Thaisa will play her fourth Olympics in Paris and will fight for her third gold

The 2023 season was a busy and successful one for Brazil as the South Americans secured a spot at the Paris Olympics and won their 23rd continental title, but if you ask volleyball fans in the country what the best news of the year was, their answer will be unanimous – the return of Thaisa Menezes to the national team.

After five years, the legendary middle blocker decided to resume her history with the yellow uniform she wore for so long and finally said yes to the insistent calls of head coach Jose ‘Ze Roberto’ Guimaraes.

The return of the 36-year-old, two-time Olympic champion middle blocker happened during the second week of the Volleyball Nations League 2023, in the country’s capital Brasilia, allowing the thousands of fans who long dreamed about that moment to fully experience it.

Thaisa showed that, even after five years away from the international game, she continues to be among the best in the world in the position and also someone who players from around the world look up to and are willing to break the protocol to get a post-match photo with.

After five years, she was happy with how her body handled the demands of the international season and noticed many differeces in the game. Know more in this exclusive Volleyball World interview.

Volleyball World: How did you feel about your return to the national team last year? Did things go as you expected?

Thaisa: I was so happy to be back with the national team. Getting back demanded a lot from me from a physical standpoint, but my body handled it well and I was even surprised with how well I managed to deal with the training workload, which is always so heavy. I truly believe that when you have a goal and are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish it, things tend to go well. That’s what happened, I think.

VW: From a mental standpoint, what did your return to the national team mean to you? Based on some past interviews, it feels like it was something you wanted to do, but didn’t feel 100% confident about before.

Thaisa: To be honest, I was in peace with my decision of retiring from the national team, especially after experiencing so many great things for so many years. My main concern about returning had to do with how my body was going to handle it, especially my knee. After so many injuries and surgeries, I feel like I have the knee of an 80-year-old lady (laughs). But it held pretty well and I was happy with it.

VW: Before the VNL, you told us you wanted to help the team with your experience. Did you feel like you managed to do it? How was it to walk into a group that obviously had you as a reference and was willing to listen, but also had a team dynamic and leadership already established?

Thaisa: I just tried to be myself. I didn’t want to change anything or to be someone that I’m not. I believe good leaders do it by example, not by imposition. So, I tried to give my best every day, be it at the gym, lifting, or on the court, chasing balls and working hard to get better. In my opinion, that’s the best way I could be a positive influence for them. And the girls were amazing, they embraced me from the very first day and I’m very grateful to them.

VW: After five years away, what’s different in international volleyball? Did anything surprise you?

Thaisa: A lot of things have changed. Teams are playing the game a lot faster and every team has several young, tall and powerful hitters. It’s hard. Serving has also changed a lot, everyone is serving toughly and with a lot of power.

VW: Which national teams impressed you the most in your return?

Thaisa: The level is very high right now and I see several national teams very close to each other. When these teams play, the difference between winning or losing is very slim and details are what determines it. Türkiye, China, Poland, Serbia, USA and Italy were some of the teams that were among the best this year.

VW: What about players? Are there any middles with bright futures?

Thaisa: Oh, there are so many. It would take me days to list all of them (laughs). Melissa Vargas, Tijana Boskovic and Yingying Li are the most obvious ones. Regarding middles, I saw several of them who are young, tall and strong and are playing at a very high level already, but still have the potential to grow. Yuan Xinyue (China), Zehra Gunes (Türkiye), Jineiry Martinez (the Dominican Republic), Diana Alecrim (Brazil) and Dana Rettke (USA) are some of them.

VW: The Olympics are coming in just a few months. Which national teams you think will fight for medals in Paris? Where do you see Brazil in contention?

Thaisa: As I said before, it’s super competitive among the women now and little things will determine winners and losers. Regarding Brazil, we’re very focused and working hard to get to Paris in the best possible shape. The club season is very important for that and we all need to be very mindful of everything we do, from training and playing to eating well and resting. I see Brazil in the top tier with several other teams, so we’ll need that little something else to make it to final and hopefully end up with gold. That’s what every team wants and we’re no different.