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Photo: Yaşar Yılmaz.

The Best Female Volleyball Player in the World is Cuban

18 / septiembre / 2023

More than five years ago, Melissa Teresa Vargas, the “child prodigy” of Cuban volleyball, was still in Cuba, in her hometown Cienfuegos. She was under a sanction from the Cuban Volleyball Federation that banned her from playing in any national or foreign competition for four years.

A punishment that condemned her – at the peak of her career – to rust outside a Taraflex court because the Board never knew how to guide her talent on the island.

In January 2018, the specialized magazine Volley Mob explained what no government-owned press had said: Melissa was missing from the Cuban team at competitions because the initial one-year sanction had been extended to another four. That is to say, the Federation took the liberty of punishing its star player for five years.

“Vargas has been suspended by the Cuban Volleyball Federation for the next four years. The ban extends to both national and international matches and is an extension of her previous one-year ban,” they confirmed.

The girl from Cienfuegos made her debut with the national team at just 13 years old and was selected “the best volleyball player” in Cuba 12 months later.

Her talent was obvious. Despite still being a child, she had to deal with the pressure of being the team’s star player, overusing her body combined with the poor material assistance that reigns at sport facilities across the island, whether they are high performance or not.

In the years following her debut with the national team, Melissa went to every volleyball competition that existed as a captain, whether it was a renowned or national tournament. Like what normally happens in these cases, she broke down. In mid-2016, the teenager received shoulder surgery. As she was a minor, her parents decided that she wasn’t getting the recovery she needed and took her out of the sports center.

In an interview with Radio Television Marti in 2018, Melissa’s aunt, Martiza Vargas, explained that they took her out of Havana because “they weren’t giving her the therapy she needed.”

A few months later, the Vargas family headed for Russia and, from Europe, the rising star signed a professional contract with Switzerland’s Volero Zurich team.

Thus, Cuba lost the best volleyball player in the world today, because it didn’t know how to handle a girl’s talent, their malpractices and because it failed to respect personal freedom. She is now bringing glory to Turkey, her adopted country.

The former star of the Cuban team, Yumilka Ruiz, had warned this would happen after Vargas’ success in 2014 and 2015. In an interview with OnCuba, Ruiz warned that Melissa was “a challenge for sport technicians and doctors” because she had to hold onto “her talent given the overloaded pressure.”

Ruiz also pointed out that Vargas didn’t know how to establish “comprehensive discipline” because she was just a girl. Her mentors also couldn’t because they had no idea how to handle her brilliance.

Melissa kept racing ahead and the Cuban volleyball federation members knew it. Yet, when they had the chance to band together and through up a roadblock, they did it without any scruples. She was lucky her and her family didn’t waste any time. Her raw talent, plus the right training, would yield many fruits.

Two years ago, the girl from Cienfuegos signed with Fenerbahçe SK, in Turkey, a critical step in settling in this country and getting fast-track citizenship for her athletic accomplishments. Turkish president, Erdogan, facilitated the process and awarded her citizenship during an official ceremony.

Vargas made her debut with the “Red Sultans” just a few months ago, and they have won everything. In addition to the Cienfuegos native, Turkey has a solid defense, which takes a chance on playing offense with its wing and opposite spikers. Vargas is a key piece in this style of playing.

With Vargas on the court, the Sultans won the crown in the Volleyball Women’s Nations League, in July, and have now won the European Volleyball Championship in a nail-biting five-set final against Serbia. All of the important goals passed via the Cuban and she scored a whopping 41 points during the final. All on her own. Loads!

All eyes are set on the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, and nobody doubts the Turks are going as one of the top favorites for the title. At just 24 years old, and with a decade of experience in this world, Vargas is the most spectacular player today.

The Cuban is a volleyball icon, just as Wilfredo Leon, a fellow countryman, is in Men’s Volleyball. It’s no coincidence that these two talents have broken away from the Cuban Volleyball Federation on bad terms, and that they have no interest whatsoever in wearing their homeland’s shirt again.

Cuban volleyball and its poor management haven’t changed in over a decade. Mentors have been replaced, stars (such as Robertlandy Simon) have been suspended and more and more athletes fleeing to Canada are the news stories in 2023. Everything indicates that the further away you are from the chaos on the island, the better off you are. Vargas and Leon are a clear example of this.


This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.
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