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04/03/2021 13:30
‘Pass the Pod’ with Polish sensation Zaksa and their captain Benjamin Toniutti
Pass the Pod

Luxembourg, March 4, 2021. Last night, Zaksa KEDZIERZYN-KOZLE dramatically qualified for the semis of the CEV Champions League Volley 2021, thus ending the ‘reign’ of titleholders Cucine Lube CIVITANOVA of Italy. The Polish team achieved this feat despite losing the re-match at home in straight sets but after emerging victorious from a truly nail-biting Golden Set.

This means that Zaksa will at least equal their top result in Europe’s elite competition, which they achieved in 2003, when they finished third. A few days before the much anticipated re-match with Lube we had the opportunity to catch up with Zaksa’s setter and captain, Benjamin Toniutti, as well as with their Marketing Manager, Karolina Hebda, to review what has been – in many ways – a truly special season for the Polish team so far.

Toniutti, who has been playing for Zaksa for six years now, acknowledged that with all of the constraints and restrictions resulting from the pandemic, the 2020-2021 season has been different from all others. “We obviously started this campaign with a feeling of uncertainty, since, like everybody else, we did not know what to expect. Initially, we could have up to 25% of the hall capacity filled with our fans, but soon we had to revert to playing without any audience, which is obviously disappointing,” he says. “However, like all other teams, we have to accept the situation and adapt the best we can.”

Despite everything, Zaksa have had a terrific season thus far, claiming the Polish Supercup, reaching the semis of the CEV Champions League and national cup as well as sitting firmly at the very top of the charts in the national league. “Everyone at the club is working hard and trying to provide us with a safe and comfortable environment to work in,” Toniutti says.

This is what you would somehow expect from a truly professionally organised club, with a 26-year-long history and as many as eight national league titles and seven national cup crowns to their name, as Karolina Hebda recalled with legitimate pride.

Now that they have dethroned the reigning champions, Zaksa will certainly be willing to continue their journey all the way until the Super Finals due to take place in Verona, Italy, on May 1. Toniutti shares this ambitious goal with the rest of the team, even though he sounded somehow prudent before the re-match with Lube. “We know that winning one match is not enough and we are playing the top teams in the world. We take it one match at a time, but of course, we would like to be in Verona for the Super Finals.”

Zaksa have reached the top four in the CEV Champions League four times, finishing fourth in 2002, third in 2003, and again fourth in 2013 and 2018. They will soon know the name of their opponent in the semis – six-time winners Zenit KAZAN of Russia or their compatriots of PGE Skra BELCHATOW, whom they played already in the pool stage of the competition. Even though it may sound surprising, a Polish team is yet to win the CEV Champions League since its introduction back in 2000. Will Zaksa will be able to fill this void? Only time will tell…

For now, Benjamin and Karolina have decided to ‘pass the pod’ to another elite team, four-time Champions League winners VakifBank ISTANBUL of Turkey.

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