Hafen Take First Shot


Posted by Salman Mitha

Posted in Volleyball


Generali Sport Arena, Unterhaching – VfB Friedrichshafen may have lost the battles during the regular season to Generali Haching, but they own their rivals in the playoffs.

The losses during the regular season meant Friedrichshafen had to start this best-of-five semifinals matchup on the road, but they stole home court advantage right back in a tough Game 1, outlasting Haching 3-1 (25-17, 17-25, 25-17, 25-21).

Extra spice was added to this postseason series with the return of Max Günthor, who transferred back to VfB after three seasons with Haching.  The national player led Haching to three consecutive German Cups but lost twice in the finals to his hometown youth team, VfB.  “Mäxe” was key in the win as the high scorer with 16 points and seven blocks.

“It’s difficult for me, the friends on the team and fans in the crowd, everyone wants to say hello and it’s difficult to concentrate on the match,” admitted Günthor.

While everyone in the gym knew Günthor, it was a complete team effort.  Newcomer Valentin Bratoev, signed by the team right before the playoffs, added 15 points and Ventceslav Simeonov 12 points.  The rest of the team stepped up, when a key block, dig or point was needed, someone from the Blue Bears provided the play.

Valentin Bratoev (#4) has proven to be a key signing for VfB Friedrichshafen's playoff run. Photo: Sport Eagle

Valentin Bratoev (#4) has proven to be a key signing for VfB Friedrichshafen’s playoff run. Photo: Sport Eagle

Haching were lacking that player to provide that spark and get the team playing well.  Simon Hirsch could have been that player.  Down 19-13 in the first set, he had two kills, but the set was lost 25-17.  But he carried over that momentum in the second set, two kills, two aces and a key block helped surged Haching 25-17 to even the match at 1-1.

“I’m satisfied with my performance, it all went to plan,” said Hirsch.  “I was injured for a few days and that effected my endurance and as a team, we didn’t win.”

And no one could pick up the slack when Hirsch was out or faded, allowing VfB to adjust.   Like in the first set, they jumped out to a lead in the third with kills from Bratoev and Simeonov sandwiching an ace from Günthor, they won the third 25-17. 

“After the second set, we found the serve again and put pressure on them,” said Günthor.  “We’ve been playing better since January and you saw how we reacted during the tough parts of the match.”

It was up to Haching to maintain the trend, the team leading at both technical timeouts in the first three sets, won the set.  They were on their way, leading at both breaks, but unlike the leader in previous sets, they only led by two points at the second break, 16-14.

Bratoev’s three kills evened the score at 17-17, deflating Haching’s spirits and VfB had all they needed to win.  Günthor’s block to make it 22-19 was the exclamation point and the match finished at 25-21.

Max Günthor (#8) celebrated his return to Unterhaching as the top scorer in the match. Photo: Sport Eagle

Max Günthor (#8) celebrated his return to Unterhaching as the top scorer in the match. Photo: Sport Eagle

“Both teams were taking a risk with the serve, and they were better” said Haching captain Christian Dünnes, who was only able to score three points.  “We need to defend better and receive well, and it would be easier for us to know that we don’t have to score the point right away.  In Friedrichshafen, they will serve better at home but as we’ve shown, we have enough confidence to win there.”

To prevent Haching coming in and stealing back home court, VfB head coach Stelian Moculescu stated quite simply:  “We have to maintain our level from this match.”

Haching have more than just home court advantage to overcome.   In DVL playoffs history, these two clubs have met five times previously, from 2006 – 2010.  Each time, VfB has ended the title dreams of the Bavarians.  The first three times were in the semifinals, the last two in the Finals.  Down 1-0, Haching have received the first shot.  Now time for them to get back up and exorcise their playoff demons.

Game 2 is Saturday and can be viewed live on www.dvl-live.tv first serve 19:30 CET.

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