When in 1994, businessman Cristóbal Marte took control of the Women’s National Volleyball Team of the Dominican Republic, his goal was to improve the athletes’ conditions in every aspect.
They made long-term plans, starting with the preparation of the trainers who would work with youngsters at an early age. They also improved the installations of the athletes’ villa in the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center by creating bigger and more comfortable spaces. Also, it was established that the players would have to meet their academic obligations.
Even more importantly, he was determined to break with the improper practice in Dominican sports, where national teams are formed in just a few days, resulting in players arriving at competitions with no teamwork skills and without knowing each other.
“The main idea was to give the girls the necessary tools to develop,” Marte explains.
Four years after the project began, the Dominican Republic participated in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Maracaibo. The team was formed by Nurys Arias, Yudelkis Bautista, Milagros Cabral, Evelin Carrera, Flor Colón, Carmen García, Juana González, Francia Jackson, Juana López, Sofía Mercedes, Cosiris Rodríguez and Annerys Vargas.
“THE GIRLS IN THE TEAM WERE MORE THAN FRIENDS, WE WERE SISTERS”
– COSIRIS RODRÍGUEZ
They came back from Venezuela with the silver medal, only surpassed by the very strong Cuban team. The Dominicans had become princesses, but they wanted to be the Queens of the entire Caribbean.
In 1999, the Dominicans finished in fourth place in the Pan American Games in Winnipeg.
They were unable to qualify for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, so they would not have the chance to face their regional rivals in the world event. The next opportunity seemed to be the Central American and Caribbean Games in El Salvador in 2002, however Cuba boycotted the games, given the political differences with then-president Francisco Flores.
The Dominican Republic got the gold in San Salvador, but the thought of not having defeated Cuba was still on the minds of the team members.
In 2003, the team experienced a change in leadership. Cuban Jorge Pérez Vento,who had led the Cuban team for 8 years was replaced by his countryman Jorge Garbey. That year, the national team was formed by Nurys Arias, Yudelkis Bautista, Milagros Cabral, Evelyn Carreras, Alexandra Casó, Juana González, Sofía Heredia, Francia Jackson, Kenia Moreta, Priscilla Rivera, Cosiris Rodríguez and Annerys Vargas.
The time spent together helped them to get to know each other and gave them an edge on the court, one could anticipate the other’s moves. They demonstrated empathy with a surprising performance in the Montreux Volley Master, where even though their record was 0-4, they played very close games against some very big teams such as the Chinese team.
After a practice match round against Spain, they finished second behind the U.S. in the II Pan American Women’s Volleyball Cup in Saltillo, Mexico after beating Cuba in five very well contested sets.
These two tournaments were key in the Dominicans’ preparation before the Pan American Games in 2003 in Santo Domingo.“The Pan American Games were of vital importance to us,” remembers then captain Milagros Cabral. “We were in our country. Everyone was watching us closely and we wanted to give the people an important gift.”
After defeating Brazil in the semifinals, the country would have the chance to face Cuba again to define its supremacy in the Caribbean in women’s volleyball. The Volleyball Palace of the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center was packed. Everywhere in Santo Domingo, grocery stores, sports bars, and at home, people were watching what was happening on both sides of the net. For a decade, this match in the 2003 Pan Am Games was considered the most-watched sports event on national television, only surpassed by the World Baseball Classic in 2013, when the Dominican Republic was crowned champion.
The game ended in 5 sets 25-16, 25-17, 14-25, 26-28 and the final set went 15-13 in favor of the Dominicans. The “Quisqueyanas”(Dominican women) were officially crowned the Queens of the Caribbean. “The support of the crowd was the biggest thing I have ever lived in my career,” Cabral recalls. “We were all puzzled by the way people reacted to this victory. We could not believe all the love people had for us.”
Later this same team got its ticket for the Athens Olympic Games, where they finished with a 1-4 record. Cabral, the team captain, would later attend the London Games in 2012, where after finishing 5TH, she would retire from the courts. Currently she works as a Director at the Ministry of Sports. After following in Cabral’s footsteps, only two members of that reigning team remain. Annerys Vargas and Priscilla Rivera continue to be part of the national team.