Olaya Pazo qualifies for the Olympics at the Continental Cup

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Olaya Pazo.

In 2014, Venezuelan beach coach Mauro Hernandez saw a photo on the AVP Facebook page, captioned something along the lines of “Venezuelan Olaya Pazo hitting a ball.”

Coach Hernandez messaged Pazo,inquiring whether Pazo had any interest in competing for Venezuela’s beach team. More on that later.

Fast forward two years, and Pazo has made Venezuelan volleyball history, qualifying Venezuela for its first beach volleyball Olympic berth with twin sister Rebeca Pazo. Venezuela qualified at the CSV Continental cup in Rosario, Argentina, one of the last opportunities to qualify.

In the Continental cup, each country is represented by two doubles teams. The two pairs compete round-robin against five other countries in best-of-three rubber matches. Venezuela’s two teams were twin sisters Olaya/Rebeca Pazo, and Norisbeth Agudo/Gabriela Brito.

In the Venezuelan’s final rubber, Olaya/Rebeca defeated Julieta Puntin/Irene Verasio of Argentina in the first match. They subsequently played Maria Julia Benet/Maria Zonta of Argentina in the second match, and were leading until an injury to Benet forced her to withdraw, guaranteeing Venezuela the Olympic berth.

“It was really weird. I almost cried,” Olaya said. “It’s been a goal of mine so long, I almost don’t believe it. I am still having a hard time believing it. Of course I’m super-excited, but I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it. It’s definitely a dream come true.”

Since qualifying, the Venezuelan beach team has generated a ton of interest.

“We got a lot of media attention, especially when we qualified. We’re only the second team that has qualified, I think there are 77 athletes from Venezuela going to the Olympics, but basketball and beach volleyball are the only team sports. It was a big deal, all over the newspapers and TV news, including a celebration in the streets.”

In 2014, after seeing Olaya’s photo on the AVP Facebook page, coach Hernandez invited Olaya to try out for the Venezuelan beach team. Hernandez paired Olaya with Norisbeth Agudo to compete in the biennial South American sand games and they earned a silver medal and the support of the Venezuelan federation.

Since then, Olaya estimates that she has competed in more than 40 international events of various levels, either with twin sister Rebeca, or Agudo. Olaya’s twin sister Rebeca lives in Boston and has a full-time job which limits her international travel. The Venezuelan NOC named Olaya/Rebeca their Olympic team, but the FIVB advised that Rebeca was not eligible due to only having played seven tour level events during the Olympic qualification period (12 are required).

Olaya, known as “Yaya,” is no stranger to America. While she was born in Venezuela, she lived in Spain for 17 years due to her father’s employment. Olaya was recruited to Rice University in Houston, where she was named first-team All-Western Athletic Conference, as well as an honorable mention All-American.

Following college, Olaya competed in the Spanish pro leagues for five years, and competed on the Venezuelan national team for three years along side her sister Rebeca. Olaya currently resides in Dallas.

Olaya also competed on the AVP tour, with a career-best fifth in St. Petersburg with Sarah Day.

Olaya has her preparation for Rio mapped out.

“I’ll be competing at AVP Manhattan with Branagan Fuller, then will go and train in Spain for 10 days, and then go to Rio. I originally wanted to play Manhattan with my sister, but she injured her leg.”

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