Lausanne, Switzerland, September 1, 2015 - Italy Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was one of the many Italian fans keen to congratulate MVP Paola Egonu on winning gold at the FIVB Volleyball Girls' U18 World Championship.
National coach Marco Bonitta has also called the extremely talented youngster up for the full national team, even though Egonu is just 16-years-old.
"I am putting together a plan for Rio 2016 and Paola, like other talented youngsters, is one of those young people who could be part of the blue team,” said Bonitta. “There must be no restrictions due to age. China have similar players in their team, while the United States and Brazil also have many young players in their teams.”
Egonu is regarded as an exceptional prospect, which is why she is also a candidate for the Italian squad for the FIVB Volleyball Women’s U20 World Championship in Puerto Rico from September 11-19. The powerful hitter, who already stands over 1.90m tall and can leap to a remarkable 3.36 metres, played a key role in Italy's qualification for the event.
She has impressed as the outstanding points scorer in the Italian A-2 league, but really caught the eye of the volleyball world during Italy’s triumph in the FIVB Volleyball Girls' U18 World Championship. Paola Egonu was named First Outside Hitter in the All Star team and was voted the competition’s Most Valuable Player. She also contributed 18 points in the 3-0 (25-20, 25-18, 25-16) victory over the USA in the final.
“I am so excited. After the semifinal, I was not able to sleep I was so excited. This victory is an experience we will never forget,” said Egonu.
“The individual awards are a very big honour for me. I know very well that I must continue to work hard to achieve even more important things than this wonderful gold medal. Ours has been a fantastic journey, especially since we were able to grow every game, reaching higher levels. I think that what made a difference was the unity within the group. We are all very close. We fought together for every point, never surrendering. Everyone did their best.”
The Italians’ motto throughout their title-winning campaign was “NoiSiamoNoi” – roughly translated as ‘It’s up to us’.
The team owes its unity to successful coach Marco Mencarelli. “This group undoubtedly has great potential and Paola Egonu is one of the key players,” he said.
Her performance is also the result of successful integration. Egonu speaks with a Venetian accent, but her parents are from Nigeria. Although she has lived in Italy for a long time, she only officially became Italian at the age of 14, when her father received his Italian passport. The family has lived in Italy for 20 years now. Dad is a truck driver, mum a nurse.
"I had felt like a blue for a long time. But without that document I would not have been able to participate in the World Championship in Peru and win gold for Italy,” said Paola Egonu.
Every two years she returns to Nigeria for Christmas, where her grandparents and other relatives live. In her heart, however, Italy is definitely home. "I would describe myself as 'afroitaliana'.”
This is a new aspect of volleyball in Italy. The national team now features outstanding players like Valentina Diouf, Indre Sorokaite and Ofelia Malinov, whose parents are Senegalese, Lithuanian and Bulgarian respectively. And Paola Egonu is the next superb ambassador for the new Italy.