I’ll be doing the previews in reverse order of my own personal, unofficial power rankings. Feel free to let me know why your team is too low.
Most nations would be content with being ranked 12th in the world for a sport, but for a country with as rich a volleyball history as Bulgaria, it has to sting. Unlike most of the teams ranked below them, whose players are too young, Bulgaria’s stars find themselves too far on the other side of the aging curve. Middles Nikolay Nikolov and Viktor Yosifov are 32 and 33, libero Teodor Salparov is 36, and setter Georgi Bratoev is 31. Bulgaria has a lot to prove this summer, as they are co-hosting the World Championships with Italy, so the temptation to use their veterans will be high.
Bulgaria’s best player and one of the top opposites in the world, Tsvetan Sokolov, will miss the Nations League after he played through knee injuries for his club team Lube Civitanova. Sokolov has been an integral part of the offense for Bulgaria in every tournament they have played in for the last several years, so his absence is painful. Bulgarian coach Plamen Konstantinov will have the choice of aging veteran Nikolay Uchikov to fill the hole at opposite, or he can go young with bumbling 7-footer Velizar Chernokozhev.
The Bulgarian volleyball team is so tight they are like a family, and in the case of the starting outsides for the team, Nikolay and Rozalin Penchev, they are literally family. The brothers are two of the best young talents that Bulgaria has at their disposal. They are versatile players that played major roles on two teams that competed in the 2017 club world championships, Bolivar and Belchatow. Excellent play from the Penchevs will be monumental if Bulgaria wants to play in the final 6. They even have a third brother, Chono Penchev, who plays for Modena as a setter. Unfortunately, he will be resigned to cheering on his bros from his couch in Plovdiv.
Everything Bulgaria does in the Nations League will be in consideration of the 2018 World Championships. Avoiding injuries and building team chemistry will be the focus of this team. While the amount of experience is immense, losing superstar Tsvetan Sokolov was the worst possible scenario. The variability for Bulgaria is high, and while they did well in the European championships last summer, I don’t see them making it to the final round without Sokolov.
Likely starters (players to watch in italics):
OH: Nikolay Penchev (Skra Belchatow)
OH: Rozalin Penchev (Personal Bolivar)
OPP: Nikolay Uchikov (UPCN Volley Club)
MB: Nikolay Nikolov (Belogorie Belgorod)
MB: Viktor Yosifov (Piacenza)
S: Georgi Bratoev (VK Neftochimik)
L: Teodor Salparov (VK Neftochimik)