Road to Ljubljana: Grupa Azoty Kędzierzyn Koźle


Article Fri, May 6 2022
Author: Martyna Szydłowska

CEV Champions League Volley 2022 – Men’s journey will reach its final destination on 22 May in Ljubljana where at Arena Stožice the reigning champions Grupa Azoty Kędzierzyn Koźle and Trentino Itas will lock horns again, like they did a year ago in Verona. After a triumph in the#CLVolleyM 2021, Grupa Azoty Zaksa Kędzierzyn Koźle and coach Nikola Grbić parted ways and Georghe Cretu stepped in to take over the team with a few new names in the roster, including setter Marcin Janusz, libero Erik Shoji and middle blocker Norbert Huber. Keeping the core of the golden squad, so Aleksander Śliwka, Kamil Semeniuk, Łukasz Kaczmarek and David Smith, Zaksa set the goal high, aiming to confirm their supremacy and defend their historic title. Their road to the Super Finals was not less turbulent than the one they went through in the 2021 edition, especially that everyone was eager to challenge the reigning champions.

Grupa Azoty Zaksa Kędzierzyn Koźle aim to defend their historic title in Ljubljana

Zaksa’s journey started in Pool C and it was one of the most competitive pools in this edition of the Champions League, as the defending champions had to face the 2019 champion, star-studded Cucine Lube Civitanova, formidable VC Lokomotiv Novosibirsk and newcomer OK Merkur Maribor. However, the team powered by super trio Semeniuk, Śliwka, Kaczmarek enjoyed a flying start to the new campaign. A straight-set home win over Maribor and an important 3-1 (25-19, 21-25, 26-24, 25-23) victory over Lokomotiv in Siberia were a prelude to the clash of the titans in Poland. Keeping in mind that Zaksa eliminated Lube in the quarter-finals of the previous edition in the golden set, it was obvious that they would deliver a fierce rivalry again. On home soil, Semeniuk and Huber recorded a brilliant performance, but despite a great fight, they lost 2-3 (17-25, 25-16, 18-25, 25-22, 12-15).

Unfortunately, their next games had to be postponed due to Covid-19 cases inside the team. Thus, returning to the European stage in early-February after a three-week absence, they faced a huge sport and logistical challenge, a journey Maribor-Novosibirsk-Civitanova, approx. 19 000 km in only eight days.

Grupa Azoty Kędzierzyn Koźle, as expected, once again quickly defeated Merkur, but the next stop in their journey was far more difficult. Having a lot at stake – a victory could help them to secure a ticket to the quarterfinals, Zaksa faced Novosibirsk who had nothing to lose with only two wins to their name. Being outclassed in block and service, the team under the guidance of coach Georghe Cretu couldn’t find their own rhythm and suffered a 1-3 defeat (25-18, 23-25, 17-25, 20-25). Surprisingly, the reigning champions started to balance on the edge of elimination in the pool phase. But they still had their fate in their own hands. They had to do one thing: beat Lube! Already after the first whistle, the game turned into an extremely fierce and nail-biting battle. Both sides presented an absolutely stunning level, delivering a high-class game that was prolonged into a tie-break. Zaksa clinched this amazing five-setter (25-22, 21-25, 26-24, 21-25, 15-10) and moved to quarters from 2nd place in the pool, once Semeniuk with 74% of success in attack grabbed another MVP award.

In the quarter-finals, Grupa Azoty Kędzierzyn Koźle was supposed to play against Dinamo Moscow, but following the decision of the Board of Administration of the CEV to exclude Russian clubs from European competitions with immediate effect, the quarter-final between Zaksa and Dinamo was cancelled, giving the reigning champions direct road to the semi-finals.

The last stage of the quest for a ticket to the Super Finals was the all-Polish semi-finals. The domestic rivalry between Zaksa and Jastrzębski Węgiel moved to the European stage. And although many expected a tough battle, the reigning #CLVolleyM champion showed no mercy and easily beat the 2021 national champions (25-20, 25-14, 25-19). In the return match, the team from Kędzierzyn Koźle needed only two more sets to book a spot in the Super Finals for a second consecutive time. Highly-motivated with phenomenal performance on the service line, the players of Zaksa quickly sealed the deal winning the first two sets and started their celebration. However, the game was on, and with a changed line-up, it went into a tie-break which was eventually won by the reigning champions.

Despite several changes in the team, Grupa Azoty Zaksa Kędzierzyn Koźle confirmed their supremacy in Europe’s elite competition, becoming the Super Finalists for a second consecutive season. The road to Ljubljana has definitely been demanding for Grupa Azoty Zaksa Kędzierzyn Koźle, but all the odds have definitely strengthened them and united them as a team. Certainly, they will spare no efforts against Trentino on 22 May in Ljubljana to lift the trophy of the CEV Champions League Volley 2022 – Men.