Lausanne, Switzerland, May 3, 2015 - When Alesia Rykhliuk was starting out on her career, she was once asked who her role models were. She replied that she had the greatest respect for successful sportsmen and women from her native Ukraine, like the Klitschko brothers. Since, she too has become one of Ukraine’s sports stars. She will also carry Volero Zurich's hopes of success at the FIVB Volleyball Women's Club World Championship.
The first two times the competition was held in Switzerland, the multiple Swiss champions finished a thankless fourth – but that was not down to Rykhliuk's outstanding point-scoring abilities. In 2013, her 45 points put her among the top ten scorers at the Club World Championship. Last year, an impressive 72 points meant she was second only to the outstanding MVP Ekaterina Gamova. This year, Zurich's towering hitter has her sights set on guiding her team to at least a podium at the World Championship. And she has the form to do it: with 201 points from ten games, Rykhliuk was the third-highest scorer in this season's European Champions League.
Here too, Volero Zürich were again denied a big win this year, losing out to eventual Champions League winners Eczacibasi Istanbul in a Golden Set in the quarterfinals. However, Rykhliuk is confident that Volero are on the verge of making a big breakthrough.
"Volero are definitely a top team. I am very proud to be a member of this group. My focus is always on the results of Volero Zurich, not really on individual performances." This speaks volumes for Alesia Rykhliuk, who has really become something of a life insurance policy for Volero. For the last two seasons, she has been named the MVP in the Swiss championship.
Rykhliuk began her career at a very young age back in Ukraine. Her father was actually a basketball coach, but she chose volleyball. “I was a tall girl. When I was 7 years old, I was invited to play volleyball - and my parents had nothing against it. Since then, my whole life has been inextricably linked with volleyball,” she said. The Ukrainian first rose to stardom at her home club in Odessa.
Rykhliuk's career has taken her from Sirio Perugia and Besiktas Istanbul to South Korea. She spent two years at IBK Altos and was named the league’s most valuable player (MVP), leading her team to the title. "It was a fantastic experience for me. Asia is like a different planet. It was very interesting, but not always easy. For example, we used to train for six hours a day." These experiences have helped mould Rykhliuk into the player she is today - an exceptional hitter. She became a star on Korean television on which volleyball plays a major role, and was often recognised on the streets.Watch here
"In the Korean league, there is a lot of pressure on the foreign players. You have a lot of responsibility," said Rykhliuk. "The leading European clubs have a lot of top players in their teams. As such, there is virtually the same pressure and focus on attack and defence." That is also the case at Volero Zürich, where the Ukrainian takes to the court alongside top players like Dobriana Rabadzhieva and Natalya Mammadova.
Now living in Zürich, Alesia Rykhliuk often thinks about her home country. "We have a strong and good volleyball school there in Ukraine. We start by supporting young talents who may then embark on a professional career in the sport, so that one day they can turn into world-class players," she said. The sport is on the rise in Ukraine: Khimik Yuzhny finished third to claim a podium in this year’s European Challenge Cup, and the national team is also on the up. The team will qualify for the European Championship if it succeeds in this May’s playoffs.
First up, however, is the FIVB Volleyball Women’s Club World Championship, and Alesia Rykhliuk is looking to guide the hosts to success with some of that Klitschko power.