Week 1 of the 2018 FIVB Men’s Volleyball Nations League will get underway on Friday in France, China, Poland, and Serbia. The big story of the opening weekend will be the young rosters. Like we saw in the women’s tournaments, many of the power-house nations are taking advantage of the new 5-week preliminary schedule by resting their stars early, with the expectation of being able to earn some lost points back later.
The exceptions to that rule are a trio of Perugia stars: Ivan Zaytsev (Italy), Aleksandar Atanasijevic (Serbia), and Marko Podrascanin (Serbia), who are all jumping straight in to this Nations League. Osmany Juantorena, who played for silver-medalists Lube Civitanova in the Champions League, will also be on the squad for Italy this weekend.
Pool 1 – Rouen, France
Australia will be looking for offense without their two most efficient hitters Paul Carroll and Nathan Roberts. Opposite Lincoln Alexander Williams will have to step up.
- Setters: Arshdeep Dosanjh, Harrison Peacock
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Paul Sanderson, Max Staples, Jordan Richards (also libero), Luke Smith, Thomas Ewen Douglas-Powell
- Opposites: Lincoln Alexander Williams, Thomas Hodges
- Middle Blockers: Beau Graham. Travis Passier, Trent O’Dea, Nehemiah Mote
- Liberos: Luke Perry
France brings a ton of firepower on the outside, even with Trevor Clevenot left home.
- Setters: Benjamin Toniutti (Zaksa Kedierzyn-Kozle/POL), Antoine Brizard (Varsovie/POL)
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Earvin Ngapeth (Modène/Al Rayyan, ITA/QAT), Julien Lyneel (Shanghai/CHN), Thibault Rossard (Asseco Resovia Rzeszow/POL), Kevin Tillie (Pékin/CHN)
- Opposites: Jean Patry (Montpellier), Stephen Boyer (Chaumont)
- Middle Blockers: Kevin Le Roux (Rennes), Nicolas Le Goff (Latina/ITA), Barthélémy Chinenyeze (Asseco Resovia Rzeszow/POL), Jonas Aguenier (Chaumont)
- Liberos: Jenia Grebennikov (Lube Civitanova/ITA), Jérémie Mouiel (Chaumont)
Iran went very young this year, with three 19-year olds and an 18-year olds on the senior team this week. With one of the world’s best setters Saeid Marouf running the offense, though, they’re still dangerous in spite of lack of experience.
- Setters: Saeid Marouf, Farhad Salafzoon
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Mojtaba Mirzajanpour, Milad Ebadipour, Farhad Ghaemi, Morteza Sharifi, Meysam Salehi
- Opposites: Amir Ghafour, Saber Kazemi
- Middle Blockers: Seyed Mohammad Mousavi, Ali Shafiei, Saman Faezi
- Liberos: Mahdi Marandi, Mohammad Reza Hazratpour
Japan lost a pair of friendlies 3-1 and 4-0 against the Netherlands last week – not a good omen given that the Netherlands didn’t even qualify for this year’s Nations League. They did play France to 3-2 in another friendly, however. Yoshi Nishida scored 20 points in that matchup.
No roster for Japan yet
Pool 2 – Ningbo, China
22-year old Bruno Lima has dominated the domestic league. Now will be his time to shine internationally at opposite. There’s a few other potential breakouts on this young roster, including Jan Martinez Franchi and middle blocker Agustin Loser, making their senior debuts in Julio Velasco’s last summer as Argentina head coach. Setter Luciano de Cecco, another casualty of the Champions League Final 4, won’t play this week.
- Setters: Maximiliano Cavanna, Matias Sanchez
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Ezequiel Palacios, Alejandro Toro, Jan Martinez Franchi, Tomas Lopez, Lisandro Zanotti
- Opposites: Bruno Lima
- Middle Blockers: Martin Ramos, Agustin Loser, Pablo Crer, Joaquin Gallego
- Liberos: Santiago Danani, Franco Massimino,
This Bulgarian team has a ton of size, and played tough in a 3-2 frirendly loss to Russia earlier this week. They had a very balanced offense in that match, and it appears that Uchikov, Skrimov, and Penchev will get the starts at the hitter positions. No Viktor Yosifov, Tsvetan Sokolov, or Nikolay Nikolov on this roster.
- Setters: Georgi Bratoev, Georgi Seganov,
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Rozalin Penchev, Todor Skrimov, Valentin Bratoev, Nikolay Penchev, Boyan Yordanov
- Opposites: Nikolay Uchikov
- Middle Blockers: Iliya Petkov, Svetoslav Gotsev, Victor Yosifov, Aleks Grozdanov
- Liberos: Vladislav Ivanov, Teodor Salparov
This Chinese team is wildly different from the one that finished 17th in last year’s World League, and like their women’s roster very young. China will have something to prove, as they effectively bought their way into the core teams on the men’s side.
- Setters: Yu Yaochen, Liu Meng
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Zhang Chen, Zhang Jingyi, Ji Daoshuai (Captain), Du Haixiang, Liu Libin
- Opposites: Jiang Chuan
- Middle Blockers: Chen Longhai, Rao Shuhan, Yu Zhang, Zhang Zuyuan
- Liberos: Tong Jiahua, Chen Jiajie
Micah Christenson, Matt Anderson, and Aaron Russell are all out for the Americans after playing in the Champions League Final 4s earlier this month. That gives lots of opportunities for young hitters to make an impact in a week pool, especially Kyle Ensing, who is on his first U.S. Senior National Team roster. Full roster breakdown here.
- Setters: Kawika Shoji, Jonah Seif
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Taylor Sander, T.J. DeFalco, Thomas Jaeschke, Jake Langlois
- Opposites: Ben Patch, Kyle Ensing
- Middle Blockers: Jeff Jendryk, Max Holt, Taylor Averill, David Smith (Captain),
- Liberos: Dustin Watten, Erik Shoji
Pool 3 – Katowice/Krakow, Poland
Canada had a magical year last summer, finishing a program-best of 3rd in the World League. Can they recapture that magic this year without dynamic high-flying opposite Sharone Vernon-Evans, who underwent surgery in March?
- Setters: TJ Sanders (Captain), Brett Walsh
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Steve Marshall, Nicholas Hoag, Stephen Maar, Jason DeRocco
- Opposites: Ryan Sclater, Bradley Gunter
- Middle Blockers: Lucas Van Berkel, Daniel Jansen Vandoorn, Graham Vigrass, Arthur Szwarc
- Liberos: Blair Bann, Bryan Duquette
Poland struggled at last year’s European Championships without Dawid Konarski, but he seems to be back to full strength.
- Setters: Fabian Drzyzga, Grzegorz Lomacz
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Lukasz Kaczmarek, Artur Szalpuk, Michal Kubiak (Captain), Aleksander Sliwka, Bartosz Bednorz
- Opposites: Dawid Konarski, Damian Schulz
- Middle Blockers: Pitor Nowakowski, Bartlomiej Lemanski, Jakub Kochanowski
- Liberos: Pawel Zatorski, Kacper Piechocki
Maxim Mikhailov is sitting out week 1 after a huge performance at the Champions League Final 4 with Zenit Kazan. Russia has one of the most veteran 21-man rosters in the field, they just need to find a way to give them some rest through the 5 week tournament and then qualify for the Final 6, where they’ll be a contender.
- Setters: Pavel Pankov, Igor Kobzar
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Anton Karpukhov, Dmitry Volkov, Alexander Markin, Egor Kliuka
- Opposites: Konstantin Bakun, Romanas Shkulyavichus
- Middle Blockers: Ilia Vlasov, Igor Philippov, Dmitriy Muserskiy, Inal Tavasiev
- Liberos: Alexander Sokolov, Roman Martynyuk
The team will be without opposite Lee Kang-Won, by far their leading scorer from last year’s World League. He had 125 points in 9 games, whereas their next-highest scorer Jung Jiseok had just 75.
- Setters: Taekui Hwang, Min-Gyu Lee
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Jae-Duck Seo, Hui-Chae Song, Gyeong-Bok Na, Jiseok Jung, Kwang-In Jeon, Du-Yeon Hwang
- Opposites: Sung-Min Moon (Captain)
- Middle Blockers: Kyumin Kim, Seong-Tae Jin, Jae-Hwi Kim
- Liberos: Dong-Hyuk Kwak, Minsu Jeong
Pool 4 – Kraljevo, Serbia
The Brazilian players have been talking non-stop for the last few weeks about…their travel conditions. No first-class fights, having to fly too many miles, etc. We’ll see how that impacts their focus when they arrive on the court.
- Setters: Bruno “Bruninho” Rezende, William Arjona
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Mauricio Borges, Luiz “Lipe” Fonteles, Douglas Souza, Leonardo “Leo” Nascimento
- Opposites: Evandro Guerra, Wallace de Souza
- Middle Blockers: Mauricio Souza, Lucas “Lucao” Saatkamp, Isac Santos, Eder Carbonera
- Liberos: Thales Hoss, Murilo Endres
Last year’s 19-year old liberos Egor Bogachev and Julian Zenger, with Bogachev’s future being as an outside hitter, have turned into this year’s 20-year old liberos. Germany shielded them both from much action in last year’s World League Group 3, but now that they’re in the top tier, it will be harder for them to hide
- Setters: Lukas Kampa (Captain), Jan Zimmerman
- Receivers/Outside Hitters: Christian Fromm, Ruben Schott, Moritz Reichert, David Sossenheimer
- Opposites: Simon Hirsch, Daniel Malescha
- Middle Blockers: Tobias Krick, Jakob Gunthor, Noah Baxpohler, Marcus Bohme
- Liberos: Egor Bogachev, Julian Zenger
With the band back together (the team was last in the World League Group 1 last season), Italy will use this tournament as a jumping-off point for the World Championships later this summer. They’re still down a few key pieces on injury, but for the most part, this is the best team Italy has to put forward.
- Setters: Michele Baranowicz, Simone Giannelli
- Hitters: Oleg Antonov, Osmany Juantorena, Simone Parodi, Gabriele Nelli, Luigi Randazzo, Ivan Zaytsev
- Middle Blockers: Simone Anzani, Enrico Cester, Enrico Diamantini, Daniele Mazzone
- Liberos: Massimo Colaci , Salvatore Rossini
Serbia, hosts of their own pool, have not announced their 14-player roster, though the visiting Italians, as they usually do, posted all of the rosters from their pool. They seem to be travelling with a herd though – they used 16 players in their friendly last week against Iran. Marko Ivovic showed fine form in that match, with 11 points in 2 sets, including 73% positive reception and 71% hitting (10 kills on 14 swings). The team will also have Atanasijevic and Podrascanin, one of the few big names coming right from the Champions League and into the week 1 fire. Perhaps a show of force as they open a new arena to much fanfare.