Several of Italy’s Lega Pallavolo Serie A1 Femminile clubs have brought in new star players with the season already in full swing. It has produced mixed results, with Jordan Larson and Zhu Ting, gold medallists and Most Valuable Players of the last two Olympics, standing out as the most positive additions.
Olympic champs and MVPs Zhu and Larson quickly find rhythm in Italy
Other recent A1 team transfers produce mixed results
Pubblicato 08:00, 17 Jan 2023
Experienced American outside hitter Jordan Larson returned to Vero Volley Milano last month. She was quickly up to speed and her team has been almost perfect with her on the court.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic champ made her new A1 debut for the club (previously competing as Vero Volley Monza) on December 11 in a home game against Igor Gorgonzola Novara. She was not among the starters in the first two sets and Vero Volley soon found themselves two sets behind. Coach Marco Gaspari rearranged his starting seven for the next sets, however, with Larson coming in. She helped stabilise reception and chipped in with some points in attack and blocking, while the home side managed to level the match and push it to five before eventually losing the tie-breaker.
Milano had a perfect run in their next three matches, winning all of them in straight sets. With Larson now regularly in the main line-up, she continued to be a valuable asset with her contribution in side-out and defence, but also because her presence meant young Polish star Magdalena Stysiak could move from the outside position to her usual role of merciless opposite.
However, that winning streak for Milano ended against Trasportipesanti Casalmaggiore on Sunday. Larson and her teammates played well in a five-set battle, but the visitors played even better to celebrate a 3-2 (25-17, 11-25, 25-22, 24-26, 15-10) victory. They were led by two American internationals, setter Lauren Carlini and outside Alexandra Frantti (17 points), and 22-year-old Italian opposite Adhuoljok Malual, who produced the match high of 24 points.
“Hopefully this is a good wake-up call. I think we need to keep growing and keep getting better on our side. Now we are trying to think ahead of us versus just being here. We have great players, but we have work to do...” Jordan Larson, outside hitter of Vero Volley Milano
Milano are third in the current standings on a 12-3 win-loss record and 35 points, three short of second-placed Savino Del Bene Scandicci. Spearheaded by 19-year-old rising star opposite Ekaterina Antropova from Russia and by star outside hitter Zhu Ting from China, Scandicci are on a six-game winning streak and a 12-3 win-loss record. They are close behind table leaders and reigning club world champions Prosecco Doc Imoco Conegliano (14-1 and 41).
Zhu joined Scandicci early in the season and has had more time to settle in and find her rhythm. Having sat out the entire 2021-2022 season because of an injury, the 1.98m-tall Rio 2016 Olympic champion made her A1 debut in a fourth round home fixture against Casalmaggiore. She put away six points, including the match winner, towards a straight-set victory, which was a great recovery from the straight-set loss at the hands of Novara in the team’s previous game.
In Scandicci’s next game, Zhu was already among the starters and immediately delivered a match-high number of points towards a four-set win at Wash4Green Pinerolo. Since the Chinese outside started playing for the team, Savino Del Bene have lost only two of their 12 A1 matches, both after tight five-set battles, and have gradually made it up to the second place in the table. They are the only team to have beaten Imoco this season in what was Zhu’s best and most productive performance yet, with 21 points towards the victory. In December, she was named the league’s MVP of the Month.
In Scandicci’s most recent match on Sunday, Zhu impressed with four kill blocks towards a 12-point tally in the team’s 3-1 (21-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-19) comeback victory at Megabox Ondulati Del Savio Vallefoglia. The home club’s new American addition Andrea Drews was their top scorer. The Tokyo Olympic gold medallist and three-time VNL champion (MVP in 2019) produced 14 points for Vallefoglia, including two aces, but it was not enough for her team to build upon winning the first set, deliver an upset and extend their winning run to three matches in a row.
“We made too many mistakes in serving. When we served effectively, we were able to block Zhu's attacks,” Drews commented after the game. “However, our mistakes will allow us to work more effectively in preparing for the next matches. Above all, we can increase the speed of our game even more.”
It was the second match for the 1.91m-tall opposite with her new team. Drews was also the top scorer on her debut a week earlier, when Vallefoglia persevered through a five-set battle to defeat their hosts Cuneo Granda S.Bernardo. The American contributed 19 points, all in attack. Megabox are in the race for the playoffs, currently standing ninth on 6-9 and 17 points, just a point below the cut-off line.
Unlike Zhu, Larson and Drews, Dutch setter Laura Dijkema has yet to celebrate her first win after joining CBF Balducci HR Macerata last month. She came in only as a substitution during her first two matches for the club, when Macerata suffered a five-set loss at home to Pinerolo and an away shutout at the hands of Vallefoglia.
The first time the 32-year-old Dutch international was among the starters for Macerata, they managed to win a set off of Novara. Other than her setting skills, Dijkema impressed with some great serving runs and produced two aces in the match.
“We played really well and we came very close to taking at least a point from a great team like Novara,” Dijkema said after that game. “I'm sad, but also satisfied with the team's performance. We now look forward to the next matches with confidence.”
On Saturday, she was once again among the main seven for each of the sets in Macerata’s trip to Bartoccini-Fortinfissi Perugia, but despite a hard-fought five-set duel her team lost by 3-2 (25-16, 25-18, 23-25, 24-26, 15-9) after managing to come back from two sets down. Macerata stand next to last at the bottom of the table, in 13th place on 2-13 and 7 points.
This weekend’s Lega Pallavolo Serie A1 Femminile schedule:
Jan 21, 20:00 local (19:00 UTC): Prosecco Doc Imoco Conegliano v Megabox Ondulati Del Savio Vallefoglia
Jan 21, 20:30 local (19:30 UTC): Savino Del Bene Scandicci v Igor Gorgonzola Novara
Jan 21, 20:30 local (19:30 UTC): e-work Busto Arsizio v Bartoccini-Fortinfissi Perugia
Jan 22, 17:00 local (16:00 UTC): Volley Bergamo 1991 v Vero Volley Milano
Jan 22, 17:00 local (16:00 UTC): CBF Balducci HR Macerata v Reale Mutua Fenera Chieri
Jan 22, 17:00 local (16:00 UTC): Trasportipesanti Casalmaggiore v Cuneo Granda S.Bernardo
Jan 22, 19:30 local (18:30 UTC): Wash4Green Pinerolo v Il Bisonte Firenze