Italian libero Monica De Gennaro is regarded by many as one of the best players of the decade, a reputation she has earned through investing many hours in training and an ethic of hard work.
The 33-year-old's career has been filled with numerous victories and also some defeats. But the challenges of one tournament in particular served her well in terms of getting to where she is now. And that motivator was a frustrating campaign for Italy at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Italy’s very first Olympic Games appearance was at Sydney 2000. The Southern Europeans participated in every edition of the quadrennial thereafter, and when they made it to the quarterfinals in three appearances had high hopes of qualifying for the final four in Rio in 2016. That tournament, however, saw coach Marco Bonitta's team claim just one win in five matches played.
De Gennaro was disappointed by the outcome, but eventually managed to pick up the pieces and regain her determination.
“Rio 2016 was not such a great Olympic Games for us, as we had a very strong drive and high expectations to perform well. After that tournament, I lost my confidence and really felt that I wasn't living up to expectations.
“I wanted to get back on my feet, however, so I worked on those negative feelings and pushed myself to train harder.”
With a renewed belief that she could hold her own among the top players in the sport, she became a leader for her younger teammates and together they have created a wonderful collaboration in attack and defence that has led to several significant successes in the years since Rio, including a silver medal at the FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship in Japan in 2018.
Wearing the blue and white jersey of the Italian team has always been a huge source of pride for De Gennaro. Her achievements with club Imoco Volley Conegliano, however, also help define her current career.
“I feel honoured every time I represent my country in world competitions. Each event is memorable for me because we play each match with the right spirit and desire – all to honour the flag on the jersey we are wearing.
“Last year’s FIVB Women’s Club World Championship in China was also memorable. It was the first time Imoco Conegliano were participating and we knew that we had a good team coming into the tournament. It was an unforgettable ride because we were strong. It gave us unique joy to be there and conquer the title.”
Italy’s current depth of talent is undeniable, with its hitters getting a lot of the recognition. But De Gennaro is the unsung hero who links defence and attack. Her trusted partner in these efforts is 21-year-old Paola Egonu, who is the national team and Imoco Conegliano’s certified scoring machine.
“It’s an honour to be her friend and have the privilege to play with her at Imoco and on the national team. She deserves all the awards that she has received.
“Paola is a great achiever, and she does her best to reach the goals she has set for herself. She is a very sensitive and quiet person but turns into a panther when she is on the court playing. She is a rare talent who is writing important pages in our history. She is the future of this sport.”
De Gennaro describes herself as, “stubborn, hardworking, determined, generous, moody, demanding, protective, tenacious, introverted and honest.”
All these traits are embodied in her brilliant game.
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