Larson 1004

Tokyo Olympics MVP Jordan Larson scored 12 points in Monza's victory over Chieri

The four best teams of the Lega Pallavolo vivo Serie A1 Femminile's regular season sent a strong message at the start of the playoffs, leaving no room for upsets in the first matches of the quarterfinal series played over the weekend in Italy.

Prosecco Doc Imoco Volley Conegliano, Igor Gorgonzola Novara, Vero Volley Monza and Savino del Bene Scandicci all made great use of their home court advantage to start the quarterfinals on the right foot and could book their spots in the semifinals in the next few days.

Top-seeded Conegliano dropped another set to Il Bisonte Firenze, their fifth in three matches this season, but managed to secure a 3-1 (22-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-11) home win and build an important lead in the series.

Imoco Volley Conegliano vs. Il Bisonte Firenze - Match Highlights

The defending champions relied once again on star opposite Paola Egonu, who did not disappoint. Egonu earned the MVP award with a match-high 27 points and an excellent all-around production of 19 kills, four blocks and four aces.

Outside hitters Kathryn Plummer and Miriam Sylla also reached double digits in scoring, tallying 16 (14 kills, one block, one ace) and 13 (12 kills, one block) points respectively.

“Firenze have created a lot of problems for us during the season and we knew that we couldn’t take this playoff match against them for granted,” said Conegliano’s libero Monica De Gennaro. “They started well and struggled to get into their rhythm in the last set, but we need to do better in transition. It will be another tough challenge on Wednesday and we need to enter the match with the right attitude and ready to do our best.”

Firenze got excellent production from their young duo of Sylvia Nwakalor and Terry Ruth Emweonwu as the 22-year-old opposite dropped 19 points (17 kills, two blocks) and the 21-year-old outside hitter added 12 (11 kills, one ace).

Second-seeded Novara had a steadier performance against Bosca S. Bernardo Cuneo, cruising to a straight-set (25-19, 25-17, 25-16) victory in their opening match of the series.

Igor Gorgonzola Novara vs. Bosca S.Bernardo Cuneo -Match Highlights

Turkish opposite Ebrar Karakurt, with 16 points (15 kills, one block), and Dutch outside hitter Nika Daalderop, with 12 (ten kills, two blocks), carried most of the team’s offence. The 23-year-old Daalderop also took home the MVP award.

“I felt we were a little nervous at the beginning but once things got going, we were able to play at our best,” she commented. “We know they are a very good defensive team and that they could cause us some problems with that. It’s great to start the series in a positive way but we’ll need to keep that same level on Tuesday.”

Tokyo Olympic champions Haleigh Washington and Micha Hancock also had important contributions to Novara’s victory with the 26-year-old middle blocker delivering a match-high six blocks (half of Novara’s total and six times as many as Cuneo’s entire team) and the 29-year-old setter firing two aces.

Outside hitter Alice Degradi was Cuneo’s top scorer with eight points (seven kills, one block).

Likewise, third-placed Monza dominated Reale Mutua Fenera Chieri in three sets (25-23, 25-20, 25-13) on Saturday. The team had four players reaching double digits in scoring in opposite Lise van Hecke (14), middle blockers Anna Danesi (13) and Dana Rettke (11), and outside hitter Jordan Larson (12).

Vero Volley Monza vs. Reale Mutua Fenera Chieri - Match Highlights

Team captain Danesi was in top form at the net, tallying an impressive eight blocks, while setter Alessia Orro contributed with three aces to go with her excellent ball distribution.

“We had a good performance, but there’s certainly room for improvement,” said Danesi, who took home the MVP award. “I think our blocking worked really well and we did a good job in maintaining the lead when we got one. The next match will be a different challenge at a very difficult stadium, and we’ll have to show the same determination and unity we had tonight.”

Belgian opposite Kaja Grobelna and French outside hitter Helena Cazaute were the most productive players for Chieri, and each registered 12 points.

Even the highly-anticipated duel between the fourth and fifth-placed teams in the regular season ended up being somewhat one-sided as Scandicci handed Unet E-Work Busto Arsizio a three-set defeat (25-20, 28-26, 25-13).

Savino Del Bene Scandicci vs. Unet E-Work Busto Arsizio - FIVB - Match Highlights

Russian opposite Ekaterina Antropova led Scandicci’s offence with 17 points (12 kills, four aces, one block), followed by outside hitter and match MVP Elena Pietrini with 12, all in kills. Opposite Camilla Mingardi and outside hitter Alexa Gray had similar production for Busto, with 16 and 12 points, respectively.

“The ladies did great,” said Scandicci’s coach Massimo Barbolini. “Outside from the beginning of the first set and the end of the third, Busto played at their usual level and we handled them very well. I told the team before the match that winning or losing, it wouldn’t end today, so we need to go on the road next match knowing it will be more difficult.”

The Italian League quarterfinals continue on Tuesday, with the second encounter between Novara and Cuneo. The other three matches will be played on Wednesday.