Best Players – Sander keeps up with Boyer in scoring race, helps USA make Final Six cut
USA outside spiker Taylor Sander (left) and setter Micah Christenson worked hard to earn a crucial victory over Poland that earned them the ticket to the 2017 FIVB Volleyball World League Final Six in Curitiba
After Canada outplayed Italy in four sets, the chances of gaining the final qualification slot got slimmer. However, France and Russia’s straight-set triumphs over Belgium and Iran, respectively, opened up an opportunity for USA and Bulgaria to step up. And that exactly is what Sander did for USA, as he gave an all-out performance in their match against Poland.
Sander made 10 spikes, four blocks and three service aces in the four-set victory, leaving them enough chance until the final match results in Group 1 have been completed. The match between Brazil and Serbia would have no bearing on the final qualification spot, as the two squads have already qualified to the Final Six.
The stars seemed to have aligned for USA on Sunday, when Argentina crushed Bulgaria’s hopes of qualifying to the final round with a 3-1 win, offering the North American team with the elusive Final Six spot.
The 25-year-old now has accumulated 146 points, including 118 spikes, 15 blocks and 17 service aces. With more matches to go in the Final Six, he is in a great position to catch up with the current scoring leader, Stephen Boyer of France.
He plays a vital role in USA’s starting line-up and his consistency counts regardless if they won or lost the match. His experience mattered most in difficult situations and his versatility is what has kept his team in the competition. The outside spiker is second in scoring, fifth in spiking, seventh in serving, 10th in digging and fifth in receiving.
Sander’s scoring nemesis, Boyer, has racked up 165 points in nine matches, including 135 spikes, 13 blocks and 17 aces. Boyer’s sensational performance in the 2017 World League has brought success to his team, with eight victories and only one loss coming into the Final Six in Curitiba.
With Earvin Ngapeth’s return to the French line-up, the Ngapeth-Boyer tandem’s power plays will certainly heat up the action in the Final Six.
Boyer brought fire with him on the attack line where he fared second in the best spiker category, behind Serbian Marko Ivovic, while Sander’s team-mate Benjamin Patch is on third. The French opposite holds the top spot in the best server category ahead of Russian Dmitry Volkov and Brazilians Mauricio Souza and Ricardo Lucarelli.
Nikolay Nikolov of Bulgaria is still the best blocker in Group 1 with 25 stuff blocks, followed by Ilyas Kurkaev of Russia who matched Nikolov’s output after his team’s straight-set win over Iran.
Brazil’s Bruno Rezende is still the best setter, while Serbia's Nikola Jovovic catches up as the second best player in Group 1.
Poland’s Pawel Zatorski dethroned Canada’s Blair Cameron Bann as the best digger, while Mauricio Silva protected his reign as best receiver with a high average of 65.83.
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In Group 2, Chuan Jiang of China was the best scorer at the end of the preliminary round with 164 points, but not for long as contenders Wouter Ter Maat of the Netherlands and Paul Carroll of Australia will have their chance in the Final Four to improve on their 151 and 133 point-outputs, respectively.
Japan’s Masahiro Yanagida jumped from third place to first place of the best spiker category in Group 2, with Australia’s Nathan Roberts and Netherlands’ Ter Maat closely trailing behind the talented Japanese player.
Yanagida is also on top of the best server list, while team-mate and setter Naonobu Fujii is the best playmaker in the group.
In Group 3, Andres Villena of Spain still put a positive end to his stint in the World League as he topped the best scorer category. Simon Hirsch of Germany finished his 2017 World League campaign as the group’s second best scorer.
Group 3 winners Ardo Kreek and Andri Aganits of Estonia also have more to celebrate about as they took the top two spots in the best blocker category. Kreek and Aganits had 24 and 21 stuff blocks. Their intimidating presence at the net led their team to a historic winning debut in the World League.
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