Nations League Weekend 5 recap
There wasn’t a lot to be decided in the final weekend of preliminary play at 2018 volleyball nations league, but we still got to see some fun games and crazy performances. The six teams that made it through the gauntlet and onto the final round are France, Russia, USA, Serbia, Brazil, and Poland. Canada and Italy just barely missed the cut. The rest will have to wait until the World Championships to get another taste of international competition. Here were the statistical leaders through the group stage (per FIVB:
Points: Jiang Chuan
Kill %: Dmitry Muserskiy
Blocks: Svetoslav Gotsev
Aces: Earvin Ngapeth
Sets: TJ Sanders
Digs: Jenia Grebennikov
Passing efficiency: Filippo Lanza
Winner of the weekend: Serbia
My pre-tournament winner pick might still have a chance! Serbia has had a strange tournament, with all 4 of their losses coming in 3 sets, while 4 of their wins took 5 sets. This means they ended with 33 sets won and 24 sets lost in the tournament, by far the worst ratio out of every team that is playing in the final round. So, they get the winner of the weekend for solidifying a spot in the finals with decisive wins against Canada, Japan, and China.
The biggest of these wins was against the Canadians, who still had a slim chance to grab a final 6 spot. Yet 5 aces and 3 blocks by Srecko Lisinac ended the hopes of Stephen Antiga’s team in 3 sets, and Serbia cruised through the rest of the weekend. Their tournament wasn’t pretty, but being able to win games in the fifth set is a talent that could come in handy in Lillie.
Loser of the weekend: Korea
Even though Korea pushed a team to 5 sets this weekend, a rare feat for this team, they get this award for their holistic performance this tournament. Managing only one win, which was against 15th place China, Korea ended at 1-14. They lost 9 times in straight sets, the most out of any team. This means they will not take part in Nations League 2019, instead of being replaced by the winners of the challenge cup, Portugal.
They were outmatched in the middle in every game they played, with all three finishing in the bottom 5 in opponent attacking %. An unfortunate result for a country where men’s volleyball is relatively popular. Mercifully, they are not participating in the World Championships in September.
Best player of the weekend: Milad Ebadipour
Ebadipour has officially transitioned from “promising young player” to “world-class outside hitter”. Whether he was playing for Belchatow or Iran, he has everything you want in a wing spiker. A deadly serve, good height, consistent passing, and the ability to hit confidently on either side of the attack line make him a complete player. Over the course of the nations league, he has assumed the position of leader and best player of this Iranian team. Apologizes to Marouf.
Ebadipour led Iran to an undefeated weekend, scoring 49 points and passing daggers against tough German and Bulgarian servers . The home crowd in Tehran couldn’t have been happier with his performance. If Iran keeps developing players like Milad Ebadipour, they will be the Asian team to beat for a long time.
Runner-up: Srecko Lisinac
Breakout player: TJ DeFalco
We finally got to see DeFelco get some serious play time this weekend. Due to Jaeschke’s injury, Sander’s absence, and the American’s comfortable position on top of the standings, DeFalco played in every match. While he didn’t have any stat lines that will blow you away, he played with skills and maturity that is rare for someone who is only 21. 13 kills and 2 aces in a sweep against Italy was his best performance of the weekend and gives some hope about what we can expect from him going forward.
Despite a lack of height or elite athleticism, DeFalco has a talent for knowing where the block and the defenders are going to be and can hit ridiculous angles to avoid them. But where he really adds value to team USA is on passing and defense. TJ is rarely caught out of position, and this weekend he showcased his elite body control that is a result of 1000s of hours on the beach. He is a lock to be an outstanding pro and will be an important part of USA volleyball in the next three Olympic Games.
Runner-up: Milan Katic
Game of the weekend: USA vs France
We got to see some of the heavy hitters of the tournament go head to head this weekend in the “Pool of Death” which included France, Italy, Russia, and USA. While some of these matches were underwhelming, with many resulting in sweeps, the game that did not disappoint was France vs. USA. This showdown between juggernauts saw each team trading tight sets until France took the fifth by a score of 15-12. Both of these teams had already practically clinched a spot in the knockout stage, which means this game was mostly for show, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t come out swinging. Matthew Anderson and Aaron Russell had a combined 39 kills on 78 hits while Smith and McDonnell held it down in the middle combining for 21 points.
The French team used a variety of lineups, with 9 players scoring and Stephen Boyer leading the way with 21. The wild swinging of the US hitters came back to bite them, and the team had a total of 44 errors. Many of the mistakes came from their pin hitters hitting way over the block while looking for a touch. France’s frequent triple blocks helped their defense, with many of their digs coming off block touches that resulted in strong counterattacks. The French grabbed an early lead in the fifth and were able to fend off a US comeback and won after Chinenyeze and Boyer went off the block on subsequent points to win.
Runner-up: Bulgaria vs Germany
Finals will be taking place in Lillie, France from July 4th-8th.