German duo learning from the best in Russian Superleague
National team captain Bjorn Andrae and Gyorgy Grozer moved to Russia following Germany’s run to the quarterfinals at the London 2012 Olympic Games, where they lost to Bulgaria. Andrae joined Siberian side Kemerovo, a city nearly 4,000km to the east of Moscow, while Grozer headed to Belgorod, a city 570km south of Moscow, close to the Ukranian border.
“Kemerovo in itself is a very pleasant city with around 300,000 inhabitants, though the temperature reaches -55°C, something we’re not used to in Berlin,” Andrae said. “What is more difficult to endure is all the travelling. Since you’re away for at least 24 hours you start to feel it in your bones, but I have my personal physio here and we train well.”
“In the beginning it was very difficult,” Grozer admitted. “Everything is different and you have to get used to it, but if you do that, it is quite normal.”
They have played each other twice this season during pool play, with Grozer’s Belgorod winning both closely-fought contests 3-2. Grozer top scored with 24 points and Andrae registered 17 in the first encounter before both tallied 16 in the reverse match.
While Belgorod were hoping for an automatic quarterfinal spot by finishing in the top two of the blue group, Kemerovo were confirmed in sixth place of the same pool, sealing a spot in the playoffs for the last eight and 31-year-old Andrae is certainly doing his best to help his new side advance further with an average of 13.2 points per match this season.
“The season has been fairly normal for us,” he said. “Before the New Year we had some bad results, but then we won four matches in a row. Our main aim to reach the play-offs and then get through to the quarterfinals, otherwise we will be in the play-down and that is no fun.”
Grozer, by contrast, has already tasted success with his new team when they won the Russian Cup at the end of 2012 defeating Zenit Kazan 3-1. Even so he still feels that he is yet to find his best form with Belgorod.
“I had a long summer with the national team and so far it has been a little difficult to show my best form with my team,” he said, “but we are starting to hit our stride and won the Russian Cup, something I am very proud of. At the moment we are third in our group, which could be better, but isn’t too bad. The play-offs will be a challenge and our goal is to try and win the Russian Championship. Nothing is impossible.”
"There are a lot of good players here in Russia and the level is very high in all aspects of the sport. It is challenging, but if I want to get better and want to get the most out of myself, this is the right place both physically and mentally.”
Russian volleyball continues to bask in the glow of their Olympic gold medal success at London 2012. Their victory was one of the most remarkable stories from London as they fought back from a two-set deficit against Brazil to beat the reigning world champions in front of a packed house at Earl’s Court.
Dmitriy Muserskiy was one of the architects of the comeback as he scored 31 points to set a new Olympic final record. The 2.17m-tall player is among Grozer’s new team-mates and has fast become a national hero, as have the rest of the team.
“The Russian people are very proud and incredibly happy that the Russian national team won Olympic gold,” Grozer said. ”The players are all highly recognised in Russia. Nevertheless, the guys are down to earth and just normal, cool people.”
Andrae agreed and added, “After the Olympic victory, the importance of volleyball in Russia has certainly risen again. In recent years, the Russian league has become the best in the world for me - and not just financially. Here volleyball is played at the top level; it is incredible how many strong Russian players there are.”
Germany’s performance in London - where they lost to Bulgaria in the quarterfinals - left the team slightly disappointed after they missed the chance to make a real impression on their public. It was a similar result to the one they achieved at the 2010 FIVB World Championships in Italy where they finished eighth but a vast improvement on their showing at the CEV 2011 European Championships where they lost all three of their pool matches.
Their highlight was a 3-2 win over European champions Serbia in the group stages, but overall there was the feeling that they didn’t truly fulfil their potential.
"Fifth place is a great result for us and we must not now make the mistake of overestimating ourselves as we did after the World Championship in Italy,” Andrae said. “I don’t think we played well in the Olympics, except for our win over Serbia.”
“There was also the win over Tunisia, but we lacked belief against Bulgaria and I was pretty poor in particular. Overall the frustration of the way we played was greater than the satisfaction of finishing fifth. As such we can’t rest on our laurels because there is plenty of room for improvement.”
This year will be as busy as ever for the pair with Germany in the World League and co-hosting the European Championship. While Grozer admits he will take a rest with his wife and two children when he has the chance, Andrae shows no sign of slowing down. As a member of the German team for 10 years, he will now be moving from the volleyball court to the beach court to compete in the German national tour, alongside Marcus Popp.
"There are several reasons why I’m going back to the sand,” Andrae said. “The main one is that I find it incredible fun. The summer of 2009 that I played with Marcus remains unforgettable, so we decided to do it again.”