It is a clear signal when the club that has just become German champions announces a two-time contract extension before moving on to the usual festivities. But this arrangement, which at first glance seems rather strange, also shows the importance that Americans Crystal Rivers and Simon Lee have among the volleyball players of Allianz MTV Stuttgart. Lee, in Sunday’s decisive fifth play-off match against SC Potsdam (3-0) top scorer, and Rivers, who scored just one point lower, are no less than Stuttgart’s Sporting Life Insurance – after all, the attack burden has been since the return of Lee this season is no longer just on the shoulders of bold rivers. “This is our most important personal detail, and we want continuity and a high level in these positions,” Stuttgart sporting director Kim Rinkema said on Monday.
Rivers and Lee were also factors in Stuttgart’s success in this latest twisted drama, which began with a surprise 3-0 away win at Away Potsdam, followed by a 3-0 Stuttgart counterattack in Potsdam and a 3-2 Potsdam putsch at MTV. SC, which was promoted to the Bundesliga in 2009 on a small budget, has positioned itself in only the past three or four years as the most tenacious pursuer of the top trio of Schwerin, Stuttgart and Dresden, and had a match point in the best-of-five series in Friday’s second leg. Past – literally. In the most attractive and exciting game in the series, the Brandenburg FC, which did not play a playoff final, led 14:12 in the fifth set, but lost its courage in the face of a title opportunity – and its game.
On Sunday, Stuttgart had a relatively easy match for their first – and by far the most important – home win of the series. Also because the women of Potsdam “somehow no longer believed we could do that today, in the end we were just a hospital,” Captain Laura Emmonts said as she sobbed. Their important colleagues Valeria Baba and Maja Savic had rib and back problems, Libra Alexandra Djegdic was injured at times, and outside striker Tatjana Bukan had to leave shortly before the third match for personal reasons.
In the medium term, the Bundesliga also wants to be among the top three in Europe structurally
Talents like Libera Sarah Stiriz, 18, and blocker Anastasia Cekulaev, 18, played against Lee and Rivers and had already taken the championship trophy. But then Sarah van Allen, Potsdam’s only 22-year-old player, shot the ball through her fingers in the third set at 21:22 on Sunday and, as on Friday, there was a touch of tension at the crucial moment that held back her way. SC players. The Stuttgart women responded with their experience, Lee radiated in acceptance and with powerful attacks in the backcourt, Rivers with her initial strength on the diagonal position. In the end, they both showed off their widest smiles, accompanied by contract extensions. Sports director Rinkema was still excited on Monday: “It’s been an incredible series, we’re dead and resurrected. We won’t be able to play a better season in the future.”
Stuttgart, who have defeated only Potsdam in the DVV Cup and in the championship this entire season, including the first and second half of the season, have now played a season that was actually near perfect. The cup victory over Dresden at the beginning of next March, and the current title of the championship, does not mean only achieving the first duo for the club, which won the championship for the first time in 2019 after many second places. The team also reached the final of the CEV Cup, the second highest European club championship. They took into account that they had no chance against Eczacibaşi Istanbul. After all, Turkish women can plan in the multipliers of Stuttgart’s $2 million budget and play in one of Europe’s top three leagues.
This is exactly where – in the top three leagues – the women’s Bundesliga wants to go structural in the medium term, “even if that is a long way off”, assures Rinkema, Stuttgart’s sporting director. But the fact that SC Potsdam have now qualified for the next Champions League season alongside MTV, as are two German men’s clubs, is the next step forward. Women want to compete, even if they now face costs in the low six-figure range: unlike football, Europe’s top club competition in volleyball is still a subsidized business that you should be able to afford.