Former FIVB World Tour star leads Italian youngsters in Antalya
Antalya, Turkey, May 16, 2014 - Italy is one of the countries with representatives in both genders at the 2014 CEV Youth Beach Volleyball Continental Cup Final in Antalya. The four Italian hopefuls are mentored by former FIVB World Tour star Andrea Raffaelli.
The two Italian duos Irene Enzo/Michela Lantignotti and Manuel Alfieri/Paolo Di Silvestre practiced for only four days before leaving for the Turkish Mediterranean coast, but they played in many tournaments last year and in the season before that.
“We are here to look for Olympic qualification for the Youth Games in China and I think we have a good chance,” Raffaelli said. “But the teams here are very good, so we need to play well and also need to be a little bit lucky in the draws.”
As a player, Andrea Raffaelli won a couple of silver medals from FIVB and CEV events, and achieved two fifth-place finishes in the FIVB World Tour in his international career from 1992 through to 2009. The 44-year-old beach volleyball specialist was hired by the Italian federation as the national coach for the youth teams very recently, in February 2014.
“We need time. I think we need another season or so to go into the high level of Europe,” Raffaelli commented. “Yes, the federation has set it as our goal to qualify for the Olympics. It is normal for them to want this, but they also know that we want it even more and we will do our best to achieve that goal.”
“For me personally, it is great to be back in Turkey. I played many times in Alanya and I like this country. I did not know Antalya until now, but this facility at the university campus is very nice. I hope our results will also help us to remember our good time here.”
Raffaelli has actually known one of his players for quite some time now. Five years ago, he received an invitation from Manuel Alfieri’s father to work for him at a beach volleyball academy in Pescara. “I started coaching Manuel when he was only 11 years old. He has improved step by step and it is now a special feeling to also coach him in the national team,” the mentor shared.
“We are very excited to be at this tournament. We know that it is very important,” Manuel said. He and his partner were actually born in 1998, which makes them younger than most of their opponents in the Youth Continental Cup. Despite that, they emerged as winners of their Pool C in last summer’s zonal phase to qualify for this year’s finals.
The Italian women’s duo, Irene Enzo/Michela Lantignotti, qualified for the finals as the runner-up from their zonal pool in Serbia, after having put up a tough fight in the final match against the eventual winners from Switzerland.
“My partner and I are very happy to have this opportunity,” Michela Lantignotti said. “Of course, to go to the Olympics is a dream for every person in the world. So we will do the best we can to take advantage of this opportunity.”
There is no doubt that these young Italian hopefuls are also dreaming of playing in the ‘grown-up’ Olympics, maybe at Tokyo 2020. But coach Raffaelli would rather they focus on their current goals: “It is OK to dream big, but I always teach them that in order to achieve their big dreams they have many smaller ones to achieve along the way.”