Nyeme receives during the 2021 VNL

The 2022 Volleyball Nations League should help Brazil answer a key question about their future: who will step up and succeed the great Fabi Alvim and Camila Brait at the libero position?

Fabi, a two-time Olympic champion at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, and Brait, who was part of the squad that took silver last year in Tokyo, occupied the libero position with the women's national team for almost 17 years and represented Brazilian volleyball around the world.

After Brait announced her international retirement following the Tokyo Games, longtime coach Jose ‘Ze Roberto’ Guimaraes had no other option than to start the always complex and delicate process of selecting a new player to occupy the position.

The first players he selected were Natalia ‘Natinha’ Araujo and Nyeme Nunes, the two liberos who will be with the team during this year’s edition of the VNL.

“We actually started preparing them for this moment a few years ago,” Ze Roberto told Volleyball World. “They have performed really well for their clubs in recent seasons and have established themselves among the best liberos in the country. Getting international experience and becoming familiar with the level of play they will face in international volleyball is the next step for them and I am really confident that both will very soon be among the best liberos we have ever had.”

The fact that Natinha, 25, and Nyeme, 23, have similar profiles and career trajectories makes the scenario an intriguing one to follow. It appears that both players have a good chance of gaining Ze Roberto’s trust and becoming the number one option in the position. They should have plenty of playing time during the VNL to demonstrate their value.

Both liberos started their international careers at the U17 World Championships and have played for Ze Roberto at a club level too, spending two seasons at Barueri before moving on to Superliga giants SESC Flamengo in Natinha’s case, and SESI Volei Bauru for Nyeme.

Nyeme was first part of Brazil’s roster last year, when she was with the team during their silver medal campaign at the VNL. She was also part of the team's victory at the South American Championship. Natinha, who was injured at the start of the season and returned in time to play in the continental tournament, first played for the senior team in 2019. She made it on to the VNL roster and also played at the Pan American Games.

“The fact that both of us are basically playing at the same level and the same stage in our careers is really good because we know we can’t relax and take anything for granted,” said Nyeme, who was the best libero of the 2017 U20 World Championship. “And the competition between us is always very positive and respectful. We’re good friends and push each other, but every time I am on the court, I want to be the best I can be, not better than her. I believe both of us will get better that way.”

The first week of the 2022 VNL, which will see Brazil play against Germany, Poland, the Dominican Republic and hosts USA in Shreveport-Bossier City from May 31-June 5, will probably provide the first clues as to which of the two impressed Ze Roberto the most during the team’s nearly three weeks of training at the Brazilian Federation training facility in Saquarema ahead of the start of the VNL.

This, however, should be just the first step in a long and exciting race, which could extend to the Paris 2024 Olympics and beyond, with either one or the other possibly joining Fabi and Brait as one of the great liberos of Brazilian volleyball.

“I grew up watching these two playing and it’s an honour to be here,” Natinha said. “I remember watching videos of them with the national team and their clubs and to think that now I’m here, playing in the same position, it’s really amazing. It’s a big responsibility to represent them and everything they mean to Brazilian volleyball, but I feel very comfortable here and I am sure it will only make me better.”

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