Brayelin and Jineiry Martinez

Family ties are nothing new in sports and there have been many different kinships in volleyball that have been showcased before. We now take a look at the blood kinship of five families whose talents on the court and from the sidelines are featured in the 2023 edition of the Volleyball Nations League.

Yuki and Mayu Ishikawa (JPN) - Power-packed Volleyball DNA

There is no doubt that this brother-sister tandem of Yuki and Mayu Ishikawa would be the fans’ top pick because whoever has seen these two siblings play, would surely be in awe and continuously rave about their power game.

Their father Mikihisa was a sprinter, their mother Midori a basketball player and their elder sister Naomi also a volleyball player. Seems like all the elements to be a great player – speed, agility and endurance – have been passed on and shared to Yuki and Mayu.

While there may be similarities between Yuki and Mayu, both players are ultimately different as their styles and identities to dominate the game are distinctly their own.

Yuki has won medals at the continental levels, including medals in all colours at the Asian Championships and a silver at the Asian Games. He was the first player to play in the Italian League on his freshman year in university and has since spent his professional career there. He announced last February that he will stay with Power Volley Milano for the 2023/2024 season.

Younger sister Mayu has a U20 world title and Asian titles in the U18 and senior categories. Mayu skippered the U20 squad and won MVP and Best Outside Hitter awards, then moved up to the senior team in the same year to win gold and the MVP in the continental championship. She made her first Olympic appearance in Tokyo. In the next club season, she will be joining her big brother in Italy as she signed with Il Bisonte Firenze.

You will see Mayu and Yuki at the VNL alternately each week. They will both start their campaigns in Nagoya, where the women’s team will be playing from May 30 to June 4 and the men will be competing from June 6 to 11. The Japan women’s team will be in Brasilia from June 13-18 and Bangkok from June 27 to July 2, while the men’s team will be in Orleans from June 20-25 and Pasay City from July 4-9.

Sylvia and Linda Nwakalor (ITA) – Sister Synergy

“There is no consolation more comforting than the one found in the arms of a sister,” Linda Nwakalor posted on Instagram, expressing love for her big sister Sylvia.

The bond between Linda and Sylvia is strong, even sharing the same dream of playing in the Olympic Games together. The Nwakalors are full of energy and sheer athleticism. And just by imagining it, the sight of these two sisters playing together in one team is just exciting and explosive.

Seems like Italy has a very bright future because of talented young players like the Nwakalors. With an already strong frontline headed by Paola Egonu, Elena Pietrini and Anna Danesi and the world’s best defender in Monica De Gennaro, it is easy to say Italy are well set for years to come.

Sylvia has won silver and bronze in the last two World Championships and gold at the 2022 VNL, her little sister is also making her way up as she has shown a lot or promise with a 2019 U18 World Championship silver under her belt. Both are playing in the first division of the Italian women’s league, where the elder Nwakalor plays for Il Bisonte Firenze and the younger one for Volley Perugia.

Italy start their title defence in Antalya, then will head to Hong Kong and Suwon for the second and third week of action.

Marcelo and Nicolas Mendez (ARG) – Keeping family tradition

Argentina’s father and son combo, coach Marcelo Mendez and player Nicolas Mendez, both won an Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo in 2021.

Their success should come as no surprise since volleyball is the family business. The first-generation Mendez was a middle blocker before he started his coaching career. He has two sons, Nicolas and Juan, who are both professional volleyball players. The eldest son, Nicolas, plays for Paris Volley in the French League.

Marcelo currently coaches the national team and Polish club Jastrzebski Wegiel and is considered one of the most successful club volleyball coaches with his collective achievements in Brazil as coach of Sada Cruzeiro.

Having a father as coach has its obvious benefits. Nicolas not only inherited his father’s skills, but also the wisdom of a coach who knows winning quite well.

Argentina will see action in Ottawa from June 6-11, Orleans from June 20-25 and Anaheim from July 4-9.

Brayelin and Jineiry Martinez (DOM) – All in the genes

Sisters Brayelin and Jineiry Martinez have height, power and athleticism running through their veins, providing potent offence and dominant defence for the Dominican Republic.

Their mother Agripina was a team official for the youth and junior national squads and their brother Bryan is a dual-sport athlete who was signed with Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates and now with Dominican Republic basketball club Cañeros del Este. They are also related to Dominican Republic’s basketball superstar Jack Michael Martinez and National Basketball Hall of Famer Soterio Ramirez.

On the volleyball court, Brayelin has proven that she is a powerhouse scorer, while Jineiry is a force at the net. Brayelin has a U20 world title along with multiple individual awards, while she jointly shares a silver medal and a bronze medal with Jineiry at the U23 World Championships.

After back-to-back runners-up finishes at the Brazilian Superliga, the Martinez sisters finally closed the 2022/2023 club season with a title for Dentil Praia Clube. Starting May, they will be wearing the blue and red national jerseys at the VNL, where they will be competing in Nagoya from May 30 to June 4, Hong Kong from June 13-18 and Suwon from June 27 to July 2.

Celeste and Fabian Plak (NED) – Big Sister, Little Brother

A kickboxing world champion father and a volleyball player mother gave Celeste and Fabian Plak plenty of kicks to their volleyball game. Celeste has a lot of firepower from the wings, while Fabian is a master of the vertical jump in the middle.

Celeste has helped the Netherlands to win a bronze at the World Grand Prix and silver medals at the European Championships and has club titles with Alterno in the Dutch League and Volley Novara in the Italian League. She has been playing for Japanese club Victorina Himeji since 2021. Like his sister, Fabian honed his talent at the national centre in Papendal before he took his talents to play club volleyball in Switzerland for TV Schönenwerd. He currently plays for Estonian club Saaremaa.

Celeste’s great experience comes with tremendous wisdom, which her younger brother could rely on to guide him in his own career path. The two seem very close and support each other when they have time out of their busy schedules.

Watch these two siblings play for the Oranjes at the VNL. Celeste and the women’s team will play in Nagoya, Hong Kong and Bangkok, while Fabian and the men’s team will see action in Ottawa, Rotterdam and Pasay City.

The women’s VNL Finals will be held in Arlington, Texas from July 12 to 16, while the men’s Finals will take place in Gdansk, Poland from July 19 to 23.

  • Watch Volleyball Nations League 2023 on VBTV