2018 FIVB Volleyball Nations League – Final Six Pool B
- June 27th-June 29th, 2018
- Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France | Stade Pierre-Mauroy (Capacity: 28,010)
- Time Zone: Central European Summer Time (EDT +05:00)
- World Rankings: #2 United States, #3 Poland, #4 Russia
|Date||Time (EDT)||Score||Set 1||Set 2||Set 3||Set 4||Set 5||Total||Report|
|5 Jul||13:00||United States||–||Poland||–||–||–||0–0|
|6 Jul||13:00||Russia||–||United States||–||–||–||0–0|
The matches of the Preliminary Round not only decided who qualified, but it determined the composition of the pools in the Final Six. The pools are seeded due to a serpentine procedure. The #1 seed matches up with the #4 and #5. Usually the #1 spot is automatically given to the tournament’s hosts, and if that team isn’t actually the best in the event it can make it more difficult on the #2 team who gets bumped down to a #3 seed to compete with the team that actually finished with the best record. France, the host, finishing at the top of the pool helps keep the competitive balance proper.
Russia and the United States come in neck and neck. They both earned 11-4 records in the Preliminary Round, but Russia edged the United States 34-33 points. That difference comes from the United States winning 2 of their matches in 5 sets and only earning 2 points instead of 3 for the win. Poland is down in 6th place with a 10-5 record and 29 points. The difference between all of these teams in Pool B is 1 match and 5 points.
|3||United States *||11||4||33||37||19||1.947||1294||1183||1.094|
*Denotes Pool B Team
Russia is a team that never seems to take this tournament (of the World League in previous years) too awful seriously, but they seem to always have success. They have a ton of depth, as they won the European Championships without their best player, and they finished 2nd in the Preliminary Round without their setter or one of the best opposites in the world. Maxim Mikhailov is back on the roster as he was in Week 5, but he has not played yet in the tournament. The same can be said for Artem Volvich, middle blocker who usually starts opposite of Dmitriy Muserskiy. When looking at Russia, one always has to look at how these veteran’s will feature in their lineup. If they are on the court, how will they fit in after being absent for the previous 5 weeks of play.
Russia might be seen as the slight favorite, but the United States has a great chance to land at the top of pool standings as well. They lost to Russia 3-0 in the last week of the competition, but neither team was playing a strong lineup since they both had their qualification in the Final Six clinched. Taylor Sander will be back on the roster for the first time since the first week of the competition after the birth of his son, Atli, on June 28th. Ben Patch will be back with the team after missing the last 2 weeks with an undisclosed injury. It will be interesting to see if and how these players are utilized by John Speraw. When they play Russia on Friday, it should be a much closer match than their first match-up.
Expectations for Poland are low entering this week of play. Poland’s coach, Vital Heynen, stated it was, “a miracle we even got promoted to (the) Final Six.” They are missing many key ingredients to the team they hope to put on the court when they look to defend their World Championship. They knew coming in that they would be without Michał Kubiak, Dawid Konarski and Piotr Nowakowski. The latest setback comes in the form of an inflamed appendix. Mateusz Mika underwent an appendectomy and will not be available this week.
There is a great deal of parity in the top flight of international men’s volleyball. Upset victories should never come as a surprise, but it would not surprise anyone if the last match of the pool on Friday (USA vs. Russia) featured a pair of teams already qualified for the semifinals. If that is the case, the match would decide who could potentially avoid France at home.
STORIES/PLAYERS TO WATCH
- Poland: Arthur Scalzpuk is the only player to score more than 100 points in the tournament is the only Polish player to be in the top 50 in scoring. He will become important as they lack experienced outside hitters due to injury, illness, or rest. It will be interesting to see what role Bartosz Kurek and Fabian Drzyzga will play this week. They have routinely been the starters for Poland at opposite and setter, but they have not seen the court much in ths tournament. Will Heynen use them in this stage? Jakub Kowanchowski and Mateusz Bienek are 2nd and 3rd respectively among Poland’s top scorers. Both are middle blockers and will could feature prominently in the offense depending on the situation at the pins.
- Russia: When it comes to these mid-major tournaments, the question with Russia is not necessarily who will they start, but more often it is about who they did not bring. As mentioned earlier, Maxim Mikhailov and Artem Volvich are back on the roster, but they have not seen the court yet in the VNL. Muserskiy will surely start, and is the 2nd-leading scorer of all players entering the Final Six with 185 points. He was the most efficient attacker and the 4th-best server in the Preliminary Round. If Volvich comes into the starting lineup, he will be replacing Ilia Vlasov, who has scored 92 points thus far. One needs to pay attention to Egor Kliuka at outside hitter. He is the 3rd-best scorer of the players still in the tournament and is hitting at 50%.
- United States: The United States is using a lineup that can be as close to full strength as they can get considering Thomas Jaeschke is out with a torn ACL. John Speraw brought 3 opposites, so it seems like there is a chance to see Matt Anderson back at outside hitter where he plays for Zenit Kazan. Anderson is the leading scorer for the United States and finished the Preliminary Round in 10th position on the list of top scorers with 168 points. He was the 3rd- most effieicnt attacker with a success rate in attack of 54.62%. He was also the 3rd-best server with 0.3 aces per set. As mentioned earlier, Taylor Sander is back in the lineup after leading the United States in Week 1 before Micah Christenson, Aaron Russell, and Anderson were back with the team. It will be worth watching to see if Sander is match-fit after being out for so long. If he is ready to go on Thursday, it will be interesting to see if Ben Patch will move Anderson to the left side at the expensive of either Sander or Russell.