Nimir Abdel-Aziz

Nimir Abdel-Aziz on the serve

Nimir Abdel-Aziz and Alessandro Michieletto impressed from the serving line as the first-leg matches of the SuperLega Credem Banca playoffs took place in Italy over the weekend. In their home games, favourites Sir Safety Conad Perugia, Cucine Lube Civitanova, Itas Trentino Trento and Leo Shoes PerkinElmer Modena allowed no upsets and took the lead in their best-of-three quarterfinal series.

In the first match of the quarterfinals on Saturday, Italy’s rising star Alessandro Michieletto was responsible for five of Trentino’s 12 aces and helped his team emerge with a 3-0 (27-25, 25-20, 25-16) victory over Gas Sales Bluenergy Piacenza. The 20-year-old outside added eight spiking points at a 67% success rate and two blocks to claim the MVP recognition. He shared the top scorer honours with Piacenza’s Turkish opposite Adis Lagumdzija, who also produced 15 points in the match. Trentino’s other outside Matey Kaziyski and opposite Giulio Pinali reached double digits too, with 13 points apiece.

“We knew it would be a very difficult match, but this result makes us very happy. We know, however, what the playoffs are like: from tomorrow this result counts for nothing. The second leg will certainly be tougher, but now we are enjoying this victory. We did well in catching up during the first set. From the second set we improved our game. I hope to maintain this level of serving because it is very useful for my team.” Alessandro Michieletto, outside hitter of Itas Trentino Trento

The following day, Modena produced a 3-0 (25-13, 25-22, 25-23) shutout of Allianz Milano, their Dutch opposite Abdel-Aziz scored six times directly from the serving line. He also finished with a total of 14 points and the MVP nomination. Modena’s offence also featured strong performances from outside hitters Yoandy Leal and Earvin Ngapeth. The Cuban-born Brazilian topped the match scorers with 17 points, including two blocks and an ace, while the French star delivered 16, all in attack at a 59% success rate. American outside Thomas Jaeschke, Milano’s only player to reach double digits, scored 12 points.

“We were good at putting pressure on the serve and forcing them to play uncontrolled balls. We trained a lot to avoid suffering those point runs that damaged us a lot in the regular season.” Nimir Abdel-Aziz, opposite of Leo Shoes PerkinElmer Modena

There was also strong serving by Cucine Lube Civitanova's players. They hammered out 15 aces in their straight-set 3-0 (27-25, 25-16, 25-17) win over Vero Volley Monza, with Robertlandy Simon leading the way with four. The Cuban middle shone in blocking with three stuffs and in spiking, where he killed 100% of his attempts, to collect a total of 13 points. His Italian teammate, opposite Ivan Zaytsev delivered the match high of 18 points, including three aces and 15 spikes at a 79% success rate, to claim the MVP award. The visitors from Monza also managed to put pressure on Lube’s side-out with their serving. Belarusian Uladzislau Davyskiba and Czechia’s Donovan Dzavoronok scored four and three of the team’s nine aces in the game.

“This phase of the playoffs has always been hot and exciting and this tension was felt in the first rallies. Then we found our rhythm in serving, pulled off some excellent defences and good counterattacks, putting a good team like Monza in difficulty. When you win by 3-0, the MVP must be given to the whole team, but above all I want to congratulate Luciano De Cecco who made all the players on the court run well. We took the first step and now we are enjoying it. Then we will concentrate on the second match, because Monza will want to redeem themselves in front of their own audience.” Ivan Zaytsev, outside hitter of Cucine Lube Civitanova

In what was expected to be the most one-sided of the weekend’s four matches, Top Volley Cisterna, who finished eighth in the regular season, actually managed to take away a set from their visit to Sir Safety Conad Perugia, who started the playoffs from pole position. They won set two by a solid margin and pushed set four to overtime, but that was not enough for a full-fledged upset. With a 27-point contribution from Wilfredo Leon, Perugia celebrated a hard-earned 3-1 (25-15, 19-25, 25-17, 26-24) victory. The Cuban-born Polish international spiked at a 65% success rate and added a stuff block to his tally. Perugia’s Luxembourgish opposite Kamil Rychlicki and Cisterna’s Canadian outside Stephen Maar came next on the match scorers’ chart with 16 points each. The MVP nomination went to American star Matthew Anderson, who tallied 15 points for the winners.

“From now on, to win is the only important thing. We know that with the playoffs a new championship is starting and tonight's match proved it. Cisterna played very well and pushed a lot. I'm happy that we kept the pressure in the fourth set and took a very important advantage in the series.” Kamil Rychlicki, opposite of Sir Safety Conad Perugia

The second-leg return matches are scheduled for next weekend.

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