Italy? Brazil? Who’s the favorite to win the VNL

After a long, long journey, winning is sweeter than anything else. Which team will have the last laugh after the fierce competition?

The FIVB Volleyball Nations League (VNL) 2023 is about to begin. It kicks off today (May 30) with a match between Germany and the Netherlands. The VNL will run from May 30 to July 17. For almost two months, the teams will be traveling from country to country.

A total of 16 teams will participate, each with their own goals. Who will have the last laugh on this long journey? We take a look at the favorites to win.

  1. Serbia
    Our first favorite is Serbia. They won the bronze medal at last year’s tournament. For them, the bronze medal was worth more than that. It wasn’t just the performance of their main guns, but their rising stars. Serbia’s leading star, Tijana Boskovic, was not present. Instead, a fearless performance from the rookies earned them the bronze medal.

At the center of it all were outside hitter Ana Bielica, outside hitter Sarah Rojo, and Maya Aleksic in the middle. Sara Rojo was a force to 안전놀이터 be reckoned with, averaging 12 points per game. She’s not a big player at 5’10”, but she has a quick swing. In the center, Maya Aleksic held up. He ranked third in overall blocking and used the fast break as his main weapon. She also showed her strength in blocking at the 2019 VNL and made her presence felt at the last tournament.

Serbia has many changes from the previous edition of the tournament. This time around, Tijana Boskovic and Maya Ognjenovic have been named to the 30-player reserve roster. Their presence alone is enough to intimidate opponents. However, they were left off the roster for Week 1. Replacing the veterans are bronze medalists Sarah Rojo and Ana Bielica, as well as middle blocker Maya Aleksic.

Aside from the roster, there are also changes at the top. Out goes Italian coach Daniele Santarelli, who was with the Serbian national team at its peak in 2022, and in comes Giovanni Guidetti. The new head coach boasts an impressive list of accomplishments from his six years at the helm of the Turkiye women’s national team, during which time the team finished runners-up at the 2018 VNL, runners-up at the 2019 European Championships, and reached the quarterfinals of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It will be interesting to see what Guidetti can do with Serbia.

Serbia is the highest-ranked team in the world, at No. 1. They have been consistently successful in international competitions, finishing third at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, third at the 2022 VNL and winning the 2022 FIVB World Championship. At the 2023 VNL, they will be aiming for the highest possible finish.

  1. Italy
    Defending champions Italy are also better than ever. Led by coach Davide Mazzanti since 2017, Italy also boasts a strong lineup of players. World-class opposite hitter Paola Egonu is on the roster. Egonu recently helped his club, Vakifbank, win the 2023 CEV Champions League Final. Egonu scored 40 points on the way to his third individual Champions League title.

While we have faith in Egonu, we still don’t know if or when he’ll play. Italy, however, has another card to play: 2003 graduate Apozhit Yekaterina Antropova, a solid prospect. The 6-foot-2 outside hitter has been a standout for Italy’s Sabino del Vene Scandicci this season, helping them win the 2023 European Volleyball Federation Cup.

Italy, who lifted the trophy last year, also have their sights set on the top. Setter Alessia Oro, outside hitters Miriam Scilla, Katarina Bosetti and Apojit Egonu, middle blockers Anna Danesi and Marina Rubian, outside hitter Christina Kirikela and libero Monica Den Gennaro are back.

No major changes from last year’s tournament, so they’re strong. The Italians, who are also one of the best in the league, will be looking to make it two years in a row at the top of the tournament.

  1. Brazil
    After finishing second at the 2022 VNL, Brazil will once again challenge for the top spot. Like Serbia at the time, they were led by young players rather than veterans. Case in point is 2000-born Kishi Nasimento, who was a starter at the top of the lineup. He was 12th overall in scoring and averaged nearly 10 points per game, establishing himself as the next big thing. Her 5-foot-9 hitting and left-handed offense make her an attractive option. Along with Kissy, Julia Bergman has also made a name for herself. The 22-year-old outside hitter has been compliant in receiving, which is the calling card of the position. She is also a powerful and balanced player on offense.

There are also high hopes for Fenerbahçe’s Ana Cristina. She was the main outside hitter for Fenerbahçe this season and helped them win the title.

This time, however, things are different. Brazil is the oldest team in the VNL. The average age of the 16-team roster is 27.5 years old. They have a lot of veteran players back. Starting with middle blocker Taissa Menezes, who was born in 1987, there are eight players over 30, including setters Fernanda Macris and Silva Roberta Hatzke and outside hitter Priscilla Darroit.

What the rookies have in ambition, the veterans have in seasoning. The higher average age of the roster is reflected in the number of experienced players. Outside hitter Gabby and middle blocker Erika Carroll, who won a silver medal together at Tokyo 2020, will also be competing.

The new-look Brazilians will be hungry for gold after winning silver at Tokyo 2020 and silver at VNL 2022.

  1. United States
    The most harmonized air defense team in the world, the United States is ranked fourth. There was also some good news for the Americans. Jordan Larson, who was named the MVP of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, has returned to the national team. After the Olympics, it was expected that he would retire to coach at the University of Texas. But on May 4, Larson announced his return to the national team on social media.

Larson has had a stellar international career for the United States. They won silver at London 2012, bronze at Rio 2016, and finally gold at Tokyo 2020. Coincidentally, Larson was the team’s captain for all three Olympics, and the team won a medal in all three appearances. Outside of the Olympics, the team is also strong in the VNL. They won the title in both 2018 and 2019.

There is one disappointment. Jordan Poulter, the starting setter and Best Setter at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, will be missing due to a knee injury. He injured his left knee on December 3 last year during a match between his team, Nova and Perugia. He has since dedicated himself to recovery and is expected to return in 2024. While the loss of a top talent is disappointing, Lauren Carlini, Micah Hancock, and Jenna Gray will fill the void.

The USA will look to reclaim the top spot in the VNL that was taken away from them with Larson’s return. In the absence of their star setter, it’s time for the experienced veterans to take center stage and lead the way.

There will also be a lot of attention paid to Turkuye under Santarelli’s new leadership, especially as it will be the first appearance for Turkuye’s league standout Melissa Vargas. The Cuban-born Vargas became a naturalized citizen two years ago and joined the national team this year. It will be interesting to see how the team performs at the international level.

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