We are finally onto the playoff portion of VNL 2018, with the top 6 teams, already battling it out for the top 4 elimination bracket spots. We here at FiveOneVB have decided to take a look back at the 5 weeks of pool play to come up with our list of the five breakout prospects of VNL 2018. This list is to highlight these players, what makes them great, and is no particular order. Also, this list will skew younger, as many of the older and more experienced players have already had their time to shine.
- Yujii Nishida (Japan, Opposite)
If you haven’t watched Japan play in this year’s Nations League (or listened to our podcast) you might not even know who this guy is. but at just 18 years old, he is already one of Japan’s best players. This high flying opposite finished fourth overall in total points with 187. He was Japan’s leading scorer in a number of games, including in their 5-set win against Italy, where he willed them to victory with 24. Nishida lead Japan in sets over the course of the tournament with 335, converting 48.4% of those sets into kills. In addition, his team won 67.5% of all points in which he hit, the highest of any Japanese non-middle hitter. On a team that often struggled to score points through hitting this tournament, Nishida was one of the few players capable of consistently putting the ball on the floor.
What he lacks in height, Nishida makes up for in his ridiculous leaping ability. Despite standing at 186cm, he is able to spike at a height of 346cm, indicating a vertical of well over 100cm. This crazy vertical allows him to get above the ball and send it down the line, or take advantage of a late block in order to tool them and send it out of bounds. Even with his huge vertical, he often had trouble blocking the tall and athletic hitters the other VNL teams sent at him. As an unconventional opposite, Nishida’s vertical made other teams take note and his attacking was a key part of Japan’s 6 win nations league effort.
- Tobias Krick (Germany, Middle)
This 19-year-old giant was Germany’s go-to middle over the course of Volleyball Nations League, getting more sets than Marcus Bohme. Although his kill % is somewhat underwhelming for a middle at 53.4%, Germany won a crazy 75.9% of rallies when he hit, placing him at 15th overall for the tournament. Standing at 211cm (6’11”), Krick towers over many of his opponents, but what puts him in this breakout star category is his quickness. Krick was consistently able to get to the pins to block either the outside or opposite, creating sealed double blocks. This helped Germany’s defense immensely, either by blocking the opponent’s attack immediately, or by getting a touch for an easier dig. Krick placed 6th overall in Block Kill %, at 5.4%, showing just how deadly his combo of size and skill proved to be for opposing hitters. In addition, his opponents attack % when he was the blocker was a mediocre 48.1%.
One area where Krick struggles is in serving, having the lowest serve efficiency on Germany and the 7th lowest of the tournament. He was often subbed out when it was his turn to serve for just this reason. Overall, Krick provided Germany with a legitimate attacking option out of the middle and his excellent blocking allowed them to gain some valuable break points. Krick has shown himself to be a valuable part of Germany’s future and will only get better with age.
- TJ DeFalco (USA, Outside)
TJ DeFalco is a 21-year-old outside and is the best prospect of the US Men’s National Team. After winning the national championship with Long Beach State University in California, he was selected to join the US team for the second year in a row. After an injury to outside Thomas Jaeschke, DeFalco was slotted into the starting role for the last couple weekends, where he excelled. While DeFalco is not the most athletic player of all time, he makes up for it in his tenacity and skill when hitting, being able to put the ball on the spots on the floor that the defense simply cannot reach.
DeFalco’s full arsenal of tips, roll shots, and hard cross shots make him very difficult for the defence to read and as soon as you think you have him figured out he switches it up. His biggest value right now is on defense and reception, where his coordination and impeccable mechanics give the USA offense frequents scoring opportunities. DeFalco had maybe his most impressive game in the US’s 3-0 sweep against Italy, where he scored 15 points on 13/24 hitting with 2 aces. This game really showcased his ability to put the ball on the floor in transition, allowing them to secure a decisive victory against a struggling Italian team. TJ doesn’t have a spot in the starting lineup with Taylor Sander and Aaron Russell, but his opportunity will come sonner rather than later.
- Jakub Kochanowski (Poland, Middle)
Jakub Kochanowski is an established star for anyone who followed the Plusliga this year, where he led all middles in kills and blocks. But this nations league was his first real chance with the Polish senior national team, and boy did he impress. Kochanowski, or “Kuba” came out firing from the first weekend, where he scored 11 points against France and 10 points against Korea. There weren’t many middles who could slow him down, as he scored 97 points in the tournament on over 50% hitting efficiency. Kochanowski is an undersized middle at only 6’6 ½” but agile with incredible hops.
He has the intuition to read the setter and the athleticism to get out to the pins, where he often gets kill blocks. This lateral quickness allowed him to lead every middle in block kill % at 5.9. Attackers only hit 44.7% against him when he was involved in the block. Not a lot of middles preform this well at any point in their career, let alone when they are 20 years old in their rookie tournament with the national team. Kochanowski, Bartosz Kwolek, and Tomasz Fornal are the next generation of Polish volleyball and will be a threat when they mature.
- Luke Perry (Australia, Libero)
If you’ve listened to or read our thoughts on Luke Perry before, you probably know that we love the lad. This 22-year-old Aussie libero has been killing it for the Volleyroo’s, and that did not change a bit in VNL 2018. Despite his very casual demeanor on the court, Perry is very quick and capable of chasing down balls anywhere on the court. He led the Australian team in receptions, reception efficiency, and side out %, proving to be by far their most capable passer and a necessary cog that helped their offense run. Throughout the tournament, Perry showed his uncanny ability to recover shanked passes that helped Australia win points that had no right winning in the first place. He also can dig tips at any spot on the court, shutting down that option for the opponent’s offence and forcing them to hit more aggressively.
His steady demeanour also helped a somewhat young Australian team remain calm on the court, something that helped them in the few close games that they had. Perry recently transferred to Resovia Rzeszów in the Polish first league, one of the most competitive in the world. Although Perry had already played a significant amount on the international stage, his play in Nations League was incredible to watch as he continues to be one of the Volleyroos most important players.