By definition, winning the FIVB Club World Championship makes a team the top professional squad in the world for that year.
But the many accolades and accomplishments of the current edition of Imoco Volley Conegliano, which won the 2019 edition of club worlds last month, hardly stop there. Imoco, a member of Italy’s elite Serie A1 league, achieved an unprecedented level of success in 2019 and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. The squad lost just six matches in 2019, winning a whopping 49. Along that journey, it finished runner-up at the Coppa Italia, won the Serie A trophy, played in the CEV Champions League SuperFinal, and hoisted the SuperCoppa in a sweep of rival Novara.
As 2020 begins and Imoco continues to stuff its trophy case, let’s take a deep dive into what makes this squad so tough.
First, a key note that the Italian league seasons don’t correlate to the calendar year, so although 2019 was overall a great year for the club, some of those accomplishments technically belong to the 2018-19 season and others to 2019-20, with some players transferring to a new team in May and new players joining the team this fall. A few players have served pivotal roles on both rosters, however, starting with captain and starting setter Joanna Wolosz.
The Polish national team setter is in her third season with Imoco, and her individual accolades include 2017-18 Italian League MVP and 2017-18 Champions League Best Setter, and just last month, she was named Best Setter at the 2019 FIVB Club World Championships.
Middle blockers Robin De Kruijf (Netherlands) and Raphaela Folie (Italy), outside hitters Miriam Fatime Sylla (Italy) and Kim Hill (USA), and libero Monica De Gennaro (Italy) have also been core players for Imoco.
De Kruijf and Folie both joined Imoco way back in 2016 and the middle blocking duo has helped the team win numerous championships, including three SuperCoppas, two Italian League titles, one Coppa Italia, and two runner-up finishes in Champions League. Standing 6-4, De Kruijf adds valuable height to the front row for Imoco, as well as for the Dutch national team, of which she had been a member since 2008.
Sylla and De Gennaro are pivotal Italian national team members, while you’ve no doubt heard of Team USA stalwart Hill, who helped the American team win bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
This fall, Imoco added American middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu, Italian opposite Indre Sorokaite, and, most significantly, opposite Paola Egonu.
Throughout the 2018-19 season, Imoco’s toughest competition in Serie A and in Champions League was fellow Italian squad Novara. Imoco lost to Novara in the final of the Coppa Italia and Champions League and beat them in the Italian league championship match and this fall’s Super Coppa.
And who was Novara’s star player in 2018-19? None other than the 6-foot-4 opposite Egonu. With Egonu now playing for the team in blue and yellow, the balance of power has shifted drastically when the two powerhouses go head-to-head.
Touching over 11 feet, the 21-year-old Egonu burst onto the scene in 2017 and has been raking in individual awards and breaking records with her professional teams and the Italian national team ever since. She made Italy’s 2016 Olympic roster and was named MVP of the 2018 Coppa Italia, 2018 Montreux Volley Masters, 2018-19 Champions League, 2019 SuperCoppa, and 2019 FIVB Club World Championships. She also helped Italy reach the final of the 2018 World Championships, alongside De Gennaro and Sylla.
At club worlds last month, Egonu set a new record for points in match, scoring 38 versus Turkey’s VakifBank Istanbul in the semifinals. She followed that up with 33 points in the championship match against Eczacibasi Istanbul. Her attacking efficiency of 56.02% was just short of the competition’s current all-time best of 56.94%.
Nineteen-year-old Italian outside hitter Terry Enweonwu, another newcomer to the Imoco squad, also wrote her name in the club worlds’ record book last month, collecting six aces in a single match.
In addition to winning club worlds, the 2019-20 Imoco group boasts a 12-1 record Italian league play and is 3-0 so far in Pool D of the 2019-20 CEV Champions League.
The next major tests to see if Imoco can remain on top of the world will be a Champions League pool play match on January 22 versus CSM Volei Alba Blaj and then the 2020 Italian SuperCoppa, which starts on January 29. And with sustained success, the target on these players’ backs only gets bigger and every opponent will bring their best.
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