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22/08/2014 18:15
For the love of the game – Anthi Vasilantonaki
2014 CEV U19 Volleyball European Championship – Women

Tartu, Estonia, August 22, 2014. Having scored 95 winners in five matches, 18-year-old Anthi Vasilantonaki is the shining talent of the 2014 CEV U19 Volleyball European Championship – Women. The young opposite led Greece to their first semifinal qualification ever. A portrait.

It all started with rhythmic gymnastics. Until the day Anthi grew too fast. Her father, a former basketball player, sent her to volleyball practice: “Basketball is for men.” At that time, Anthi was nine years old. Until 12 she combined both disciplines. “Then I chose volleyball because I fell in love with it.” Anthi played four years for the Greek club Enosi Vironas before she moved to Panathinaikos Athens in the First League. At the tender age of seventeen, Vasilantonaki was already a leading force for her club.

As economic crises did not help develop the Greek volleyball league and many good players were leaving the country, Anthi Vasilantonaki, daughter of a Greek father and a Dutch mother, had to make another tough call: “I knew I had to leave. I just did not know where to go.” Anthi swayed between US college volleyball and the Italian league. “Finally I chose Italy. In Italy I can entirely concentrate on volleyball. The club is known for excellent quality.” Anthi will play for Prosecco Doc-Imoco CONEGLIANO, 63 kilometers or a one-hour drive from Venice. “I am looking forward to a new adventure. I will have to adapt to a new environment and dealing with more pressure. That is what I need. But I am sad to leave as well. I will not have many days to say goodbye.”

However, before starting her new life, Anthi focusses a 100% on the present. The 196 centimeter tall captain of the Greek team hardly can believe what happened here in Tartu. “It is still like in a fairy tale. We came here to win one or two matches.” After the preliminary round, Greece – for the first time in history – moved to the semifinals. “Two of our best players are absent. And we have qualified as the last team for the final round. We had definitely no expectations coming here.” In spite of that, or probably exactly because of that, Greece turned out to be the huge surprise of the tournament.

“We have gradually incorporated the new players in our team. We take it match after match and our coaching staff helps us a lot. We feel very strong, like in a wonderful family.” Anthi Vasilantonaki knows about her importance for the team but she quickly highlights the excellent team spirit as the main argument for the Greek success. “For sure I can help the team. I am one of the oldest players with some experience. I try to push my teammates. But finally the triumph comes from our strong team cohesion.”

Anthi and her teammates are looking forward to their first semifinal in history of Greek volleyball. “We’ll need to be patient against the Slovenian team. They may make few mistakes and play great in defense. As we never have imagined to go as far, we’ll stay calm and enjoy the game as much as we can.” Slovenia is not unknown for the young Greek players. One year ago, Greece overcame Slovenia in a thrilling five-setter in the race for the fifth rank at 2013 CEV Youth Volleyball European Championship – Girls in Bar, Montenegro. A good omen? “It was already an excellent result for Greek volleyball. Now we can even go one step further.”

With her 77 spike winners, ten aces and eight block kills so far, Anthi Vasilantonaki will be one of the key players in Saturday’s second semifinal in Tartu’s A. Le Coq Sports Hall. “I hope for a good result. Everything is possible now. We like what we do and will give our maximum. For the love of the game.”

Picture: Scoring 95 winners in five matches, 18-year-old Anthi Vasilantonaki led Greece to their first semifinal qualification ever (Photographer: Refik Keskin)

Click here for more info on the Final Round of the 2014 CEV U19 Volleyball European Championship – Women.

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