Just for the hell of it, I thought I’d write about some of the things I thought about in 2012. Lots of stuff actually happened in the volleyball world in 2012 but I know nothing about nearly all of it because it happened in beach volleyball or women’s volleyball. That’s not to say I never thought about beach volleyball or women’s volleyball, I just didn’t follow them. So everything that follows will be male and indoor centric. I think I’ll split them up into two or three posts. This one is about TEAMS…
Number in any discussion of the teams of 2012 must be Russia. Everyone knows that after years and years (20, actually) of tears and disappointments, Russia finally won another major tournament final and managed to do it in the most dramatic way possible. For a long time Russia has been recognised as having the most talented team, but one that never gets the job done. That changed in those couple of hours in London in August. With players like Muserskiy, Mikhaylov and Volkov not even having reached their (theoretical) peaks, and Alekno having proved himself a master coach (although he just resigned), the question now is how long can they dominate world volleyball.
On a related note Zenit Kazan showed their quality by winning the Russian league and Champions League in 2012. At this point the Russian league might be the most difficult league to win and Champions League is the best club competition in the world. In the Final Four in Lodz, they beat holders Trento and then hosts Belchatow, after being down match point in a performance so good that Olympic gold medallist Reid Priddy spent most of the time watching it from the bench. With Mikhaylov, Volkov, Berezhko and Apalikov and Priddy already there, Italian setter Valerio Vermiglio was always going to be icing on the cake. And it turns out the icing was delicious and decisive. They also have an interesting youtube channel.
Speaking of Trento, since Radostin Stoychev became coach in 2007, Trento have been the best club team in the world. In those five seasons they have won two leagues (and been runners up three times, once in five matches, twice in one off V-Day), two cups, three Champions Leagues and four World Club Championships. During that time have changed virtually all of the team at least once, except for Matey Kaziyski, and yet their level of excellence over that time has been incredible. They can be beaten, although not often, in a single match (see two V-Day losses and Champions League semi final) but only by another great team having their best day. On every other day, they win. To watch Trento play is to watch clockwork. I don’t recall ever having seen a team so well drilled and well prepared. As I write this, they are top of the league and getting ready to play (win) in another Cup final.
Although I just wrote that I know nothing about beach or women’s volleyball, I know enough to know what three Olympic Gold Medals in a row is an incredible achievement and therefore Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh deserve every recognition they get. For the first two golds they were clearly the most dominant team in the world, at one stage winning over 100 matches in a row. The third though, they had to do the hard way. After a variety of injuries, (half hearted-)retirements and childbirth they were not favourites in London. They even lost a set (their first in Olympic competition) during the tournament, but at the end dominated the final and won that third gold. I doubt we will see anything like it again.
From 2002 to 2010 Brazil were the dominant men’s team in the world. Except for a hiccup in Beijing (where they only won silver), they won everything they could possibly win. Bernardinho created such a strong ‘family’ that he went through two generations of players in those eight years without losing a beat. But for the last two years, it was clear that the era was coming to a close. Their performances have been less than convincing. Where once noone could beat them in a big match, they lost in World League and then World Cup and then in World League again. And not just lost, fought amongst themselves while doing it. And yet they brought it all back together for one last hurrah and were one point away from winning an Olympic Gold Medal and becoming indisputably the greatest team of all time. As it is they lost that point and are just probably the greatest team of all time. Those are the margins, but you can’t deny what they have achieved over time.
Two other teams jump into my mind, for losing. Skra Belchatow and VfB Friedrichshafen lost their respective championships in Poland and Germany after having won of (seven!!!) championships in a row. Sadly it is probably the case that only by losing do people really reflect on that amazing achievement. To win one or a couple of titles can be due to a bit of luck or a few key components coming together at the right time. But to win seven titles in a row requires a commitment to excellence throughout a whole club that is extremely rare. Chapeau!
But my Team Of The Year can only be one… Berlin Recycling Volleys. And yes, I am contractually obligated to write that 🙂