Puerto Rico haven’t missed a single edition of the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship in the last two decades, and Karina Ocasio was a member of the team on each occasion.
Puerto Rican legend Ocasio still at it 20 years later
The veteran outside hitter will feature at a sixth World Championship
Published 10:41, 24 Sept 2022
The 37-year-old outside hitter is part of her country’s national team for this year’s tournament in the Netherlands and Poland too, and is the only player to have made an appearance at the 2002 World Championship who is back for more 20 years later.
Inspired by her older sister Sheila, who was already a national team player at the time, Karina started her professional career in 2000, aged only 15. Two good seasons in the Puerto Rican league were enough to earn her a spot in the national team for the 2002 World Championship, which marked the nation’s return to the tournament after 20 years.
From that event on, Ocasio’s career took off. Switching from her original middle blocker position to opposite, and then to outside hitter, she was part of the greatest Puerto Rican generation ever, got to remain on the national team for 19 years and to play for clubs in Italy, Korea, Türkiye, China and Indonesia.
Between 2002 and 2021, Ocasio competed at five editions of the World Championship and made history by helping Puerto Rico qualify for their first-ever Olympic appearance at the Rio 2016 Games.
After a failed attempt to make it to the Tokyo Games in 2020, she decided to end her international career and continue playing at the club level. But after taking her club Criollas de Caguas to a second-place finish in the Puerto Rican League, Ocasio was invited by head coach Fernando Morales to return to the national team ahead of the 2022 season.
“I have always worn the jersey with a lot of pride, and if you think the team needs me, I’ll be honoured to wear it again,” she said on the occasion.
Ocasio returned in great form, helping the country finish third at the NORCECA Pan-American Cup Final Six earlier this month, while being the second-best scorer in the tournament. Married to Puerto Rican men’s national team opposite Ulises Maldonado, Ocasio is one of just a few athletes of any sport to participate in six World Championships.
“From a very young age, I fell in love with volleyball, it has been my life,” she commented. “My sister played volleyball, my husband plays volleyball and now my daughter is playing volleyball too. I never imagined this was possible, it’s unbelievable. I have made a lot of sacrifices in my volleyball career. Hard work on and off the court, special nutrition and the hunt for continuous improvement have been the keys that kept me performing at a high level for such a long time. I’ve been extremely blessed to be able to make a living doing what I love for this long.”
Placed in Pool A, Ocasio and her Puerto Rican teammates will make their debut in this year's tournament on Saturday against Belgium, at 14.00 local time (12.00 GMT). The Caribbeans will also face Italy, the Netherlands, Cameroon and Kenya in the first phase of the event.