For those of you new to these 2018 men’s nations league previews, this will give you a better idea of the teams that you’re unfamiliar with and will allow you to follow the tournament more easily. The format consists of 5 weekends of round-robin play starting May 25th (THIS FRIDAY!!!!!) taking place in different locations around the world followed by a final round in Lille, France on July 4-8th.

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.

#16 Korea

#15 Australia

#14 China

#13 Japan

#12 Bulgaria

#11 Germany

#10 Argentina

#9 Iran

#8 Poland

Info on this one brought to you by my friend Kacper, the biggest Polish volleyball fan I know.

The last 4 years haven’t been the best for Polish volleyball. After a historic win in the 2014 World Championships, they have not been able to find much success. The core of that gold medal squad is 4 years older, do they enough in the tank for another run or will the new generation of polish volleyball take over?

Vital Heynen is the one tasked with the monumental project of getting the Polish men’s volleyball program back on track. The Belgian coach has previously ran German and Belgian national teams and currently coaches German powerhouse Vfb Friedrichschafen. His debut is highly anticipated by Polish volleyball fans, who have medal expectations for the World Championships. If history is anything to go by, he will be on the hot seat. Stephen Antiga only lasted 3 years after winning in 2014 and his replacement Ferdinando De Giorgi was shown the door after one. Heynen has his work cut out for him, but has an innovative style of coaching, as shown by his Friedrichschafen teams that perform way above their talent level. If anyone can satisfy the astronomical expectations of Polish fans, it is him.

Many of the stars of the World Championship and 2016 Olympic team are starting to show signs of decline. Bartosz Kurek, Piotr Nowakowski, and Michal Kubiak all struggled in their most recent club seasons. However, they aren’t that old yet, and they could very well come in and show that they are still the kings of Polish volleyball. There are some young guys ready to steal the spotlight though. Namely, middle blocker Jakub Kochanowski. Forget Jeffrey Jendryk and Daenen Gyimah and Barthelemy Chinenyeze. Kochanowski is the young middle prospect that everyone should be getting hyped about. He has lighting quick lateral quickness and has an instinctual read on opposing setters. He can bomb spin serves with the best of them and was the second-best middle in the Plusliga this season statistically after Srecko Lisinac. And the kid hasn’t even turned 21 yet.

Heynen will do a lot of experimentation during the Nations League to come up with the best combination of players for the World Championships, which is their real focus for this national team season. Different players will get a chance to show their skills, and the final roster will probably be a mix of the old guard and the new. The next 3 teams will likely be fighting it out for one spot in the final 6, and I believe Poland is the least likely to make it.

Likely starters (players to watch in italics):

OH: Bartosz Bednorz

OH: Michal Kubiak

OP: Damian Schulz

MB: Mateusz Bieniek

MB: Jakub Kochanowski

S: Fabian Drzyzga

L: Pawel Zatorski

9 Comments »

  1. I would say Heynen will perform more experiments in VNL and try multiple setups. Poland basically had two major issues now and they’re related to each other. First they don’t have a core player, a player you can confidently set to at critical moments that will affirmatively win the point, like Schmidt of Canada, Edgar or Australia, Muserskiy of Russia, Grozer of Germany. This core normally is the opposite but after Mariusz Wlazly there is simply no such player any more. Konarski has been making progress but hardly enough. Kurek has wasted another season on bench and apparently not in a good shape. And after putting attention to young generation like Muzaj or Kaczmarek, and even younger generation like Ziobrowski, one might sadly find that they are not bad, but they are not competitive either. I believe Schulz is a good addition to the squad, but Heynen definitely needs to pressure those opponents to see how far they could go facing the world class block and defense.
    And second, since Poland didn’t have a core player to handle the difficult rallies, they had to do their best to distract the block and defense, which leads to the requirement of having good passes. Again after Michal Winiarski Poland’s reception was challenged too. Just thinking about Szalpuk, Sliwka, Kwolek I couldn’t figure out who could be the reliable one to take the strong serves. If you watched the first friendly between Poland and Canada, Steven Maar’s serve 5 in a row and totally destroyed Poland, and you just cannot win with that performance.
    I have been thinking how Poland could optimize the squad and pursuit the best outcome but this is nothing trivial. I would love to see how Heynen suggests to handle the aforementioned scenarios – who to deal with the difficult shots and how to take the strong serves, and most importantly, what I/we could expect from Poland in the world championship.

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  2. I had to receive some of Stephen Maar’s serves back in the day so I know first-hand how terrifying they are. I think Heynen should do what he did at Friedrichschafen when the talent of his team didn’t stack up: play your best passers and try and pick on favourable matchups as much as possible.

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