Cut Shots: Star System
By Tom Feuer
For the first time since Fort Lauderdale’s “5 Star” Major we will have all of the world’s leading teams participating in Porec, Croatia next week for a total prize purse of $600,000. It will have taken almost five months to herd together the top players. Between all of the different circuits, there are plenty of playing opportunities, but there have been very few this year where we can get a quorum of the world’s elite teams.
Take last week for example. The FIVB circuit featured no less than a three star double gender event in The Hague, two star women’s only in Tangshan Jiangning, China and a one star woman’s only in Prince Albert’s backyard of Monaco. Ay Carimba!
The net effect was a dilution of depth in The Hague on the women’s side. And for the men, it was a weekend where they had 66% less opportunities to play than their female counterparts.
In The Hague the men’s draw was lacking the two best teams in the world (arguably) in the Olympic Champions, Alison and Bruno, and the Americans, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena. Nick’s wife, Brooke Niles, gave birth a couple of weeks ago, so that absence is understandable. Lucena will also be out of commission this week, and Dalhausser will “wake up the echoes” by playing at Lake Sammamish outside of Seattle with 41-year-old South Carolinian Adam Roberts who has a long personal history with Phil. Roberts will be seeing a lot of serves this weekend but has a chance to equal or maybe even better his previous highest AVP finish which was a fifth four years ago playing with Andrei Belov in Salt Lake City.
The other major development of the past month has been the eye opening campaign of Russia’s 6-8 Nikita Liamin and his partner Viacheslav Krasilnikov. Liamin was one of the 3-4 breakout players at last summer’s Olympic Summer Games in Rio. He played with Dmitri Barsouk and they took an unlooked for fifth as the 23rd seed. Included amongst their wins was a knock out of hometown favorites Evandro and Pedro of Brasil.
Liamin was an excellent indoor player in Russia, has a great jump serve, and at 6-8, a real whip of an arm. Krasilinikov has always been an elite defender. Last year he and partner Konstantin Semenov comprised the Russian “A” team at the Olympics and placed fourth. Their most notable victory was knocking out the Cuban wunderkinds Nivaldo Diaz and Sergio Gonzalez in the match of the Olympics where every game went into overtime, 22-20, 22-24, 18-16.
Liamin and Krasilnikov placed second in Moscow in another three star event two weeks before their win in the Netherlands. They lost in that epic final to Dalhausser and Lucena, 18-16 in the third. For the Americans to defeat that Russian team on their home soil indicates just how good Phil and Nick are this year. In fact Dalhausser may be playing his best volleyball in seven years, an extraordinary statement but one I believe to be true. There also appears to be an extra dose of emotion in “Big Phil” this season. Hopefully Lucena is not rusty but instead rested when they play in Croatia.
The following week, the Florida natives will be in Gstaad, Switzerland, Dalhausser’s country of origin, against many of the same teams that are scheduled to be in Croatia, in the third of the only three five star events on the planet this season (Fort Lauderdale being the other). So, after waiting for five months to get a good look at the teams that could vie for a World Championship, we are treated to two weeks in a row that should have us starving volleyball fans a little more fulfilled.
Tom Feuer has been a close observer of the sport since 1976. He currently works as the Director of Arizona State’s Cronkite Sports Bureau in Santa Monica, CA and is a Professor of Practice. Prior to that, he was the Executive Producer for Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket in Los Angeles and has won three National Emmy Awards for his work in television.