Highlights of the month-long tournament revealed
One month after Bulgaria's Georgi Seganov delivered the first service, Brazil's Wallace de Souza delivered the very last spike, to wrap up the 2021 FIVB Men's Volleyball Nations League which concluded on Sunday with a total of 124 matches at Italy's Adriatic resort of Rimini.
That last spike of Wallace led Brazil to a striking victory over rivals Poland in the final for their first ever VNL trophy and earned Wallace himself the coveted title of tournament MVP, shared with Poland's Bartosz Kurek.
Before Seganov's serve, we had posed the questions nagging fans across the world concerning the VNL and the return of world volleyball following almost a year and a half of inactivity due to the pandemic.
Now we have the answers.
Can Russia continue full domination of the VNL with a third consecutive title?
Russia were knocked out during the round-robin phase of the competition, after dropping matches to Japan, Poland, France and Slovenia.
The defending champions were already out of contention even before they had their last say on court, after France beat Poland and Slovenia shut out Bulgaria on the intriguing closing day of pool play.
Russia won the very last match of pool play with a sweep of Brazil, but it came just too late, as they finished on par with France on wins and points, but lagged by one hundredth of point in set ratio (1.85 to 1.86).
Russia had dominated the first two editions of the VNL, claiming the trophy by beating the hosts of the finals on both occasions - overcoming France in 2018 in Lille and USA in 2019 in Chicago.
But now the crown has passed to Brazil in a final that was a rematch not only of the last two FIVB Volleyball World Championships finals of 2014 and 2018, but also of the bronze medal match of the 2019 VNL. Poland had won all three.
Though the Netherlands finished just 14th in the 2021 FIVB Men's Volleyball Nations League, their opposite Nimir Abdel-Aziz shone with some remarkable scoring performances throughout the competition.
Who can join the list of 'Over 30s' in 2021?
In 2019 only one player entered the list of those who have scored 30 points or more in a single VNL match - when Sharone Vernon-Evans hammered home 31 for Canada in their four-set defeat to Poland at Urmia.
This year, four players made the list - including the Netherlands' Nimir Abdel-Aziz shattering the all-time VNL scoring record.
Nimir fired off 43 points against France to demolish the previous record of 37 held since 2018 by China's Jiang Chuan (also against France). Theo Faure of France also scored 30 points in the same match against the Netherlands.
There are now a total of ten players, each with one entry on the all-time VNL '30+' list.
Wilfredo Leon razed to the ground the all-time serving record of the FIVB Men's Volleyball Nations League when he delivered 13 aces against Serbia.
Will the VNL blocking record of Max Holt and serving records of Yuji Nishida and Samuel Walker fall this year?
Holt stuffed his opponents eight times when USA beat France in the Final Six of the latest edition in 2019 in Chicago. And Nishida served seven aces as Japan outlasted Bulgaria 3-2 in the Preliminary Round last time around, as did Australia's Walker in the Volleyroos' match against Brazil.
These were the standing VNL records for blocking and serving at the start of the 2021 edition.
But Marko Podrascanin matched the blocking performance of Holt when he stuffed the Iranians eight times this year, at the same time celebrating his 300th cap with the Serbian national team.
That was a boost for the 33-year-old on his way to becoming the overall best blocker of the 2021 VNL, both in absolute number of blocks (44 in 15 matches) and in blocks per set played (.71).
But the performance that overshadowed everything else came from Poland's Wilfredo Leon. The 27-year-old of Cuban origin served an incredible 13 aces in just four sets against Serbia, demolishing the record of Nishida and Walker.
This will not be a performance easily matched again.
Can Amir Ghafour repeat his VNL scoring glory of 2019?
The Iranian had scored 249 points in 17 matches at the latest edition of the VNL - though the all time absolute record is still held by Brazil's Wallace de Souza with his 277 from 19 matches in 2018.
Ghafour only played in two of Iran's 15 matches and scored 15 points against Japan and seven more against France for a total of 22.
So this time the distinction of VNL top scorer went to Nimir Abdel-Aziz, who collected 264 points, ahead of Slovenia's Klemen Cebulj who remained at 234.