After three rounds of qualification, the most exciting part of the 2019 CEV Women’s Champions League tournament is poised to begin.
The first leg of the group of stage kicks off on Tuesday, November 20, and lasts until Thursday, November 22, with all 20 teams competing. Every team will be motivated to play well, as these matches will set the tone for the five remaining legs of group stage, which runs through February. Only the top eight teams advance out of the group stage and into the quarterfinals in March 2019.
Check out the schedule below and keep reading for a few storylines you’re going to want to keep an eye on this week.
Hameenlinna @ Dinamo Kazan, 10 AM CT (Pool B)
Maritza Plovdiv @ Beziers VB, 1 PM CT (Pool A)
SSC Palmberg Scherwin @ LKS Commercecon Lodz, 1:30 PM CT (Pool D)
Fenerbahce SK Istanbul @ Dinamo Moscow, 10 AM CT (Pool E)
Uralochka-NTMK Ekaterinburg @ Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul, 10:30 AM CT (Pool B)
Minchanka Minsk @ RC Cannes, 1 PM CT (Pool C)
Savino Del Bene Scandicci @ Imoco Volley Conegliano, 1:30 PM CT (Pool D)
Allianz MTV Stuttgart @ VakifBank Istanbul, 10 AM CT (Pool A)
CSM Bucuresti @ Chemik Police, 11 AM CT (Pool E)
Budowlani Lodz @ Igor Gorgonzola Novara, 1:30 PM CT (Pool C)
Americans Go Head-to-Head in Two Matches
Wednesday’s match between Scandicci and Imoco Volley and Thursday’s pitting Allianz MTV Stuttgart against VakifBank Istanbul will both feature Americans on both sides of the net.
Annie Mitchem, a University of Hawaii grad, is with Scandicci in just her second professional season, while Imoco Volley features veteran outside hitters Kim Hill and Megan Easy. Both teams compete in Italy’s SuperLega, and Imoco is undefeated so far in league play, while Scandicci has lost just once and is fourth in the standings. The two teams have not yet played in SuperLega competition.
Five Americans will take the floor for Allianz MTV Stuttgart, which advanced into the group stage by defeating CSM Volei Alba Blaj in the third round. Paige Tapp and Krystal Rivers have played big roles for Stuttgart, contributing 18 and 14 points, respectively in the final third-round matchup. The roster also includes Americans Sarah Wilhite Parsons, Madi Bugg, and Molly McCage.
Stuttgart’s first group stage opponent VakifBank Istanbul features outside hitter Kelsey Robinson, who played libero all summer for the U.S. women.
SuperLega Leaders Face Qualifier Squad
Igor Gorgonzola Novara has jumped out to a quick 5-0 start in SuperLega competition. Not only does this squad have Americans Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, the Volleyball Nations League MVP, and four-time All-American setter Lauren Carlini, but also Netherlands star outside hitter Celeste Plak and World Championships leading scorer Paola Egonu of Italy.
Novara’s opponent on Thursday is Budowlani Lodz, which won both its second round matches over Hungarian club Swietelsky Bekescsaba and then continued to roll in the third round, beating French squad ASPTT Mulhouse VB (and s Ali Frantti, Carli Snyder, and Hayley Spelman) 3-1 in Lodz, and then 3-2 in Mulhouse.
Stacked Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul the Favorite?
Novara’s roster is pretty impressive across every position, but there’s at least one other team in Champions League that can rival that level of talent: Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul of the Turkish League.
The 2018 Eczacibasi squad includes Team USA captain and top outside hitter Jordan Larson; Serbian opposite Tijana Boskovic, the reigning MVP of the World Championships; American middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer; and Team Korea’s captain Yeon Koung Kim.
In five Turkish league matches, Eczacibasi has yet to drop a set on its way to a 5-0 start and a No. 1 spot in the standings.