30.06.2019 - Hamburg, Germany
In beach volleyball, it’s not usual to call someone a veteran at age of 21, but Michelle Valiente probably deserves that label. The young Paraguayan is competing this week at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships Hamburg 2019 presented by comdirect and ALDI Nord, which marks her third appearance at the sport’s biggest stage.
Michelle’s World Champs history began in 2013, when she was just 15 and represented Paraguay for the first time in Stare Jablonki finishing 37th with Pati Caballero, who’s also her partner in Hamburg. On that occasion, she became the youngest player to ever compete in the event.
“I didn’t really understand how meaningful it was at the time, but looking back at it now, it’s incredible,” Michelle said. “There are several great young players in our sport like Duda and to think that I got to play at the World Championships earlier than them, it’s just hard to believe.”
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into in 2013 and just to be out there and have that experience, it really opened my eyes and made me decide that I wanted to pursue a career in beach volleyball. I remember that when I saw Talita and Taiana playing all I could think was that I wanted to be like them and since then I’ve been working for it.”
In the Hague 2015, she paired with Gabriela Filippo to win one pool match and finish in a respectable 17th-place. That tournament became even more special when the young Paraguayans played three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Olympic medalist April Ross of the United States, who eventually eliminated them.
“I have the best possible memories about 2015,” she added. “I remember I was taking a nap and recovering for our next match when my partner woke me up and told me we would be playing Kerri in the next round. I couldn’t believe it! It was an unbelievable experience to be at the court with her when I was just 17.”
The Paraguayan missed the Vienna 2017 edition as she was in the United States studying English, but she returned to the event this year. Pati and her lost their first two matches and will have to beat the Canadian twins Megan and Nicole McNamara on Monday to have a chance to move out of pool play.
Their experience in Hamburg, however, has already been memorable as they got to play the home team of Chantal Laboureur and Sandra Ittlinger on their opening match in a packed Red Bull Beach Arena.
“It was unbelievable,” she stated. “The result obviously wasn’t a good one for us, but outside of that, it was amazing. To play in front of all those people and feel that energy, it just makes us want even more to return in two years.”
If Michelle keeps her pace, she could very well tie or even surpass the Netherlands’ Rebekka Kadijk as the woman with the most appearances in the event - eight. That, however, is just one of the several goals she has set for the future of her, still, young career.
“I still want to keep playing for many, many years, so that’s definitely a possibility,” she mentioned. “It would be special to play in several more World Championships, but I also have the dream of competing in the Olympics one day. We have qualified to the Final Round of the South American Continental Cup and I hope we can win that spot next year.
“Paraguay has some natural limitations in beach volleyball because we’re not very tall people and we don’t have beaches, but we’ve made significant progress in several other aspects. We’ve been playing well in the South American Tour and I hope we can be more present in the World Tour in the future.”