Zaksa want it all. The defending #CLVolleyM champions aim for season's triple crown


Article Tue, May 17 2022
Author: Martyna Szydłowska

Last year Grupa Azoty Zaksa Kędzierzyn Koźle stunned the world, earning their maiden CEV Champions League Volley - Men title, achieving this feat as the first team from Poland (in 1978 Płomień Milowice won Poland's only title in the Champions Cup, predecessor of the Champions League). Although, as the reigning champions, they have been among the pre-favourites of this #CLVolleyM edition, many wondered if they are still capable to rule on the European stage with a new head coach and changed line-up. But they proved that, despite all odds, they are always ready to fight for the highest goals. Zaksa dominated on their domestic stage, triumphing in the national league and in the Polish Cup, and now they aim to defend the European title during the Super Finals on 22 May in Ljubljana, where they will face Trentino Itas again.

After regaining the national title, ZAKSA aim for their second European crown

The team under the guidance of coach Georghe Cretu, who took up the helm of Grupa Azoty Zaksa Kędzierzyn Koźle ahead of the 2021/2022 season, returned to the European and domestic stage with some new faces in their line-up. Zaksa's starting six included three new players and although American libero Erik Shoji is well-known for his defensive skills, Marcin Janusz - who replaced Benjamin Toniutti on playmaking duty - and middle blocker Norbert Huber became the revelations of this season. They stepped up to the mark, joining Zaksa's core members Kamil Semeniuk, Aleksander Śliwka, Łukasz Kaczmarek and David Smith, who led the team to a historic victory last year and have been the driven force also in this campaign.

Despite the fact that the season 2021/2022 ends perfectly, it was not all roses. Grupa Azoty Zaksa Kędzierzyn Koźle opened the domestic season with a bitter pill to swallow, losing in the Polish SuperCup to the 2021 Polish champion - Jastrzębski Węgiel. But this upset probably, same like other odds on their way, only strengthened the team that later twice beat Jastrzębski on domestic stage - in the finals of the Polish Cup and PlusLiga - and in the semi-finals of the Champions League, proving their dominance in Poland. Zaksa ended the regular season of PlusLiga with record of 22 wins and 4 losses, suffering two more defeats on their way to the title in the knockout stage. Eventually, last Saturday, on 14 May, they sealed the deal in the finals to become the national champions for the 9th time in the club’s history. On their road to the Champions League Super Finals, Zaksa played only seven matches (being granted with direct progress to the semi-finals) and recorded five victories. They suffered two defeats in the pool stage, against Lube and Lokomotiv, but they rose from the ashes in the decisive match of this phase, beating Lube in an away game. Then, they never looked back, storming through the semi-finals.

Zaksa's top scorer Kamil Semeniuk has shone bright this season being also one of the best servers in this edition

Although, once looking at the scorers ranking you see Trentino's players ranked higher, it's worth to remember that they played two matches and nine sets (!) less than their Super Final's rival. The Polish club, like last year, was powered by their 'Machine' Kamil Semeniuk, who scored so far 109 points (4,36 per set in compere to Michieletto's 4,42), and was one of the best servers - 19 aces! Zaksa's captain and MVP of the 2021 SuperFinals - Aleksander Śliwka contributed with 86 points (3,44 per set), once Łukasz Kaczmarek 79 (3,95). Norbert Huber, a 206-cm-tall middle blocker, has been this season's sensation and Zaksa's secret weapon. Huber tallied 74 points to his name, including 20 blocks (!) and he definitely could be a player that makes a difference in the Super Final, but the reigning #CLVolleyM champions will have to find a way to beat Trentino without him… On Wednesday, in the third final clash of PlusLiga, Huber injured his Achilles tendon and is not able to play. Most probably, Krzystof Rejno will join David Smith on the middle of the court.

On their way to the Super Final, players of Grupa Azoty Zaksa Kędzierzyn Koźle produced in total 471 points, including 44 aces, 362 kills and 65 blocks. Looking by numbers, they were slightly better in the attack than Trentino, 53% to 51%, but both sides had 20% on the reception. However, on 22 May in Ljubljana, these numbers won't mean a lot, as there will only be this one match to determine who will lift the most prestigious European club trophy. Both sides will spare no efforts, but Grupa Azoty Zaksa Kędzierzyn Koźle is extremely motivated to complete the season with a triple crown and has a chance to become only the fourth team to win successive Champions League titles. "I hope that we will seal the season with one more gold medal. Ahead of us the match which is more important than all the final games in PlusLiga, we are going to fight to defend the European title," said Semeniuk after the final victory in the domestic league.