The rivalry between Prosecco Doc Imoco Conegliano and VakifBank Spor Kulubu in recent years has become emblematic in women’s club volleyball and another episode is in the making as arguably the two strongest teams in the world take to the women’s Club World Champs 2022 in Antalya from December 14 through 18. Imoco took the crown from VakifBank in 2019, but VakifBank took it back in 2021. Is it the Italian side’s turn to sit on the throne, especially after the two clubs exchanged their greatest star athletes and last year’s Most Valuable Player joined the Conegliano squad?
Imoco target return to club world throne
Can last year’s MVP Haak lead the Conegliano squad back to the top?
Published 03:01, 27 Nov 2022
Imoco are the only club who have successfully challenged the domination of Turkish clubs in the Club World Championships since 2014. Led by their prodigy opposite Paola Egonu, the Panthers grabbed the title in 2019, moving defending champs VakifBank out of the way in a five-set semifinal battle and overpowering another Turkish powerhouse, Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul in the final.
Shortly after that, Imoco went on an unprecedented victory run, which lasted almost two full years and brought in a world-record-breaking 76 consecutive wins across all competitions. That streak included another five-set win over VakifBank in the 2021 CEV Champions League final.
In the 2021-2022 season, however, powered by Swedish star opposite Isabelle Haak, VakifBank regained the world and the continental crowns defeating Imoco in both finals. With Haak among their new additions for the current season, the club from Conegliano will try to take their turn on the throne again and win their second club world title and their country’s third overall, after Il Messaggero Ravenna claimed the first 30 years ago.
In addition to the 2019 gold and the 2021 silver at the Club World Championships and the 2021 gold and 2022 silver in the Champions League, Imoco’s showcase contains three more medals from Europe’s most prestigious club competition. It also features five Italian championship titles, four national cup trophies and six national super cup crowns, including the 2022 Supercoppa Italiana they claimed on Saturday.
Isabelle Haak and her teammates are unbeaten in Italy’s Lega Pallavolo Serie A1 Femminile since the start of the season and convincingly lead the current standings on 29 points and a 10-0 win-loss record. The only point they lost came in a five-set away win at e-work Busto Arsizio in October. Haak herself is the best scorer of the league so far on a total of 192 points.
“We had a lot of tough battles against Imoco with VakifBank, but I am really happy to be on this side as well. We have a really strong team this season so I am looking forward to possibly playing against VakifBank. It will be interesting. When I first played in Italy, I was thinking that if I came back and had a chance to play with Imoco I would love to, so I am really happy to finally be here.” Isabelle Haak, opposite of Prosecco Doc Imoco Conegliano
The 23-year-old Swedish opposite was not the only major incoming transfer for the Conegliano club this season. In fact, coach Daniele Santarelli retained only four athletes from last year’s roster. All four, however, are big international stars: Polish setter Joanna Wolosz, American outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, Dutch middle blocker Robin De Kruijf and Italian libero Monica De Gennaro.
The other highlight in Imoco’s new foreign additions was American outside Kelsey Robinson, who returned to the club for the first time since 2017 after spending last season at Japan’s Toyota Auto Body Queenseis Kariya. Canadian outside Alexa Gray also joined the team, coming in from Busto Arsizio.
The club also recruited two Italian internationals from the national team that won this year’s Volleyball Nations League and claimed the bronze medals at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship 2022. 31-year-old outside Alessia Gennari transferred from Vero Volley Monza and 22-year-old middle Marina Lubian moved to Conegliano from Savino Del Bene Scandicci.
Setter Roberta Carraro, libero Ylenia Pericati and middle blockers Eleonora Furlan and Federica Squarcini are the other Italian newcomers in Santarelli’s line-up.
Imoco will begin the Club World Championship in Pool A. Their first match in Antalya will be against CSV South American Club Championship silver medallists Dentil Praia Clube Uberlandia of Brazil on December 15 at 16:30 local time (13:30 UTC). On the following day, at 16:00 (13:00), the Italian team will take on tournament hosts and two-time club world champions Eczacibasi Dynavit Istanbul.