ZAKSA and Jastrzebski in action during their last PlusLiga encounter (source: plusliga.pl)

ZAKSA and Jastrzebski in action during their last PlusLiga encounter (source: plusliga.pl)

Reigning European champions Grupa Azoty ZAKSA Kedzierzyn-Kozle and defending national champions Jastrzebski Wegiel Jastrzebie-Zdroj will lock horns in this year’s Polish PlusLiga final playoff for the second time in a row. The best-of-five series is scheduled to start on Wednesday, with regular season winners ZAKSA holding the alternating home court advantage for the first match.

The team from Kedzierzyn-Kozle completed their semifinal comeback at home on Saturday, after suffering a heavy upset at the hands of Aluron CMC Warta Zawiercie in the first match, also at home a week earlier. Led by their star outside hitters, Facundo Conte of Argentina with 23 points and Uros Kovacevic of Serbia with 20, Aluron achieved a surprising 3-1 (22-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23) victory. ZAKSA levelled the series with a 3-0 (25-20, 25-21, 25-21) clean slate in Zawercie, with Kovacevic and Polish international Kamil Semeniuk sharing the top scorer honours on 19 points each and the latter with an impressive five kill blocks to his name.

In Saturday’s decider, hosts ZAKSA lost the first set, but made sure another upset was avoided by winning the next three on the way to a 3-1 (19-25, 25-21, 25-19, 25-13) victory. Their outside Semeniuk delivered the match high of 21 points, including three aces and a block. His teammate, Polish middle Norbert Huber was on fire on the block, scoring as many as seven stuffs towards a 14-point tally.

Jastrzebski Wegiel were faster in closing their semifinal playoff, shutting out PGE Skra Belchatow both at home and away. Last weekend, they defeated their visitors by a hard-fought 3-0 (25-14, 30-28, 26-24) with Czech opposite Jan Hadrava leading the way with 18 points, including five aces and a block. Then, on Tuesday, Polish international Tomasz Fornal spearheaded the team’s offence scoring at a 76% success rate and added three aces and two blocks to his 18-point match high in a 3-0 (25-18, 25-22, 25-19) away victory.

Following Jastrzebski’s clean-slate win in their Poland Supercup match in October, ZAKSA won all of the remaining five encounters between the two teams this season – two shutouts in the PlusLiga regular season, another shutout in the Poland Cup final, and a 3-0 away and a 3-2 at home in the CEV Champions League semifinals.

However, in a similar situation last season, after a dominating ZAKSA had defeated Jastrzebski three times, the squad from Jastrzebie-Zdroj went on to produce two four-set victories in the PlusLiga championship series, and now they have a crown to defend.

Six-time champions ZAKSA won the regular season narrowly on set ratio as both they and Jastrzebski finished on a 22-4 win-loss record and 65 points. Then they claimed two victories over GKS Katowice in their quarterfinal series and eventually reached their fifth back-to-back PlusLiga final.

Jastrzebski Wegiel triumphed with the title twice in their history, last year and back in 2004. Earlier this season, after finishing regular season runners-up, they suffered a five-set upset at home in the first match of their quarterfinal playoff against Trefl Gdansk, but then they emerged victorious after two straight-set wins.

The first three matches of the championship series are set to take place on May 4, 7 and 11.