Volleyball Olympic Games Paris 2024 - News

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One of the most important players in the Polish national team in the last decade, Korneluk expect great things from them in 2024

Many women’s national teams from around the world ended the 2023 international season with good reason to celebrate as they managed to accomplish their main goals for the year, but Poland was probably unmatched in that regard.

The Europeans had not one, but two historic successes last year, celebrating their first Volleyball Nations League podium appearance with a bronze medal won in Arlington, the United States, and collecting one of the six spots in play at the Volleyball Olympic Qualifying Tournaments.

Their victory in front of their home fans in Łódź gave the Polish the right to compete at the Olympics for the first time since Beijing 2008 and in a few months, the world will get to see one of their most talented generations battling the top teams in the planet in Paris.

Few players reflect the change that Polish women’s volleyball went through in the last decade as well as middle blocker Agnieszka Korneluk. The 29-year-old has been with the squad since 2012 and has gone through all the highs and lows that resulted in their historic qualification, captaining the team in several tournaments, including last year’s VNL.

One of the pillars of the team, the 2m-tall middle blocker is proud of everything they accomplished in 2023, but has already turned her focus to what they will hope will be an even more remarkable 2024 season.

A few weeks before the Poles start their preparations for the upcoming international season, we chatted with Korneluk in an exclusive Volleyball World interview.

Volleyball World: The 2023 season was highly successful for Poland as you won your first VNL medal and also secured a spot at the Paris Olympics. How did you and the rest of the team feel at the end of the season? How important these results were in terms of building the team’s confidence for future tournaments?

Korneluk: That was an amazing season for us. We felt that we started building something great in 2022. Perhaps we didn’t have a big result immediately, but we grew as a team and individually and we wanted to show it last year. This was the most important season for the Polish women’s national team with Olympic qualification. To look back and see that we got not one, but two major results…I still can’t believe it! It was a great feeling and we were all very happy, but we want more and we want to show it this year.

VW: What do you think were the main factors that helped Poland have so much success in 2023? Do you think this is the most talented squad you got to work with since you first started with the national team?

Korneluk: I’ve been with the national team for many years and I’ve been able to play with some really talented players. I think that the turning point for us was two years ago, when coach (Stefano) Lavarini and his staff arrived. We started to believe we could make big things and started to build a really strong team. Volleyball is a team sport and I think that’s the most important thing. All of us know our roles in the team very well and we try to do our best to get better at them every day.

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According to Korneluk, coach Lavarini is one of the main reasons for the team's recent success

VW: What’s the importance of coach Stefano Lavarini for this moment? Do you feel like there was a change of mentality with his arrival?

Korneluk: That’s exactly how I see it. But at the same time that he changes our mentality, he also tries to understand it. Polish and Italians are very different people and sometimes it can be hard for him to understand us. So I think that the main thing with him is that he shows he believes we can reach big goals and that he wants to make that happen alongside us.

VW: Joanna Wolosz and you are the two most experienced players in the team and you have been representing Poland for more than a decade. How special this moment is for the two of you and how have you been trying to lead the team to success over this period?

Korneluk: We’ve been waiting for this moment for such a long time. I still remember when we were playing in the second division of the FIVB World Grand Prix (the European Qualification tournament). We went through many difficult moments and now finally we’re in a great one. There’s this saying that ‘if you believe it, you can do it’ and that’s how we see things. It took us a lot of work and many difficulties, but we’re finally making our dreams come true and we’re so happy for it.

VW: Looking at the Polish squad, several key players are still in their mid-20s, such as Magdalena Stysiak, Martyna Łukasic, Olivia Różański and Maria Stenzel, for example. Do you believe this team has what it takes to continue to be competitive for years to come, potentially even climbing some more steps?

Korneluk: 100%. I see how these girls are getting better and better and this team’s potential is huge. I remember when Łukasic first joined the national team, she used to play opposite and would come in with Julia Nowicka. Look at her now, she was the best passer in the VNL! That’s amazing!

VW: The team made history by qualifying for the Olympics for the first time since 2008. What does that mean to Polish women’s volleyball and do you see the team ready to be among the best in Paris in a few months?

Korneluk: I’m sure we’re ready! This is a huge step for Polish women volleyball. After several years, we’re going back to the Olympics! It’s big, but we all expect that we manage to continue to grow from here.

VW: Looking back ten years, when you first joined the national team, did you think that was possible? Was it your biggest dream or goal during this period? Are there any former national team players that you would credit for this moment to be happening as well?

Korneluk: My biggest dream has always been to go to the Olympics. It was difficult to actually believe in that dream during the many difficult moments we faced, but one of the best coaches I had, Tore Aleksandersen, always said ‘the sky is the limit’. And then it’s happening and we’re going to the Olympics. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us (Aleksandersen passed away in December 2023), but I’m sure he will see me from the sky or heaven.

VW: Before the Olympics, you are going to compete in the VNL looking to win another medal. How do you plan on approaching the event, which is also very important, while also making sure the team is well-prepared for Paris a few weeks later?

Korneluk: That’s a question for our coaches. I’m sure they’re planning everything in a perfect way to keep us in the best possible condition and I believe that’s how it’s going to be. We, as players, follow their plans and do our best to be well-prepared for the most important moments.

VW: The Polish fans have been known for being among the loudest and most passionate in volleyball. Since Paris is not too far, do you expect to see a lot of supporters at the stands during the Games?

Korneluk: The Polish fans are always surprising us, they’re everywhere. They were by our side last year in the VNL Finals in the United States, they packed the stadiums in Belgium for the European Championship and, of course, were there in Łódź for the Olympic Qualifier as well. So, yes, I’m sure they will be in Paris too.