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2023 Volleyball Hall class includes Phil Dalhausser, Larissa, Katsutoshi Nekoda, Yumilka Ruiz

Larissa Franca of Brazil at the 2015 World Series of Beach Volleyball/Ed Chan,

Generation-defining beach players Phil Dalhausser and Larissa headline the six person 2023 induction class of the International Volleyball Hall of Fame.

Additional honorees to be feted in the gala ceremony October 21 in Holyoke, Massachusetts, include indoor players Yumilka Ruiz of Cuba and Katsutoshi Nekoda of Japan, as well as Italian coach Silvano Prandi and Shanrit Wongprasert of Thailand.

The six entering the Hall will be numbers 162-167 so honored since William G. Morgan, the inventor of volleyball itself, became the first in 1985. Wongprasert becomes the first from Thailand, now the 26th country to be recognized.

“The achievements of the class of 2023 are undeniably extraordinary,” IVHF executive director George Mulry said. “From exhibiting unparalleled dominance in both indoor and beach volleyball across for more than sixty years to overseeing structure and competition for an entire continent, the IVHF is privileged to recognize these deserving individuals, along with our award recipients.

“Each honoree brings a unique story that will be shared with the world and we invite you to join us in Holyoke to witness it in person.”

Also announced are four special-award winners, recognized for their contributions to the IVHF or the sport of volleyball. They include the AVP getting the Court of Honor award, the Homewood Suites Holyoke and Susan Concepcion for the William G. Morgan Award, and outgoing American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) executive director Kathy DeBoer, who will get the prestigious Mintonette Award. Also honored earlier in 2023 was Hector “Picky” Soto of Puerto Rico with the Mayoral Award of Excellence.

“Since 1985, the IVHF has had the distinct honor of inducting the legends of our sport while recognizing them for their storied careers and numerous accomplishments,” said IVHF president Steve Bishop, also the president of the Florida Region of USA Volleyball. “This year we look forward to welcoming another amazing class of inductees, along with several very deserving special award winners. We cannot wait to create new memories with this 2023 class of award winners.”

Dalhausser and Larissa (Franca Maestrini) were notified of their selections on Friday where both were playing in the AVP Huntington Beach Open. Dalhausser, parterning with Avery Drost, ultimately placed fifth, with Larissa and her wife Lili tying for ninth. Dalhausser is the 12th member of the Hall’s beach wing, and the seventh American to be so honored. Larissa is the 11th female beach selection overall and the fifth Brazilian.

Phil Dalhausser setting at the 2009 Hermosa Beach Open/Ed Chan,

“I’m just a beach kid from Florida,” Dalhausser said from Huntington Beach. “This is a huge honor. Never in my wildest dreams did I even expect to be a pro beach volleyball player, much less a member of the International Volleyball Hall of Fame.”

The 43 year-old, 6-9 Dalhausser redefined what a “big man” could accomplish in the sport. Known as the “Thin Beast,” the Swiss-born Dalhausser was the Swiss Army Knife of the beach. He started playing professionally in 2003 and had heads spinning right away. His game over the years was characterized by shut-down blocking, picture-perfect hand setting, terminal hitting and pinpoint passing, a package never before seen in a man his size. Moreover, in 2022, Dalhausser split blocking duties in the AVP Austin Open with Andy Benesh and added another weapon to his arsenal: defending behind the block. Oh, by the way they won that tournament.

Dalhausser’s accomplishments are headlined by an Olympic gold medal in 2008, where he partnered with 2021 IVHF inductee Todd Rogers. After that performance, Phil earned another appellation, the “Beijing Beast.” He would go on to represent Team USA in three additional Olympics. He is fifth on the all-time beach victories list with 103, of which 38 were won on the FIVB tour.

Larissa, 41, had a playing style characterized by savvy, smarts, deception, a terrific pair of hands for setting, and the possession of a cut shot so good, it should have its own dedicated wing in the Hall of Fame. Larissa also goes down as one of the greatest defenders the sport has ever seen and also one of the most mentally tough competitors on the beach. And feisty too. Her on-court tete-a-tete’s with longtime playing partner Juliana Felisberta Silva are part of legend.

Larissa’s pro career started in 2002, when she was just 20. A three-time Olympian, Maestrini won bronze in London in 2012, in addition to capturing gold at the 2011 World Championship, both with Felisberta Silva. The battles between those two Brazilians and Americans and IVHF inductees Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings are legendary. Iron sharpening iron. One match stands out in particular. In October, 2005 the two teams met in the final in what may be the longest FIVB match in history, male or female, and one of the greatest. The Brazilians prevailing, 28-26, 40-42, 15-13 in a whopping one hour and 40 minute, knock-down, drag-out beach volleyball brawl.

Maestrini has won 69 tournaments in her career, fifth on the All-Time list. But that number does not reflect all of the events she won on her native Brazilian national tour.

“I feel great that the Hall recognized all I did for the sport,” Larissa said. “Just the best players go to the Hall of Fame and it will be marked forever. Phil is a great player and he deserves his name there too. I’m proud of my career and happy with this moment.”

Yumilka Ruiz

Ruiz, 45, is the seventh honoree from Cuba. A 5-foot-10 outside hitter, she reigned supreme in the golden era of Cuban volleyball, representing the island country in four successive Olympics beginning in 1996. She won gold at that Olympics, as an 18-year-old in Atlanta, and followed up with another gold in Sydney four years later while adding a bronze in Athens in 2004. Ruiz was also an integral part of Cuban World Championship (1998) and World Cup (1999) gold medal teams. Her meritorious playing career ended in 2014 playing for Russian club team, Uralocha-NTMK.

Despite being on the smallish side, Ruiz was a terminator. She was named Best Scorer at the 2002 World Championships, as well as Best Spiker at the 2004 FIVB World Grand Prix and the 2005 Pan American Cup.

Katsutoshi Nekoda

Nekoda (1944-1983) led the Japanese national team to four Olympic Games, garnering a medal of each color topped by a gold in Munich in 1972, as well as silver in Mexico City 1968 and a bronze in his home country in 1964 (Japan was fourth in 1976 in Montreal in Nekoda’s last Games). Nekoda was a setter on his national team starting in his teens and did not retire until 1980, three years before his untimely death at 39 due to stomach cancer.

Nekoda, the ninth Hall honoree from Japan, was named the best setter at the 1970 World Championships, as well as garnering that honor at the 1969 and 1977 FIVB World Cup. He was regarded by many as the most iconic player on the Japanese national team at the time. Standing 5-10, Nekoda was great on defense, and could deliver sets deftly with a very quick and light touch.

Silvano Prandi

Prandi, 75, is the sixth Italian so honored by the Hall. His accomplishments include coaching the Italian men’s national team to a bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics. It was the first podium finish ever by the Italians, whose previous best at a Games was eighth.

Prandi also served two stints as coach of the Bulgarian national team, from 2008-2010 and 2019-2021. Known as “Il Professore,” Prandi started his coaching career in 1976 with the Bistefani Torino Club, one of nine Italian clubs he has coached in his career. He has also led club teams in France, and Bulgaria as well.

Shanrit Wongprasert

Among the many roles Wongprasert (born in 1943) has executed in the service of the sport include President, Vice President and Secretary General of the Asian Volleyball Confederation. In 2019 he was awarded the Olympic Council of Asia’s Merit Award for his outstanding service to the development of sports in Asia. He has also helped organize and oversee AVC competitions in indoor and beach volleyball.