Maritza wins third consecutive title in Bulgaria

The team of Maritza Plovdiv won their third consecutive national championship title in Bulgaria in a very impressive manner. On Thursday they successfully closed the final playoff with Levski Sofia to triumph with the National Volleyball League trophy and the gold medals, after cruising through the entire season dropping only two sets along the way in their 20 matches altogether.

One of these two lost sets came in their last game when the Yellow-and-Blues from Europe’s oldest living city visited Sofia for the second leg of their best-of-three championship series. The young team of Levski put on a battle at the beginning of the match and surprised Maritza by snatching the first part, but then the squad from Plovdiv brought things back to normal to claim a 3-1 (25-27, 25-10, 25-16, 25-18) victory. Two days earlier, Maritza had mastered a 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 25-15) shutout of Levski at home and these two wins were enough to put an end to the season.

Before that, Maritza had gained two straight-set victories against Kazanlak Volley in their semifinal playoff, while Levski, which had finished sixth in the regular season, managed to upset second-placed Rakovski Dimitrovgrad in the other semifinal.

According to the National Volleyball League regulations, the playoff phase only determines the new champion, while all the other teams follow the order of their regular season standings in the final placements for the championship. So Rakovski, a squad that consists mainly of players on loan from Maritza, took the silver, and the bronze went to CSKA Sofia, despite the fact that Levski had managed to overcome both of these teams in the playoffs.

“I am a little bit sad about the way we won the title this year, because there is such a big gap in the level between our team and all the others. I hope that next season things will be different,” Maritza’s president Iliya Dinkov commented after the awarding ceremony. “We will once again take advantage of the opportunity to play in the Champions League, which allows us to have some official games at a very high level.”

“We are starting to work up our appetite for something bigger at the European level,” club manager Boris Halatchev added. “It may sound like only a dream right now, but just like we are celebrating our third national title right now, why not celebrate one day with a continental trophy?”

First things first, what is next for Maritza is the national cup tournament scheduled to take place from May 1 through 5 in Sofia. The teams are allowed to register additional players for that competition, but the champions do not plan to take advantage of this rule. This might make the race for Kupa Bulgariya somewhat more competitive, but Maritza will be working towards a golden double.

“It may be difficult to motivate the team for the cup tournament, when it takes place after the end of the league season, but we have a strong squad of professional players and I think we can be successful again. Each trophy comes with something special that remains in our hearts forever,” coach Ivan Petkov pointed out.

“It is now two times that I have won the national championship title with this team, which had been a childhood dream of mine,” said Maritza’s most experienced player and captain Radosveta Teneva, who made her first steps in volleyball in Plovdiv and, after an extensive international career, returned to her roots at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season.  “But I have never won the cup. So I am really, really motivated for next week’s tournament.”