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Top View: Volleyball legend Regla Torres warns of transition time for Cuba’s women

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FIVB’s Best Player of the 20th Century, REGLA TORRES helped Cuba win three Olympics and two World Championships during a decade of global dominance. From such lofty heights, the 38-year-old is now assistant coach of a Cuba women’s team low on experience and expectations, although the World Grand Prix debut of Melissa Vargas, 13, points to a brighter future.

 

By SportAsia

 

 

Regla Torres is used to winning. A towering child prodigy who played on the international circuit from the age of 14, she was just 16 when she was part of the Cuba side who won the 1991 FIVB World Cup in Japan, a qualifier for the following year’s Olympics. It was the start of a decade of dominance.

 

In Barcelona, the then 17-year-old gained global attention as Cuba’s women won their first Olympic title and Torres became the youngest-ever volleyball player to win gold.

 

Torres is currently assistant to head coach Juan Carlos Gala.

Torres is currently assistant to head coach Juan Carlos Gala.

The towering middle blocker and hitter became a cornerstone of the side – along with the likes of Mireya Luis and Regla Bell – that dominated women’s volleyball in the last decade of the 20th century, retaining their Olympic crown at Atlanta in 1996 and winning an unprecedented third straight title at Sydney 2000.

 

During that golden decade, Cuba also won back-to-back titles at the FIVB World Championship – volleyball’s second-most prestigious crown after the Olympics – in 1994 in Brazil and 1998 in Japan, with Torres voted MVP on both occasions.

 

Cuba won their third and fourth successive World Cup titles in 1995 and 1999, and also the quadrennial World Grand Champions Cup in 1993, although they finished runners-up in 1997. It was the only occasion they didn’t win one of volleyball’s ‘big four’ quadrennial events between 1991 and 2000.

 

An exceptional jumper, Torres could do almost everything on a volleyball court and during her career she won individual awards for serving, receiving, spiking and blocking.

 

Star power: Bulgaria captain Strashimira Filipova (#17) and teammates pose for a photo with Torres.

In 2001, the legendary all-rounder was named Best Player of the 20th Century by the FIVB (Federation Internationale de Volleyball) and subsequently inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame.

 

Now 38, Torres is assistant coach of the Cuba women’s team, who lost all nine of their games in this year’s World Grand Prix as they fielded a young, inexperienced squad including only a handful of players with any significant experience.

 

Torres, who helped Cuba win the annual competition in 1993 and 2000, looked on forlornly as the team were overrun in pool action in Macau, Russia and Kazakhstan, winning only three sets in total. However, there was one beacon of hope in the form of 13-year-old Melissa Vargas, whose precocious talents seemed remarkably familiar.

 

Interview with REGLA TORRES

 

Torres in post-match analysis with fellow coaching staff.

How has volleyball changed since the 1990s, when you and Cuba were at your peak?

I think the standard of volleyball at the moment is not very strong because of the libero (a defensive player added in 1998). We didn’t have them before and players had to do everything. I think the level of volleyball in the 1990s and before was very high and that the level of the players today is a little bit down.

 

For example, the centres do not have to receive or play defence. They only think about blocking in attack and serving, whereas before they had to do everything and the volleyball was more beautiful, I think. For the China team, the centre players were wonderful and the outside players were wonderful, too. They were so, so complete, and the current generation are not the same.

 

You sound like Jenny Lang Ping, who talks a lot about teaching her China players to become all-rounders.

She’s a very good coach. Yes, she needs to teach the team more all-round skills, because every team today plays the same way. The players are more powerful, but the tactics of the teams are all the same. She was my coach before and it was about defence, then good quick play and good combinations. I think that China now has to take as much knowledge as they can from her, as she’s very resourceful within volleyball. She can do many things for the China team.

 

You played against China many times. How has their team changed since you played them?

I first played China in 1990, in Macau. Today, they have the same quick play and very good defence. But their teams from the 1990s had more combinations and were more difficult to play against. This team is more simple, I think. The team of China in the ’90s was very quick, strong and tall, with a better defence than now.

 

What about Japan?

Before, it was a wonderful team. Now it is okay, not bad. Japan used to be a very dangerous team.

 

Melissa Vargas, 13, made her FIVB World Grand Prix debut in early August.

It was a very young Cuba side in this year’s World Grand Prix. What did you think of their performance overall?

It was very bad, because we had hoped for more. I think the players are afraid. For most of the girls, it was their first season playing against teams of a high level, so it was difficult for them. I think they have to make up their minds first and play more, much more, to gain confidence. I think that maybe it won’t be good for Cuba in the near future.

 

On the positive side, Cuba introduced Melissa Vargas, who’s only 13!

She has to learn a lot because she only began with us earlier this year. She has to gain strength and power, but she sometimes doesn’t know how to play and we have to guide her. She must take things step by step, stay calm and don’t think too much, just do what you must do. I think in one year or two years she’s ready to play volleyball.

 

Do you think she has a bright future?

Yes, I think so. She doesn’t speak too much because she’s like that, but inside she is strong. She has a strong mind, but sometimes she’s a little bit afraid and we have to speak to her a lot to take it easy, take it slowly.

 

Torres has called Vargas (#1) Cuba's best young player for five or six years.

She’s already tall. Is she still growing?

Yes, definitely. Just the month before the tournament (World Grand Prix) we had to change her shoes because her feet had grown. In five months her feet had grown larger and we keep having to change her clothes as well. In Cuba we have very young athletes, but this is the first time in the past five or six years we have had such a good young player.

 

You were only just a teenager when you started playing for the Cuba national team. What was your first memory? Were you scared?

I was the same like her! It was very scary because you want to make things happen, but you don’t know how. You think, I want to do this, but if I don’t do it well, then my coach may be angry with me. This creates confusion in your head. In the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, I don’t remember anything because it was like that. I didn’t know how to play or what to do. Maybe it’s instinct, but it’s difficult.

 

Do you think Cuba can become a great team again?

Not for now, because we don’t have enough experienced players. Most of our players are 17 or 18, so it’s not easy to make a team. It takes time, so maybe in five years or so, I don’t know.

 

Do you want to eventually be the head coach?

Maybe, but I have to finish my studies. I am in the third of my six years at the moment, so I have to study, study, study.

 

 

IMG_7541crop1REGLA TORRES

Sport: Volleyball

Country: Cuba

Residence: Havana, Cuba

Born: February 12, 1975; Santa Clara, Cuba

Height/weight: 1.93m, 75kg

Selected achievements (team):

Olympics (quadrennial) – winners 1992, 1996, 2000

FIVB World Championship (quadrennial) – winners 1994, 1998

FIVB World Cup (quadrennial) – winners 1991, 1995, 1999

FIVB World Grand Champions Cup (quadrennial) – winners 1993

FIVB World Grand Prix (annual) – winners 1993, 2000; runners-up 1994; third 1995, 1998

FIVB Junior World Championship – winners 1993

Selected awards (individual):

FIVB Best Player of the 20th Century

2001 Hall of Fame Inductee

2000 Summer Olympics – Best Spiker

1998 FIVB World Championship – Most Valuable Player, Best Blocker

1994 FIVB World Championship – Most Valuable Player, Best Blocker

1993 FIVB World Grand Prix – MVP, Best Receiver

1993 FIVB World Grand Champions Cup – Best Receiver

1993 FIVB Junior World Championship – Best Hitter

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