4,742 average spectators (more than 90% capacity). Finally, Stefano Domenicali, Lamborghini’s CEO, has been spotted multiple times at PalaPanini. This, combined with the fact that it’s just a 20’ drive from Lambo’s HQ to PalaPanini, led to multiple speculations about a possible lucrative sponsorship for next year, but this rumors have to be taken with huge caution. In fact, it is well known that Domenicali is a good friend of Leo Turrini, well-known Italian F1 journalist and longtime season ticket holder in Modena, therefore a less “conspirationist” theory is served. Anyway, those rumors involve Modena getting hands on 1 or 2 first-tier OHs for next season, namely Matt Anderson, Michal Kubiak (who, apparently, didn’t sign his renewal in Japan and said that next year he’ll either stay there or move to Italy) and, of course, the hashtag #ngaback is ready. Of course, should those rumors be true, they would imply that Urnaut’s experience in Modena is over. He has been asked about it after yesterday’s game and he admitted that he received some offers for next year but also that he would really love to stay. There have also been conflicting rumors about Perugia. One side says that Gino Sirci, Perugia’s owner and chairman, is broke and will have to sell Leòn back to Kazan to even the losses. Another side says that he’s financially as healthy as ever and that he’s actually the one that will bring Kubiak back to Italy. The Polish OH and Bernardi are very close, but will the coach stay in Perugia next year? Most of all, if Kubiak is going to replace Lanza, who’s going to leave him his foreigner spot? I personally believe that the only non-BS rumor is Anderson going to Modena, but nevertheless it’s funny to explore some fantasy volleyball, isn’t it?
RESULTS AND SCORESHEETS
New Mater Castellana Grotte 3-2 Top Volley Latina (25-23, 28-26, 15-25, 19-25, 17-15)
Castellana: Falaschi 2, Wlodarczyk 24, Scopelliti 11, Zingel 20, Mirzajanpourmouziraji 18, De Togni 6, Pace (L), Cavaccini (L), Quartarone 1, Studzinski Rodrigues 0.
Latina: Sottile 3, Parodi 14, Rossi 9, Stern T. 29, Palacios 2, Gitto 11, Santucci (L), Caccioppola (L), Gavenda 0, Barone 0, Ngapeth 20, Stern Z. 0, Huang 1.
MVP: Aidan Zingel (Castellana)
Modena Volley 3-1 Callipo Vibo Valentia (22-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-20)
Modena: Keemink 4, Urnaut 14, Anzani 7, Zaytsev 26, Bednorz 11, Holt 4, Benvenuti (L), Rossini (L), Pierotti 0, Kaliberda 2.
Vibo: Zhukouski 3, Strohbach 5, Mengozzi 6, Al Hachdadi 20, Skrimov 13, Vitelli 7, Cappio (L), Marra (L), Lopez 0, Barreto Silva 1, Marsili 0.
MVP: Ivan Zaytsev (Modena)
Porto Robur Costa Ravenna 1-3 Argos Sora (20-25, 22-25, 25-22, 20-25)
Ravenna: Saitta 2, Poglajen 2, Verhees 9, Rychlicki 13, Raffaelli 14, Russo 14, Marchini (L), Baroni (L), Di Tommaso 0, Argenta 4, Lavia 6, Goi (L).
Sora: Kedzierski 3, De Barros Ferreira 11, Caneschi 5, Petkovic 25, Fey 8, Di Martino 12, Mauti (L), Marrazzo 1, Bonami (L), Bermudez 0. N.E. Rawiak, Esposito.
MVP: Dusan Petkovic (Sora)
Trentino Volley 3-0 Pallavolo Padova (25-23, 25-18, 25-16)
Trento: Giannelli 1, Kovacevic 16, Lisinac 7, Vettori 14, Russell 9, Candellaro 6, De Angelis (L), Van Garderen 0, Grebennikov (L), Nelli 0, Cavuto 3.
Padova: Travica 1, Louati 14, Polo 4, Torres 13, Cirovic 9, Volpato 2, Bassanello (L), Danani La Fuente (L), Cottarelli 0, Barnes 1, Lazzaretto 0, Sperandio 0.
MVP: Luca Vettori (Trento)
Vero Volley Monza 0-3 Sir Volley Perugia (22-25, 20-25, 20-25)
Monza: Orduna 1, Plotnytskyi 5, Yosifov 4, Ghafour 7, Dzavoronok 13, Beretta 3, Rizzo (L), Calligaro 0, Botto 3, Buchegger 5, Arasomwan 0, Galliani 0, Giannotti 0.
Perugia: De Cecco 0, Lanza 8, Podrascanin 7, Atanasijevic 16, Leon 13, Ricci 10, Piccinelli (L), Colaci (L), Hoag 0, Seif 0.
MVP: Luciano De Cecco (Perugia)
Emma Villas Siena 1-3 Lube Civitanova (13-25, 20-25, 28-26, 21-25)
Siena: Marouflakrani 1, Ishikawa 17, Gladyr 12, Hernandez Ramos 14, Maruotti 3, Cortesia 0, Caldelli (L), Savani 5, Van De Voorde 4, Vedovotto 4, Giovi (L), Giraudo 0, Spadavecchia 1.
Civitanova: Bruno 1, Juantorena 23, Simon 13, Sokolov 18, Leal 14, Cester 1, Marchisio (L), Balaso (L), D’Hulst 0, Cantagalli 0, Diamantini 1, Kovar 0.
MVP: Bruno Mossa De Rezende (Civitanova)
Blu Volley Verona 0-3 Power Volley Milano (24-26, 15-25, 19-25)
Verona: Spirito 2, Manavinezhad 4, Solé 3, Boyer 13, Kaziyski 10, Birarelli 4, Giuliani (L), De Pandis (L), Alletti 3, Sharifi 0, Marretta 1, Pinelli 0.
Milano: Sbertoli 1, Clevenot 13, Kozamernik 6, Abdel-Aziz 14, Maar 15, Piano 4, Hoffer (L), Pesaresi (L), Izzo 0, Hirsch 4, Bossi 1.
MVP: Nimir Abdel-Aziz (Milano)
Perugia – 57 (P)
Trento – 54 (P)
Civitanova – 53 (P)
Modena, Milano – 45 (P)
Verona – 37
Padova – 32
Monza – 30
Ravenna – 25
Latina – 23
Sora – 21
Vibo – 19
Siena – 13
Castellana – 8
P = clinched playoff berth
Civitanova losing 2-3
Trento losing 0-3
Milano losing 1-3
Siena winning 3-0
Castellana winning 3-0/3-1
STATISTICAL LEADERS – PLAYERS
Points (match day): Toncek Stern (Latina) – 29
Points (Superleague): Dusan Petkovic (Sora) – 491
Points per set: Dusan Petkovic (Sora) – 5.71
Aces (match day): Dusan Petkovic (Sora), Donovan Dzavoronok (Monza) – 4
Aces (Superleague): Wilfredo Leòn (Perugia) – 79
Aces per set: Wilfredo Leòn (Perugia) – 1.07
Blocks (match day): Fabio Ricci (Perugia), Stephen Maar (Milano) – 5
Blocks (Superleague): Sebastian Solé (Verona) – 60
Blocks per set: Viktor Yosifov (Monza) – 0.72
STATISTICAL LEADERS – TEAMS
Kill % (match day): Perugia – 63%
Kill % (Superleague): Perugia – 56.7%
Aces (match day): Milano, Sora – 9
Total aces: Perugia – 211
Aces/set: Perugia – 2.74
Blocks (match day): Civitanova – 12
Total blocks: Verona – 223
Blocks/set: Verona – 2.62
NEXT ROUND (March 3rd, 6 pm Italian, noon ET):
Ravenna – Perugia
Latina – Civitanova
Milano – Trento
Padova – Verona (RaiSport)
Modena – Monza
Vibo – Sora
Castellana – Siena (March 2nd, RaiSport)