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14/01/2014 10:00
Getting to know: Evgeny Sivozhelez
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Kazan, Russia, January 14, 2014. 27-year old wing-spiker Evgeny Sivozhelez is one of the rising stars that Volleyball fans have become increasingly familiar with. As a member of Russia’s national team, “Zhenya” is a 2012 Olympic champion, a winner of the 2013 FIVB World League and also a gold medalist from the 2013 CEV VELUX Volleyball European Championship held last September in Denmark. Sivozhelez is also a key player for Russia’s standout Zenit KAZAN, with whom he is about to re-start his campaign in the Playoffs 12 of the 2014 CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League – Men playing there Germany’s champions BERLIN Recycling Volleys.
Some 10 years ago Evgeny was dubbed as the wunderkind of Russian Volleyball for he debuted in the Superleague by the time he was only 15. “I started playing Volleyball in my home town, Chaykovsky. My mom took me to a Volleyball school and I immediately fell in love with this sport. And yes, I was only 15 when I played my first game in the Superleague as my former mentor Vladimir Kuzyutkin decided to nominate me for the match we played against Baltika ST. PETERSBURG. I got to feel a lot of trust and confidence, so this was absolutely instrumental to my development as a player in those early days I spent in Nizhnevartovsk. Sergey Tetyukhin used to be the role model to look at during my childhood and right now I have the chance to play against this extraordinary athlete in the Superleague” Evgeny says.

To round out two memorable seasons with the national team, Sivozhelez won silver at the World Grand Champions Cup held last November in Japan. Russia lost their opening game to Italy but eventually swept all of their remaining matches to settle for second place. “We went there to win the tournament and actually this is the goal we set for every single game we play. We got a very painful lesson to take from our opening game where Italy beat us quite easy. Of course, it hurts that though we beat eventual winners Brazil we ended up in second place but overall I think we achieved a good result there in Japan.”   

The match starring Russia and Brazil played at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium was the real highlight of the tournament. Once more, as they had done at the London Olympics, Russia stormed back from two sets down to beat the triple world champions from South America. “I think that this way we could prove once more that we are stronger than Brazil” Zhenya says. “We showed that we are a top caliber team; this can’t help but warm and cheer the heart. We were able to come back from two sets down and beat Brazil because of our true grit and total commitment. Brazil normally plays well when everything goes smoothly, when they have a competitive advantage or are leading in the score by a wide margin. However, if the game turns into a neck-to-neck race, they get nervous and start making mistakes. At least this is my personal opinion.”  

After moving from Nizhnevartovsk to Dinamo MOSCOW and Fakel NOVY URENGOI, Evgeny got the chance to play for the most successful Russian team of the past decade, Zenit KAZAN. “They always set very high goals and challenging tasks here” he reveals. “They want to win every tournament and competition they enter. It is not that easy to play in such a team but at the same time it is really interesting and exciting. This season we want to win back all the titles and trophies we lost last year” Sivozhelez adds. And indeed last year Zenit had to be content with third place in the CEV Volleyball Champions League losing in the semis to archrivals and compatriots Lokomotiv NOVOSIBIRSK, while they also ended the Superleague in a pretty disappointing third place.

Zenit KAZAN did not have it easy at all in the prelims of the 2014 CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League where it was assigned to the “group of death” that also included the likes of Lube Banca Marche MACERATA and Lokomotiv NOVOSIBIRSK. After a sloppy start – Zenit lost in straight sets to MACERATA to mark the start of the season – they got back on track and could finish atop the charts in Pool E. “The home match we played with Lokomotiv was crucial. Winning the derby helped us build confidence and we started believing in our chances and strength. In the matches against Austria’s champions Posojilnica we could not afford to lose any points and we eventually achieved this goal. In the last round it was a make-or-break mission for us in Novosibirsk. We could not leave our defeat from last year’s semis unanswered and it was time to take our revenge. We are heading to the Playoffs now and we will try our best so as to make it all the way through the final.”

On the way to the Final Four in Ankara Zenit KAZAN will now play two matches with BERLIN Recycling Volleys, before they get to test, shall they qualify for the Playoffs 6, the likes of Copra Elior PIACENZA or Lube Banca Marche MACERATA. “Let’s take it step by step and do not think too far. We now have to play BERLIN Recycling Volleys and we know they are a very strong team. We played them twice last year in the Playoffs 12 and we won both matches 3:2. I think that this time it won’t be an easy ride either. After that we will see. MACERATA and PIACENZA are currently topping the charts of the national league in Italy, so it won’t be easy to play one or the other opponent” Evgeny predicts.

At the European Championship held last September in Poland and Denmark, where he eventually won gold with the Russian national team, Evgeny was to be seen with a long, red beard, something that changed a little bit his look of “boy-next-door.” “It was an experiment and even though I am not a superstitious person, I decided that I wanted to prove it by myself. I just wanted to show that superstitious beliefs make no sense at all. So it turned out that by the time we played the World League Finals I was shaving every day and at the European Championship I had this long beard. However, the result in the end was not any different: we won both competitions, so superstition makes no sense at all” Zhenya reveals.

Standing at 196 cm, Zhenya is definitely not the tallest player in the national team and also in Kazan, but he definitely is one of the very best wing-spikers around. “You know, I always say that the sky is the limit. You must take every chance to improve on every single fundamental and do so at every training session. Only if you work hard – both on the Volleyball court and in the gym – you can keep on performing at a high level. If you bungle in training, then you can easily lose your place in the team.”

Though an Olympic and European champion, Sivozhelez is a very humble guy and a nice person to be around. Another good ambassador for the CEV “Fair Play – Volleyball Way” campaign. “No matter who your opponent is, you shall always treat everyone with respect” Zhenya says. “It is true that sometimes emotions go wild on the court; however, if you lose a game, well try to lose it with good grace! You shall always be able to shake hands with your opponent at the end of the match. Even though there are always contentious issues, you shall try to be honest and play fair.” A good teaching for his many fans and for any youngster who may want to take up a career in Volleyball.

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