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The young outside hitter is determined to show her progress at the international level after a strong season with Fenerbahçe

Ana Cristina Souza left a strong impression in her most recent match with the Brazilian women’s national team, coming off the bench to score six points in just one set in the gold medal match of the Volleyball Nations League 2022.

With Brazil set to make its debut in the 2023 edition of the tournament on Wednesday, in Nagoya, Japan, at 18:00 local time (09:00 UTC), against China, the 19-year-old outside hitter feels ready to do even more for the team this year.

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Currently in third place in the FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Ranking, the South Americans have been one of the most successful teams in the first four seasons of the VNL, but are yet to step at the top of the podium in the tournament, having taken silver in the last three editions.

“I am very excited to be with the national team this season,” she told Volleyball World. “Playing in a tournament like the VNL with such a strong team as Brazil is an amazing opportunity. Expectations are always high with the national team and I want to contribute in the best possible way.”

Seen as one of the rising stars in Brazilian volleyball for a few years now, Ana Cristina, who became an Olympic silver medallist at the Tokyo Games two years ago at the age of 17, seems to have given a huge step forward during the last club season.

After sitting out of the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship, she was in great form with her club team Fenerbahçe Opet, playing a big role in their most successful season in quite a few years, which resulted in victories at the Turkish League and the Turkish Supercup, a second-place finish at the Turkish Cup and a semifinal appearance in the CEV Champions League.

Her importance to Fenerbahçe was recognized by Turkish star and team captain Eda Erdem, who handed the Brazilian the Turkish League trophy for her to lift with the rest of the team.

It was a massive change from 2021-2022, when Ana Cristina had a limited role with the team and not a lot of playing time in her first season overseas. Extending her connection with national team setter Macris Carneiro, who was also with Fenerbahçe this past season, was another benefit from her brilliant season in Türkiye.

“I got to play a lot more with my club and that makes me get to the national team with more confidence,” she reflected. “Playing in major tournaments like the Champions League brought me a lot of experience. I realise how much progress I’ve made and I went through some difficult situations with my club that will for sure help me with the national team. Having Macris by my side was excellent as we got to talk a lot and share our experiences. I’m sure this connection with help with the national team too.”

A starting spot at the outside hitter position in the Brazilian national team, however, seems to be one of the most coveted jobs in international volleyball right now as head coach José ‘Zé Roberto’ Guimarães has plenty of options to work with.

While international superstar Gabriela ‘Gabi’ Guimarães seems a lock for one of the two spots, Ana Cristina will likely compete with fellow rising star Julia Bergmann, veteran Pri Daroit and up-and-comers Tainara Santos and Maiara Basso for the other one, with opposite Rosamaria Montibeller also being able to provide cover in the position.

Although she's open to helping at opposite, a position she has played in the past, if that would help her get more playing time, Ana Cristina sees herself as more of an outside hitter now.

“I think this competition is natural in sports and great for the team,” she explained. “Here in the national team, one player helps each other so we can progress as a group. It’s not about one player, but the team, and the key for me is being available and open to helping the team in any way I can. I feel more comfortable at outside hitter, but am open to any possibilities, and what matters is to play and help the team.”

Ana Cristina should be one of the key players for Brazil in the opening week of the VNL, when the South Americans face China, the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic and Croatia. The goal, she says, is to give the first steps toward another gold medal match appearance.

“There will be a lot of learning for us in this first week,” the outside hitter reflected. “We have a lot of new players and are still developing as a team. We’ll look for the best possible results and also to improve as a team so we can make it the to Finals. It’s one step at a time.”

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