Expectations rise as Wlazly returns
Whichever team Mariusz Wlazly plays for wins. That's what the hitter's profile at his club in Belchatow says. He is the only player there who has been involved in all eight of the club's Polish championship titles since 2005. He also lead the team to second places in the European Champions League and the FIVB Volleyball Men's Club World Championship.
His outstanding performance last season played a major part in the top team's recent title win in the Polish league. Stephane Antiga, who became Poland's national coach after he ended his playing career, was also involved in the title as a player. He convinced Mariusz Wlazly to return to the national squad for the World Championship – and now the whole of Poland is hoping that the powerful jumper will guarantee major success when the competition kicks off on Saturday.
It was by no means a given that Wlazly would take part. In recent years, the player who is now 31-years-old, has turned down the opportunity to play for the national team. But with Antiga as the national coach, his enthusiasm has been restored. And the Polish volleyball association is hoping that Wlazly's return will also see the Poland team return to winning ways.
Mariusz Wlazly has been successful since the very early stages of his career. He first tried his hand at swimming, but then discovered that his real talent was for playing volleyball. In 2003, he was included in the Polish youth national team which won the World Championship title. On May 20, 2005 he made his debut with the senior national team, with a 3-0 win over Slovakia. A year later, he made an appearance on the international volleyball stage at the FIVB World Championship; he was one of the outstanding players when Poland sensationally won silver. More recently, however, Wlazly, who has picked up numerous individual awards for MVP and best hitter, has repeatedly been plagued by injuries, ranging from back to ankle problems.
The Polish public were even more worried when the star hitter twisted his ankle at a friendly match in August. Wlazly uploaded a picture of his damaged ankle to his Facebook account with the comment: “Unfortunately, I've twisted my ankle, but the positive in all of this is that this isn't the first time it's happened, and I will probably heal more quickly. It will become clear how long it will take in the next few days, but as they say: what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.”
A few days later, Wlazly took to the court again however - such is his will to perform. This is also why he has had such a successful career and why Poland is hoping that he will become one of the all-time heroes at the FIVB World Championship in his home country. The whole of Poland is dreaming of a repeat of the title win in 1974.
Wlazly easily slipped back into his role as one of the leaders of the national team, despite the fact that the last time he played for the Polish team was in the World Championship four years ago. Wlazly, who is also studying at a management school for when he can no longer play, is always willing to take on responsibility – whether it be as Belchatow's captain or in his private life.
Wlazly plays an important role in social and charitable organisations, and is the president of his own foundation, which supports children in sport. He is a married man and also father to a son – and, with the consent of Stephane Antiga, even took his wife and son to a training camp in France ahead of the World Championship. “We have so little time for our loved ones that we need to take every opportunity to spend time with them,” he said.
After all, there won't be much time for family at the FIVB Men’s World Championship, as Poland aim to be involved throughout the 23-day tournament, from the opening match in Warsaw on Saturday to the final in Katowice on September 21.
Mariusz Wlazly is looking forward to the opening match in front of a record crowd of 62,000 in the football stadium in Warsaw – as is setter Paweł Zagumny, who won World Championship silver for Poland alongside Wlazly in 2006. “The fans in the stadium will be supporting us, to make all of us happy. Serbia are our toughest rivals in our preliminary group. If we beat them, we can fight for the top.” Everyone in Poland is assuming that this will be the case anyway, as the saying goes: whoever Mariusz Wlazly plays for wins...