Brandon Johnson | Senior Contributor
With the 2021 Tokyo Olympics quickly approaching, the United States behind the leadership of coach John Speraw and captain Taylor Sander are hoping to continue the nation’s strong volleyball tradition at the Olympic Games.
The road to the podium might be the toughest yet as plenty of teams have positioned themselves for a medal. Here’s a look at the top-20 non-American players set to participate in Tokyo.
Just missed the list
Dmitry Volkov (outside attacker, Russia); Osmany Juantorna (outside attacker, Italy), Stephen Boyer (opposite, France); Lucas (middle attacker, Brazil); Seyed Mohammed Mousavi (middle attacker, Iran); Kevin Le Roux (middle attacker, France)
20. Blair Bann (libero, Canada)
Bann has emerged as a dominant player on the defensive end for Canada. This strong defensive effort was on full display in 2017 when he was named Best Receiver at the FIVB World League, and in 2019 when he was MVP and Best Receiver at the NORCECA Continental Qualifier.
19. Yuki Ishikawa (outside attacker, Japan)
Using his huge vertical and powerful swings, Ishikawa has developed into one of the most fun players in the world to watch. As captain of the host country, Ishikawa will try to lead Japan to their first Olympic medal since 1972.
18. Facundo Conte (outside attacker, Argentina)
Conte has one of the fastest arm swings in the world. He is just as terminal from the back row as he is at the net. Argentina will need a strong showing from him to advance to the knockout rounds.
17. Milad Ebadipour (outside attacker, Iran)
Ebadipour has been a mainstay for the Iranian national team since 2014, and in 2017 he became the first Iranian born player to sign a contract to play in the Polish PlusLiga.
16. Michal Kubiak (outside attacker, Poland)
Michal Kubiak has become a steadying force at the outside attacker position for Poland. Known for his fiery presence on the court, Kubiak and his Polish team are one of the gold medal favorites in Tokyo.
15. Saeid Marouf (setter, Iran)
Known for running one of the fastest offenses in the world, Marouf has helped transform Iran into a yearly medal contender at major tournaments.
14. Earvin Ngapeth (outside attacker, France)
It is hard to miss Ngapeth when he is on the court. Known for his unique hairstyles and even more unique attacks at the net, Ngapeth is truly a sight to behold.
13. Luciano De Cecco (setter, Argentina)
There are few setters in the world that play with the same flair as Luciano De Cecco. The man is not afraid to make any set from any spot on the court.
12. Maksim Mikhaylov (opposite, Russia)
Mikhaylov burst onto the scene at the 2008 Olympics and has been one of the world’s best opposite hitters ever since. At 33 years old and a veteran of the Russian squad, he is showing no signs of slowing down and will have Russia yet again primed to make a run at a medal.
11. Bartosz Kurek (opposite, Poland)
Few players in the world attack the ball from the service line and at the net with the same aggression as Kurek. He, along with his teammates, form arguably the strongest pin hitter trio in the world.
10. Ivan Zaytsev (opposite, Italy)
Zaytsev has one of the fastest and most lethal serves in the world. Big Z has spent time at the outside hitter and opposite position for Italy and will shoulder a big load offensively in Tokyo.
9. Ricardo Lucarelli (outside attacker, Brazil)
Lucarelli has been a mainstay at the outside hitter position for Brazil since his debut in 2011. Lucarelli was chosen as the Best Outside Spiker at the Rio Olympics in 2016 when Brazil won the gold.
8. Benjamin Toniutti (setter, France)
Despite his relatively short stature at just 6-foot, Toniutti has been at the helm of the France squad for nearly 11 years. He recently helped lead his Polish club team to the Club World Championship gold medal.
7. Yuji Nishida (opposite, Japan)
The hometown hero will have his brilliant athleticism on display in Tokyo. Nishida is undersized compared to other opposites throughout the world, but makes up for this with his extreme vertical jump and powerful swings.
6. Egor Kliuka (outside attacker, Russia)
After making his debut with the national team at just 17 years old, the 6-foot-10 Kliuka is a behemoth at the outside hitter position. His attacking and serving will be on full display for the world to see.
5. Wallace de Souza (opposite, Brazil)
It appears that nothing, including Father Time, can slow down Wallace. Known for his unorthodox mechanics, Wallace continues to baffle all defenses that try to stop him. At 34 years old, he is still widely considered the gold standard at the opposite position.
4. Jenia Grebennikov (libero, France)
Grebennikov has developed into arguably the best libero in the world. Known for his athletic defense and stellar passing, Grebennikov has helped turn France into a perennial medal contender at every major tournament.
3. Simone Gianelli (setter, Italy)
In many ways, Gianelli has revolutionized the setter position. Standing at 6-foot-9, his height and athleticism has helped him emerge as one of the best setters in the world.
2. Bruno Rezende (setter, Brazil)
When it comes time to hang up his shoes, it might be difficult to find a more decorated player in volleyball history than Bruno. Now 35 years old, Bruno has at least one more shot at a fourth Olympic medal after previously earning a gold and two silvers.
1. Wilfredo Leon (outside attacker, Poland)
Any conversation about who is the best player in the world begins and ends with Leon. Leon has dominated the international scene since he was a teenager in Cuba, with professional stops in
Russia and Italy along the way. It is hard to find any weakness in his game as he excels at every skill on the volleyball court. Now a naturalized citizen of Poland, Leon has his country primed to be a medal contender.