Melissa Vargas was the top scorer at the 2015 Women's Pan American Cup
Lausanne, Switzerland, July 31, 2015 - José Roberto Guimarães has led Brazil's women to two Olympic victories and his praise for 15-year-old Melissa Teresa Vargas Abreu carries weight: "She has everything to be one of the world's best - her strength, height, jump and technique are already above any average. And she is a player who has a very important school behind her, one of the world's best. Cuban volleyball has a history of outstanding players.”
Vargas has demonstrated her exceptional talent at several tournaments this year. At this year's edition of the Women's Pan American Cup, she was the leading scorer of the tournament with 144 points – and second all-time best behind Puerto Rican Aury Cruz, who scored 151. The teenager, who was first selected for the national team at the age of 13, was also named best server of the tournament. She was also an outstanding points scorer in this year's edition of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix.
If all goes to plan, the FIVB Girls' U18 World Championship August 7-16 in Peru could be the next highlight of her career. In theory, she could also play at the tournament in 2017. You sometimes forget that Vargas is just 15 years of age.
It's logical that this prompts memories of her great predecessors in Cuba. Of Regla Torres, for example, who at the age of 17 in 1992 was the youngest volleyball player to date ever to win gold at the Olympic Games. Two further gold medals followed with the legendary “Morenas del Caribe” team in 1996 and 2000, and two World Championship titles in 1994 and 1998. Torres was crowned best female volleyball player of the 20th century in 2000.
In recent years, Torres has intermittently been part of the Cuban national team's coaching staff, which is where she has come into contact with the promising new star Vargas. “In Cuba we have very young athletes, but this is the first time in recent years that we have had such a good young player,” said Torres in an interview. She was reminded of the start of her own great career. “I was the same as Melissa! She doesn’t say too much because that's the way she is, but inside she is strong. She has a strong mind.”
Despite the praise and her magnificent achievements so far, Vargas has kept her feet solidly on the ground. “I felt good, at times a little nervous because I didn't want to make mistakes, and that sometimes happens,” said Vargas, after helping Cuba qualify for the FIVB Volleyball World Cup Japan 2015. Cubans dream of a new golden age as she sets out to guide a young team to success. Naturally, her biggest idol is one of the past's most glamorous players - prodigy Mireya Luis.
“I hope to be like Mireya, I really like her,” said Vargas. The 15-year-old even has a physical advantage over her idol. Measuring in at 1.84m, she is eight centimetres taller than Mireya Luis. And she has made up for her comparatively modest height for an attacking player with her phenomenal jumping. Vargas has reached a serving height of 3.38m, which sees her hold a record in relation to her height. Melissa Vargas is already feared for her attacks and rocket-like serves.
Vargas made a strong impression at the FIVB World Grand Prix last year.
Scoring 67 points in 16 sets, she also made her mark at the 2014 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship in Italy, even if Cuba were unable to win a match in the first round. “It was definitely a great experience, even though we did not manage to go through to the second round or to win any matches. We still seized the opportunity to learn and improve,” she said.
Vargas, who was born in the Cienfuegos province, took up volleyball at the age of eight, after being scouted at a sports club in Cuba and recruited to volleyball. Her exceptional talent soon became clear, which has now attracted global attention. The Cuban Volleyball Federation (FCV) with president Ariel Sainz recently gave the green light for a transfer to top Czech club Agel Prostejov. Vargas will play there alongside Cuban teammate Sulian Matienzo. Last year, the Cuban authorities authorized its volleyball players to be signed by professional clubs abroad. These measures mark the island's return to professional sport, which was abolished in Cuba in 1961.
Whatever happens, Melissa Vargas will focus on what makes her happy - playing volleyball. She knows exactly what it takes to have the kind of career her idol Mireya Luis had. “I hope I will become a great volleyball player if I train hard.”