Plovdiv, Bulgaria, September 11, 2016. “To win these medals and my MVP award, it was the team that played. So it was the team that won, not I.” These humble words probably best describe the character of Oleh Plotnytskyi, a 19-year-old Ukrainian with a charming enigmatic smile, who made the Volleyball world talk about him for days on end during the Final Round of the 2016 CEV U20 Volleyball European Championship - Men. With his incredible performances at the Kolodruma in Plovdiv, Oleh quickly turned to everyone’s favourite and probably deserved his MVP award far before the end of the tournament when he actually received it.
Oleh Plotnytskyi was born on June 5, 1997 in the family of Oksana Plotnytska and Yuriy Plotnytskyi. “My mom and dad played Volleyball, so I did not have a choice. I started practicing Volleyball when I was a first-grader, some ten years ago. Now I play for Lokomotiv KHARKIV and this is where I am heading after the end of this European Championship,” Oleh tells shortly his Volleyball story.
Before the start of the tournament in Bulgaria, Oleh Plotnytskyi was much better known for his exploits on the sand, though under the name of Plotnytskiy, a slightly different transliteration of his original Cyrillic-alphabet name. Among the best Beach Volleyball achievements of Oleh and his sand partner Illia Kovaliov are the silver medal from the 2014 U19 World Championship in Porto and the bronze medal from the 2015 U20 European Championship in Larnaka. Even more impressive - they won bronze at the men’s CEV Biel/Bienne Masters in 2015.
Just four days before travelling to Bulgaria, Oleh was in neighbouring Greece to take part in the 2016 CEV U22 Beach Volleyball European Championship. In Thessaloniki, he and Denys Denysenko finished fourth. “I missed the first training sessions with Ukraine’s U20 national squad, because I was still in Thessaloniki, but when I joined them I made the switch easily and put all my commitment into working hard for my team. It kind of comes naturally,” Oleh Plotnytskyi explains. “I have a wish to become one of the best players in Volleyball and Beach Volleyball at the same time and I just try my best to achieve these goals.”
Ukraine’s first game in Plovdiv was against hosts Bulgaria. Plotnytskyi was the best scorer and the driving force behind his team’s spectacular comeback from two sets down to win the match. With some sand particles still sticking to his feet, he created an immediate buzz in Bulgaria, especially among the Beach Volleyball proponents who were happy to point it out as yet another proof of how useful it is to practice the sand sport even for indoor players.
Ukraine’s victory over Bulgaria was taken as a surprise since the team had not even qualified for last year’s U19 continental finals and booked their ticket to Plovdiv only after losing two and winning one of their matches in the very last qualification round in July. So when the Ukrainians lost to Poland their second match, everything seemed to be “back to normal.”
Having scored “only” four aces in these first two games, in the third Oleh Plotnytskyi literally exploded from the serving line to contribute six aces to the straight-set win against Slovenia. Hammering out another seven against France and another five against Germany, Oleh was already the “talk of the town” way before the semi-finals. Ukraine’s Cinderella story was unfolding and quickly changing the team’s status from the pool’s underdog to the tournament’s sensation.
“We took advantage of our underdog status. We practiced for every game, for every ball. From the beginning through the end we were prepared for every situation. Within the past one year the boys grew older and smarter. We started to play like a team, not everyone for himself. This explains our success. I think if we keep this team spirit and keep working hard, we will play even better and achieve even better results,” comments Plotnytskyi.
Despite everything he had already done for his team, Oleh Plotnytskyi’s most glorious moment in Plovdiv was yet to come. It happened in the semi-final against Italy. The opponents were 2-1 up and had a 22-20 lead in the fourth set. A successful hit by Plotnytskyi, who had already scored five aces in the match, sent him to the serving line again. With two aces out of four serves, he gave his team a 24-22 lead on the way to the eventual 26-24. But the best was yet to come! At 13-8 Italy’s way in the fifth set, the outcome already seemed to have been decided. Not in Oleh Plotnytskyi’s mind! After a blasting hit from Dmytro Viietskyi, it was Plotnytskyi’s turn to serve. He had already scored five of Ukraine’s nine points in this set, when he started bombarding the Italian half of the court. With six consecutive serves, all so powerful that were almost impossible for the opponents to handle, Ukraine closed the set at 15-13 and qualified for the final, deserving the applause from everyone at the Kolodruma.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything. I was just trying to stay calm and keep on serving,” Oleh says about the state of mind he was in at this remarkable moment. “I don’t know if this was a miracle. Maybe it was meant to be. We had to win, so it happened. The boys gave their best to do what they had to do after my serves.”
Coach Mykola Pasazhin also commented on the situation: “We blocked, we softened their hits, we delivered in defence and we finished the job in offence, while Oleh once again became our magic wand.”
Well, Ukraine’s fairy tale did not go as far as winning the final against mighty Poland, but the silver medal was already an achievement no one had probably dreamed of. “I am disappointed for losing the final, but very little. For Ukraine, this is a very positive result. I can only hope to repeat it soon at the World Championship,” says Oleh Plotnytskyi after receiving the MVP award, already looking forward to the next big one. “We have been striving to win some kind of medals. We reached the final. The Polish team is strong, but we gave all the energy that we had left. I am satisfied and very happy.”
Asked if he feels like a hero, Oleh replies: “No, but the team should be feeling that way. If it wasn’t for the team, you cannot win anything alone in our sport. We all have contributed. To win these medals and my MVP award, it was the team that played. So it was the team that won, not I.”
Despite his speedy rise to international Volleyball fame, Oleh Plotnytskyi remains with his feet firm on the ground. “I am going straight to Kharkiv to rejoin my club. No big clubs have approached me yet. I think I have to justify this award at least one more time. I should prove that I am worthy of it at least one more time before I can expect any major changes in my club career.”
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