Montreux Masters: 7 stars most likely to shine at this year’s competition

As the Montreux Masters gets underway at the start of a hectic schedule of international volleyball, many of the world’s top players have only just reached the end of their domestic campaigns at club level.

Nevertheless, the Swiss tournament brings together a glittering array of talent as eight nations do battle for a prize that could set the winners up for success in the Nations League, the Olympic qualifiers, and the European Championship.

Here are seven players worth looking out for as the action gets underway at Lake Geneva.

Anna Nicoletti (Italy)

Davide Mazzanti will be without Paola Egonu as Italy attempt to defend their Montreux Masters title, but he is not short of talented opposites in the absence of the 20-year-old star.

Like Egonu, Anna Nicoletti is regarded as one of Italian volleyball’s great hopes for the future, and alongside Sylvia Chinelo Nwakalor she will provide the Azzurri with plenty of firepower.

Malwina Smarzek (Poland)

A Polish Volleyball League champion two years running with Chemik Police, Malwina Smarzek currently plays for Zanetti Bergamo at club level and she brings valuable Montreux Masters experience to the Poland squad.

At the 2018 edition of the competition she put in a standout performance against Brazil, scoring 31 points from 29 kills to help Jacek Nawrocki’s side to a 3-2 victory, and the Poland head coach will hope the 22-year-old is in similar form this year.

Gabi Schottroff (Switzerland)

With 45 international appearances under her belt at the age of just 22, Gabi Schottroff brings youth and experience to the hosts’ squad.

A middle blocker for Sm’Aesch Pfeffingen in her home country, Schottroff narrowly missed out on a league title in 2018-19 and arrives at the Montreux Masters in fine form.

Cansu Özbay (Turkey)

Named Turkey’s MVP at the 2018 Montreux Masters when they topped Group A and went on to finish third overall, setter Cansu Özbay has since enjoyed a superb season at VakifBank, helping the Istanbul club to the Turkish League title.

Özbay does not turn 23 until October but she has racked up 83 international appearances, including fine displays in the 2018 Nations League and 2017 European Championship.

Chitaporn Kamlangmak (Thailand)

A powerful hitter who is coming into the Montreux Masters on the back of a strong season at Khonkaen Star, Chitaporn Kamlangmak was part of the Thailand squad that impressed at the FIVB World Championship in 2018.

The 23-year-old middle blocker’s performances in the last 12 months earned her a place in the Korea-Thailand Pro Volleyball All-Star Super Match, where she scored two points in a 3-2 victory for Thailand on April 5.

Mako Kobata (Japan)

Mako Kobata was the tournament’s best receiver at the 2018 FIVB World Championship, where Japan came sixth, and she gives Kumi Nakada’s side incredible resilience and agility in defence.

An experienced libero with World Championship experience, the 29-year-old consistently delivers a serve-receipt efficiency of 40 per cent or higher.

Louisa Lippmann (Germany)

Winner of the German League’s MVP award in consecutive seasons between 2016 and 2018, outside hitter Louisa Lippmann is one of the experienced players that coach Felix Koslowski will rely upon as he rebuilds his team without the retired Maren Fromm.

Lippman helped Germany to beat Brazil at the VNL and the World Championship in 2018 and enjoyed a strong season at Bisonte Volley Firenze, who finished seventh in Italy’s Serie A1 in 2018-19.