Challenge - La Paz, MEX - 2023 - Beach Pro Tour 2023 season - News


The Spanish veteran has last appeared in a tournament during the Tokyo Olympics

When Liliana Fernández steps on the court at this week’s Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour's La Paz Challenge, in Mexico, the Spanish veteran will be making her second beach volleyball comeback after giving birth, but, in a lot of ways, her path to getting back on the sand was entirely different this time.

The 36-year-old Liliana took her first baby break in 2017, when she gave birth to her older son, Saúl, a few months after the Rio Olympics, and is now set to return to the court for a second time after bringing Óliver to the world in May 2022.

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If at the first time the Spanish, then aged 31, had no doubts that she would return to her playing career after she was fully recovered and fit again, it wasn’t quite the same in her second comeback.

Liliana, who has last played a match at the Tokyo Olympics, in July 2021, saw her longtime partner Elsa Baquerizo announce her retirement after they were eliminated from their third-straight Olympic campaign in Japan. For some time, she wondered if that was the path she should follow as well.

“When Elsa decided to retire, I’d say I was split between quitting too and coming back and playing for a little longer,” she told Volleyball World. “After a few months, I realised I wasn’t ready to retire yet and that I still had the competition fire on me. Our final year together was very inconsistent and frustrating and I didn’t want to retire like that. I wanted another chance to have fun on the court and that’s why I decided to make another comeback. And I’m really excited now because for some time I wasn’t sure if that was going to happen.”


Liliana and longtime partner Elsa during the Tokyo Olympics, their third as partners

Despite the certainty that she wanted to compete internationally again, Liliana had big doubts if she was ever going to be able to do it for another reason. While her husband, Eduardo, and her, had adjusted well after Saúl’s birth and were able to create a system that allowed her to maintain her training and traveling routines, things got a little more complicated with another kid in the picture.

“On one hand, I was confident we could make it work because I knew what to expect and what a baby would require from my experience with Saúl,” she reflected. “But on the other, it’s two kids now. Saúl is at an age that has his own activities and his routine and I didn’t want to sacrifice that or overload my husband to accommodate my needs. We decided to give it a try and everything has been working perfectly so far. The next few months should be a little more challenging as I’ll be traveling more often, but we’ll see how we can make it work.”

With the decision about coming back made and things sorted out at home, there was another one that she had to make not too much later. After 14 years and 125 international tournaments with her longtime partner Elsa, Liliana had to look for a new teammate following her retirement.

Paula Soria, a 30-year-old defender who won gold at last year’s Beach Pro Tour Futures event in Madrid, Spain, ended up emerging as the best option for her.

“It was actually funny because on the same phone call that she congratulated me for my pregnancy, she also said she was wondering if we could play together,” she recalled. “We know each other for more than ten years and I think we communicate very well because of that. We are not afraid to say what we think and I thought that could help us make our team improve faster. I’ve played with Elsa forever and I still miss her on the personal side, even if we talk basically every week. But I feel very comfortable with Paula, it’s been really easy for us to adjust and we’re having a lot of fun.”

Liliana, who was fortunate to get great support from the Spanish Olympic Committee, the Spanish Volleyball Federation and her three main sponsors (UCAM, Proyecto FER and Iberdrola) during her pregnancy, also had to work harder to get back into shape this time even if she remained active during most of the period that she was expecting Óliver.

If in 2018, when she returned from Saúl’s birth, the Spanish was 31, now she’s five years older and needed some extra work and patience to get her body back in rhythm ahead of her return to competition.

“Returning after my second pregnancy, I knew it wasn’t going to be the same,” she commented. “I tried to repeat some of the things that worked well for me five years ago and was very patient when building my fitness again. It was a progressive process but I felt it took me more time to get back to my best form this time. The recovering part went well, but getting my muscles back was a little more difficult. I’ve been training normally since February and I feel like my muscle memory is coming back now and my body is figuring everything out. Several teams came to Tenerife to practice over the last weeks and it was good for me to play against them and see where I’m at. We won some and lost some, but were always competitive and I’m definitely ready.”

Liliana and Soria won’t have a whole lot of time to adjust with the Olympic qualification period already underway. Being in Paris in 2024 is certainly their dream, but, as with her return, the Spanish veteran understands that it’s all part of a process.

With the experience of competing in London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, Liliana knows that qualification is earned every day and not in one or multiple events.

“The Olympics are obviously the ultimate goal, but we both know it’s only going to happen if we are able to perform well, work hard and have fun on the court and that’s what we’re trying to focus on,” she said. “We just want to play the best we can and hopefully the results will come. It would be amazing to be at the Olympics for a fourth time and I really want Paula to feel what it means to be there too. But we can’t focus on that every single day. During my entire career, I always tried to play in the same way I practice and to have fun and that won’t change now.”