Captain Bartosz Kurek lifts the trophy in front of his teammates

One of the most accomplished national teams in international men’s volleyball, Poland experienced a unique moment on Sunday, when they got to celebrate their first Volleyball Nations League title in front of more than 11,000 of their home fans in Gdańsk.

The Europeans turned the electric atmosphere of the Ergo Arena into one of absolute joy with a 3-1 (25-23, 24-26, 25-18, 25-18) victory over the United States in the gold medal match of the fifth edition of the tournament that made the crowd erupt in celebration.

  • Volleyball Nations League 2023 matches are available on demand on VBTV

Earlier on Sunday, Japan secured a fantastic 3-2 (25-18, 25-23, 17-25, 17-25, 15-9) win over world champions Italy to make their first podium appearance in the VNL, finishing in third place to take bronze.

The Polish triumph in Gdańsk rewards one of the most competitive national teams in the VNL history as, outside from the inaugural edition, in 2018, when they were fifth, the Europeans appeared on the podium in every season, taking silver in 2021 and bronze in 2019 and 2022 - only the Americans, their opponents in the final, have that many medals.

The victory against the Americans also highlighted the depth of the Polish roster, which has six players who helped the country win its third world title in 2018.

A backup during most of the team’s campaign, opposite Łukasz Kaczmarek replaced the injured team captain Bartosz Kurek in a great way, leading the team’s scoring efforts in the gold medal match. The 29-year-old opposite was unstoppable and became the match’s top scorer with 25 points (23 kills, one block, one ace).

“It’s really amazing to win such an important title at home, with this atmosphere and in front of these fans,” Kaczmarek reflected. “We dedicate the victory to them because they’re the best. I didn’t expect to have such a good performance and it’s really amazing for my career. Unfortunately, Kurek had this injury and couldn’t play, but I’m happy that I could help the team and enjoy this moment. We prepared well for the Finals after a long season and now we’re in amazing shape.”

VNL Men's Awarding Ceremony #5978715

Kaczmarek and Śliwka were the main Polish scorers in the gold medal match

Aleksander Śliwka also played a big part in the Polish victory, producing 14 points (13 kills, one block), while fellow outside hitter Tomasz Fornal came off the bench during the third set to replace superstar Wilfredo Leon and contributed eight points (seven kills, one block) in the European win.

The United States had three players reaching double digits in scoring, with outside hitter Torey Defalco leading the way with 14 points (13 kills, one ace). Fellow outside hitter Aaron Russell, who had missed the first two matches in the Finals due to health issues, came off the bench and scored 11, with nine kills and two blocks. Opposite Matt Anderson completed the list with ten points (nine kills, one ace).

With great balance in blocks, where the Polish had the edge by nine to eight, and points earned in opponent errors, where they had a 24-23 advantage, the European dominance in kills (59 to 51) and aces (seven to three) was pivotal to their victory.

Volleyball Nations League 2023: Results

After their triumph in the VNL, the Poles will try to repeat their success at the continental level, competing in the European Championship in Bulgaria, Israel, Italy and North Macedonia from August 18-26.

A few weeks later, the new VNL champions will focus on the FIVB Road to Paris Olympic volleyball qualifier, going to China from September 30-October 8 to compete in Pool C against the hosts, Argentina, the Netherlands, Canada, Mexico, Belgium and Bulgaria.

The United States, who also have four VNL medals with three silvers and one bronze, will host the NORCECA Championship from September 3-11. At the end of the same month, the Americans will head to Japan to compete in the Pool B of the Road to Paris Olympic volleyball qualifier, where they will face the hosts, Slovenia, Serbia, Türkiye, Tunisia, Egypt and Finland.

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