Volleyball players can progress in different ways, but if there is a player who has done exceptionally well it is Brazilian outside hitter Ricardo Lucarelli.
From being a promising prospect in one of the most talent-rich countries in the sport in 2011 to becoming an Olympic champion and one of the most coveted players in the world ten years on, the Brazilian star has steadily progressed at each stage of his career to date.
After developing his skills with Minas Tenis Clube in Belo Horizonte, Lucarelli first appeared on the international scene in 2011, during the FIVB Men’s Junior World Championship in Brazil. He wasn’t considered a key player for the hosts when the tournament started, but the perception certainly changed after he led his team in points scored in the tournament.
After a solid club season with Minas and his first appearance in the FIVB Volleyball World League, he received a rare opportunity to join the Brazilian national team during their London 2012 Olympics campaign, as a guest player. His main tasks were to sub in for the team’s veteran outside hitters in training sessions and keep the intensity level high, but Lucarelli, only 20 at the time, made a lot more of the chance of being with legends like Gilberto ‘Giba’ Godoy, Dante Amaral and Ricardo Garcia.
“During those days I learned why they were so good,” he said. “They would give all they had in every training session, even if they had had an exhausting five-set match the night before. It was heartbreaking to see those guys lose the gold medal match after winning the first two sets, but it was an awesome experience and I learned the lesson that regardless of how well you’re playing, the next training session is always the most important one.”
With that lesson and the semi-Olympic experience under his belt, Lucarelli showed he was ready for the next step during the 2013 season, when he led Brazil to victory at the FIVB U23 World Championship and was named the tournament’s MVP. He then appeared in as many as four finals with the senior team, winning the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup, the South American Championship and the Pan-American Cup.
The 2014 season had Lucarelli taking Brazil to other finals and settling for silver at both the FIVB Volleyball World Championship and in the World League. His talent, however, was rewarded with inclusion in the Dream Teams of both tournaments. After another solid year in 2015, the outside hitter entered 2016 as a key player for Brazil as they hosted the Olympics.
But it wasn’t a regular edition of the Olympics if, by the way, that even exists. It was played 'at home', in Rio de Janeiro, and the 12 players selected by head coach Bernardo ‘Bernardinho’ Rezende knew they would have to deal with an insane amount of pressure coming from their passionate home fans.
An inconsistent start saw Brazil losing two of their first four matches and brought added pressure to the team, which Lucarelli helped to relieve with a 14-point performance against France at the conclusion of the pool stage that qualified the team for the elimination round.
That, however, still wasn’t all. One of the most demanded players in the Brazilian roster, Lucarelli sustained a muscle injury in his right leg in the quarterfinals and played through it to help the team win the gold medal match. With that effort, he showed he was not just a special talent, but also a hard-working and committed team player.
“I remember everything, starting with the first match, which was my debut at the Olympics,” he commented. “The game against France too, it was the turning point for us. And to remember all the noise and the emotions after we scored the final point in the gold medal match, it still gives me butterflies.”
The outside hitter helped Brazil win the Grand Champions Cup in 2017, but picked up a couple of serious injuries right after that event and missed the entire 2018 season. His return in 2019 was one you would expect from a player of his caliber as he helped EMS Taubate Funvic win the Brazilian Superliga and picked up the MVP award. He was later part of the Brazilian team that triumphed at the 2019 FIVB World Cup.
Then he realised it was time for another step forward. After spending his entire career in Brazil, the outside hitter decided to challenge himself and move to Italy to play for Trentino Volley at the age of 28, to continue his development as a player in what he considers the strongest league on the planet.
“Playing overseas was something I have been thinking about for some years now,” he said, shortly after his transfer was announced. “Playing in Italy has always been a goal I had for my career. It’s the best league in the world and I’m sure I can improve my game by playing there. This year I thought I was ready to make this move and when I received the offer I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Can you guess what his next step forward will be?
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