The new season of the Romanian Women’s Volleyball First Division is going to be something spectacular.
Well, if we judge it based on the announcements made by the main two contenders, CSM BUCURESTI and VOLEI ALBA BLAJ regarding their transfers so far, a sentence comes to mind: THE WAR IS ON!
It is not a secret that the two clubs aren’t the best of friends as they competed against each other in the past three years for the honours in the Romanian Volleyball League and managed to deliver some very exciting matches. Past season CSM Bucuresti managed to win the title for the first time in their history, surpassing the girls from Blaj who were the holders of the championship title for the previous three seasons. CSM also won the Romanian Cup but Blaj stole the highlight of the season as they played the Champions League final. But this is already history and history doesn’t play this season.
Both teams have the same objectives this year: winning everything there is to win in Romania and a long journey in the Champions League. So the transfer strategies must be set accordingly. And so, a transfer battle began. Thanks to the Romanian Volleyball Federation there is no limit for using foreign players so if the budget allows it you can bring the best of the best. But the budget doesn’t allow it, so you bring good foreign players but not the top ones.
When it comes to Romanian players, the offer is somehow limited. There are very few Romanian players that can play both Champions League and Championship in the same season and maintaining a good level of performances. In my opinion, at this moment, there are exactly four Romanian players that can do that: Nneka Onyejekwe, Adina Salaoru, Ioana Baciu and Roxana Bacsis but Roxana is pregnant now so there will be a two years break for her. Roxana, congratulations!. Two of them are involved in the transfers I am going to talk about, as for the other, I know some things but I am not allowed to publish them yet.
I will start with the champions from CSM Bucuresti. They managed to keep their Japanese setter from the previous season, two of their middle blockers and one of the outside hitters: Naoko Hashimoto, Nicole Koolhaas, Iryna Trushkina and Tatsiana Markevich. In addition the club signed with Maret Balkestein-Grothues, a powerful outside hitter, lefty and the captain of the Dutch national team with great experience and one of the best players in the world and with Adina Salaoru, the captain of the Romanian national team, a natural born leader who plays as an outside hitter but she can also play as an opposite hitter. She was the captain of Volei Alba Blaj for the past four years, leading the Transylvanian team to three championship titles in a row, one Romanian Cup and one Champions League Final. The always grumpy ones could say that she is an image stunt as CSM Bucuresti took the heart of Blaj’s past five seasons. I say that it is more than that: they took a great player, with great heart and leadership abilities and also brains and technique skills. Her play is not based on brute force as it is based on technique and brains. I am very curious about her season as I suspect there will be a great one for her.
I also heard the fact that the champions will also bring two Japanese libero players but most important is that the coach Ferhat Akbas stays for a new season. I am very curious about their future transfers as if they want to play both Championship and Champions League at a high level they also need another strong middle blocker and also a setter. But we’ll see.
When it comes to Volei Alba Blaj the team resembles nothing with the team that played the Champions League Final two month ago. As far as I know, so far, the only two players that remained from that roster are Ramona Rus and the libero Marina Vujovic (but with the signing of a new libero I presume she is going to leave too). So, a major turnover takes place in Blaj. So far they confirmed some interesting players. Two of them come from their rivals CSM Bucuresti. One of them is Suzana Cebic, Olympic and European medalist with the Serbian national team and one of the best libero in the world at one moment and the other one is Ioana Baciu who was, in my opinion, the best player of the championship last season.
Very powerful and very physical she is a force of nature. But it all comes down to her state of mind. If she is in a good state of mind, comfortable and feeling good (as she was in CSM Bucuresti with Ferhat Akbas that gave her tremendous force and self-confidence) she will be one of the best players of the team. But as we all konw, Darko Zakoc, the Volei Alba Blaj coach, is a different type of coach than Ferhat when it comes to the psychological training of the players. Anyway, Darko remains the centre point of this team and everything will revolve around him and his choices. And his choices so far seemed to be the right ones.
The other new players so far are Mariya Karakasheva, a bulgarian outside hitter with great experience and a player who is accustomed with the Romanian championship as she already played here a couple of seasons for various teams. She is a good addition in my opinion. Another player is Sonja Newcombe, an American international, who arrives in Blaj after playing in Brazil and finished third. She is an outside hitter with a lot of experience. Now, we’ll have to find out if that experience is what Blaj needed. The opposite hitter come from Azerbaijan She is a lefty and a very strong player but I believe she will need the right setter next to her in order to deploy all her best moves. I talked about setters and there she is, one of them for Blaj’s next season is Lucie Smutná. She is Czech, 28 years old and sincerely I couldn’t find many recent videos of her so I could make an impression yet. But, if she is here, it means she is valuable. Sara Hutinski Torres is one of the new middle blockers. She is Slovenian international, played in Italy last season and she seems to have good technique skills. We’ll see. The second setter of the team is the bulgarian Lora Kitipova. She is the setter of the Bulgarian national team and arrives in Blaj after winning the championship and cup in her birth country.
These are the players that are confirmed so far by the two teams but I am sure that more will follow.
But, it is not only about the players. It’s about the coaches too as, in my opinion, the ones that will make a difference this season are the coaches not the players. From the mental approach and up to every single tactical detail, they will be the masterminds of this season. It will be a clash between the Serbian defensive and serious approach of the game and the new wave attacking while defending exuberant style.
Anyway, if the Romanian Volleyball Federation stays neutral when it comes to influences and the way referees handle the matches, we’re in for a great battle between these two teams.
*photo source: the official Facebook pages of Volei Alba Blaj and CSM Bucuresti; also worldofvolley.com and AbSport.ro