Colombia - The Rising Star of South America opens up to the world
Colombian volleyball ready to rise to the challenge in 2017.
Colombia has already registered impressive results across the board in all competitions of the South American volleyball calendar in recent years. Keeping third place on the continent, attending World Cups and strengthening the coaching staff and hosting South American Volleyball Confederation (CSV) tournaments in the country requires a lot of work.
The re-development of Colombian volleyball began in 2010 and the main goal of that year was to participate in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament for the London 2012 Games, with the hope that Brazil would have qualified through the World Cup in Japan and there would be another place open for South America. It did not happen, so the Colombian Federation shifted the starting point of their project.
A team, with junior and senior players, was prepared to find an alternative for 2013. However in the 2012 South American Youth Championship in Peru, Colombia got the third place - a significant achievement for the talented group of young players.
The support of CSV for grass-root categories was already bringing in good results. Further confirmation that Colombia was on track came in 2014, at the South American U21 Championship held at home in the city of Popayan. Colombia won the silver medal and qualified to the U23 World Championship in Turkey.
Maria Alejandra Marin and Ivonne Montano both reach for the ball against Turkey's Meliha Ismailoglu and Ozgenur Yurtagulen at the 2015 FIVB U23 World Championship.
That same year, Colombia entered the Pan American Cup and claimed a ticket for their debut FIVB World Grand Prix appearance in 2015, immediately qualifying to the Final Four of Group 3 and picking up the bronze medal.
Cindy Ramirez strikes against the block of Australia's Becchara Palmer and Sophie Godfrey as Colombia earn the bronze medal in Group 3 of the 2015 FIVB World Grand Prix.
And last year Colombia took part in their second Grand Prix, with the city of Cali hosting one of the Group 3 tournaments of the event.
Colombia made a bid to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in their participation at the South American Olympic Qualification Tournament in Argentina and got a second shot at Rio through the last World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Puerto Rico.
Amanda Coneo on the attack against Algeria at the 2016 World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Puerto Rico.
Although Colombia didn't manage to clinch what would have been a historic qualifcation, the women's National Team showed a great level of sporting performance.
The mandatory premise in the development program was to continue work in youth categories with the support of CSV, and the result of that work was the selection of a group of girls with a plan to qualify them for FIVB U18 World Championship.
At the U18 Pan American Cup - an important even in all North and South American teams' calendars - recently held in Cuba with the qualification to the World Championship at stake, the Colombian team was crowned champion after beating Cuba in a thrilling final.
But 2016 was an important year for Colombia in ther ways as well, with the country finishing second in the U23 South American Championship and competing in the Group 3 Final Four of the Grand Prix.
For 2017, in addition to taking part in the FIVB U20 World Championship, Colombia will host the women's South American Championship in the city of Cali, and after two years in Group 3 will be starring in Group 2 of the FIVB World Grand Prix.
The president of the Colombian Volleyball Federation, Carlos Grisales, is optimistic: "We will fight not to go down and for the World Championship qualification we hope to be among the best teams."
"We are preparing our grass-root categories right now because the 2017 South American Championship will be held in Cali and it will give three quotas for the 2018 FIVB World Championship. We want to continue with the international high level performance," concluded President Grisales.
Important breakthroughs with men's teams
Meanwhile, the men's National Team of Colombia is developing a similar process considering the difficult scenario of the South American groups.
"We have important accomplishments that we want to sustain in order to move up levels in important competitions. We have already achieved bringing in bronze medals, in senior, U23, U20 and U19 competitions", commented Grisales.
The strengthening of the technical staff of the Colombians teams, most importantly in the hiring this year of Antonio Rizola, Percy Ocken's contribution in 2016 in the men's team, and Mauro Mariasciulo - all Brazilians - as well as Argentines Eduardo Guillaume and Horacio Bastit.
The preparation periods of the teams have increased significantly. Accoridng to the president of the Federation "we need to play more against international teams during the preparation but this requires more financial resources."
"The work in the grass-root categories will continue and we hope to continue counting on the support of CSV as we had with President Ary Graca that continued with Rafael Lloreda."
Because of the development of Colombian volleyball in recent years, the sport now has greater recognition from the Colombian government and its Olympic Committee and more support will allow Colombian volleyball to continue to reach important landmarks in the South American and world scene.
As the whole country opens up and has been named 'destination of the year' for 2017 by several international travel and tourism authorities following the historic political events this year, so has volleyball in Colombia turned to take the sport by storm with a shiny bright future ahead.
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