Loughborough put me on road to Olympics, says volleyball star
19 July 2012
Graduate Maria Bertelli says her spell at Loughborough University put her on the road to achieving her Olympic dream as a volleyball player.
Maria, 34, is one of four Loughborough graduates in the Team GB women’s volleyball squad who will get their first taste of the world’s biggest sporting event at the end of this month.
A fifth, Rachael Bragg, attended Loughborough College, and all have been through the kitting-out process at the Team GB Loughborough Preparation Camp.
That was like a homecoming for Maria, who played for Loughborough Students while studying for her degree in Physical Education and Sports Science.
She said: “I loved it here. It was my first taste of performance volleyball. We came here and trained twice a day and after I left I went and played professionally. So it was the beginning of this journey really.”
That journey will end when their Olympics begin with their opening game against the Russian Federation on Saturday July 28 at Earls Court.
Maria, who was born in Manchester and took up volleyball at the age of 13, said finally being a part of the Olympics was ‘surreal’.
She said: “It’s everything I have worked for, particularly over the last five or six years.
“I grew up on the Olympics and I have always been an Olympics fan. I have always been on the other side watching it, and now being a part of it is quite surreal.
“And yet it’s just another volleyball game and we have to perform and do our best.”
Maria said she could not really believe she was about to play volleyball in a ‘home’ Olympics.
She said: “An Olympics is an Olympics but the fact that it’s at home is unbelievable, I can’t believe it’s happening.
“We are lucky. We have played in front of some amazing crowds but most have been abroad.
“So to have a crowd of 15,000 at Earls Court rooting for you… I’m hoping it gives us that extra something we will need against the best in the world.”
Maria, who used to play football and appeared for Charlton Ladies in the 2007 Women’s FA Cup final, says Team GB are a close-knit group after some tough times, notably losing their funding.
She said: “We have been through a lot of things as a team and never once have we broken away from each other.
“Led by our coach, that closeness is what has got us through. We don’t want to let each other down, we want to do the best for each other.”