Zenit Kazan, Zenit Saint Petersburg and defending champions Lokomotiv Novosibirsk booked their spots in the Final Six of the men’s Superliga in Russia as their international stars proved to be in top shape during the qualification round.
Serbian national team opposite Drazen Luburic, a gold medallist at the 2016 FIVB Volleyball World League, delivered 30 points, including three aces and 27 spikes at a success rate of 57% towards Lokomotiv’s hard-fought 3-2 (25-21, 26-28, 30-32, 25-17, 18-16) away victory at Ural Ufa. Luburic also scored the match high of 19 points (70% in attack) in the first leg of the best-of-three series, which the champions won in straight sets at home.
Egor Kliuka was the best scorer in Zenit Saint Petersburg’s impressive comeback from two sets down to a 3-2 (19-25, 22-25, 25-18, 25-13, 15-12) away win in their playoff series against Ugra-Samotlor Nizhnevartovsk. The outside hitter of Zenit and the Russian national team, a two-time gold medallist and best server of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League and a Dream Teamer of the most recent edition, tallied three aces, four kill blocks and 18 spikes (58% success rate). He also registered 62% of good reception. With that victory, Zenit also managed to close the series and advance to the Final Six.
Another Russian star, Maxim Mikhaylov, also a two-time VNL title-holder and the MVP of the 2018 edition, led Zenit Kazan to the Final Six after scoring the most points in each of his team’s two wins over Yenisei Krasnoyarsk. In the home match, he scored 14 spiking points at a 74% success rate and three aces towards a 3-0 (25-14, 25-13, 25-19) shutout. In the second leg, he produced 20 successful hits (69%), two aces and two kill blocks towards a 3-1 (29-31, 25-21, 25-13, 25-22) away victory. In that second game on Sunday, Mikhaylov’s tally of 24 points was matched by Yenisei’s Kirill Klets, a member of the Russian national team during the VNL 2019 campaign, while Zenit’s middle Artem Volvich, a VNL 2018 gold medallist and a Dream Teamer of the 2016 Olympics, put away as many as nine kill blocks.
The last available spot in the Final Six will be decided on March 31 in a third-match decider between Fakel Novy Urengoy and ASK Nizhny Novgorod, after both teams were victorious in their home games. Fakel took the lead with a 3-1 (26-28, 25-20, 25-18, 25-21) win. ASK levelled the series with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-19) shutout on Sunday. Outside hitter Dmitry Volkov, who made the Dream Team at both of Russia’s VNL gold medal campaigns, was Fakel’s best scorer in both games against ASK. At home in Novy Urengoy, he delivered 21 points, including two aces and two stuffs. In the away match in Nizhny Novgorod, despite the loss, he produced the match high of 19 points (two aces, one block), with a 62% success rate in offence.
Following the first two legs of the qualification round, Volkov moved to the top of the overall best scorers ranking of the Superliga on a total of 481 points since the start of the season.
Main photo: Lokomotiv’s Serbian international Drazen Luburic blocks a shot by Ural’s Canadian star John Gordon Perrin (source: lokovolley.com)
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