Paola Egonu (ITA)

Italy are currently top of women's Pool B in the volleyball tournament at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and certainly making an impression ahead of encounters with reigning Olympic champions China on Saturday and three-time FIVB Volleyball Nations League winners USA on Monday. Paola Egonu is the team's leading points scorer (currently 64 - the third highest across all teams in the women's tournament) and a player to watch as the competition heats up in Tokyo.

Who - Paola Egonu, Italy’s 22-year-old opposite who has won trophies and plaudits galore since she made her mark on Italian volleyball at only 15-years-of-age.

Early Days - Egonu was born in Cittadella in north east Italy to Nigerian parents. In 2013, when she was just 15, and after showing her potential with her hometown club, she was snapped up by Club Italia, which brought together Italy's youngest hopefuls to give them court time in the professional leagues.

At 17 she helped Italy win the 2015 FIVB Volleyball Girls U18 World Championship where she was named MVP of the tournament, and bronze at the 2015 FIVB Volleyball Women's U20 World Championship.

She made such an impression that in 2016 leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera picked her among 10 young Italians who they predicted would give the country a bright future and shape how the country develops.

Later that year she flew to Brazil as part of Italy’s squad for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games where she played five times.

Hitting the heights - Egonu really made her breakthrough into the world class category when she helped Italy win silver at the Japan 2018 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship.

She finished the tournament with 324 points in 13 matches, an average of nearly 25 points per match, including a new record of 45 points in a match when Italy defeated China in the semifinals.

At club level Egonu has been equally successfully. After she joined Igor Gorgonzola Novara in 2017, she claimed a CEV Champions League title, two Italian Cups and one Super Cup.

Then in her first season with Imoco Volley Conegliano, Egonu finished with three more trophies, including the 2019 FIVB Volleyball Women’s Club World Championship.

As a sign of how popular she has become in Italy, at the end of 2020 Egonu was chosen to voice the character Sognaluna in the Disney-Pixar film Soul, the first time an Italian athlete has been asked to voice an animated character.

She has also used her increased profile to speak up on social issues, most notably the racism that she, family and friends have faced.

So far in 2021 - Egonu helped her club Imoco Volley Conegliano secure victory in the Italian Serie A and Cup and led her team to gold in the CEV Champions League. Paola Egonu was one of the athletes to carry the Olympic flag at the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony.

Paola Egonu carries the Olympic flag

Paola Egonu carries the Olympic flag

What They Say - “Paola is my younger sister, and we have a great relationship. As an opponent it would be hugely difficult to limit her effectiveness as she hits the important ball so many times. You probably would have to mark her.”

Italy teammate Myriam Sylla.

What She Says - “When I'm told I'm not at my best, it's because you can easily tell that. I'd love to be more consistent. If I improve this aspect, my teammates can also rely on me more.