In the last decade and a half, the Dominican Republic has been developing a very high level national women’s volleyball team, to the point that it has become the main national team for its results on the playing field. Ranked among the top ten in the world, the members of the team are more than a national legacy, they are the new queens of the Caribbean.
The national women’s volleyball team is led by Cristóbal Marte, who by his own conviction, invests more than RD$30 million a year in the girls’ preparation and practice matches. “Most of this money comes out my businesses that support the project, although part of it comes out of the contracts that the girls sign to play abroad, a 5% of their contracts is reinvested in the project,” Marte explains.
That investment has guaranteed the consistency of the national team making it a unit. Volleyball is a team sport, in which each of the six players on the court depends on the other one and plays a specific role. For example, when you set a strike, Brenda Castillo knows exactly where Gina Mambru will be without even looking to see where she is positioned. The years together have led them to perfect this game.
“I AM GRATEFUL FOR IT ALL. VOLLEYBALL HAS GIVEN ME EVERYTHING.”
– BETHANIA DE LA CRUZ
Brenda does not say much, but her smile can erase any sign of a bad mood. She has spent nine of her 24 years as part of the national team, and her defensive abilities have led her to be ranked as the best libero in the world during the past four years.
Born in Bajos de Haina and with five older sisters, she was enchanted by the sport when she saw them play and wanted to imitate them. Her parents were focused on wanting each of their daughters to fulfill their educational obligations and their household chores before heading for the net. “If I didn’t do it, I would have to stay at home. Although, I would sometimes sneak away, and I was spanked more than once for it,” Castillo remembers with a smile.
But enduring the occasional spanks were worth it to finally wear her tennis shoes on the court. The player was part of the national team that led the Dominican Republic to finish 5th in the world in London 2012. Along with her were Cándida Arias, Milagros Cabral, Eve Lisvel Castillo, Bethania de la Cruz, Karla Echenique, Gina Mambru, Niverka Marte, Sidarka Nuñez, Priscila Rivera, Cindy Rondón and Annerys Vargas. In London, she was chosen as the best libero in the tournament.
Together with Brenda, Gina Mambru is one of the most outstanding players on the team, from her position as an opposite striker. The daughter of a mechanical engineer and an accountant had to decide early in her life the road she wanted to travel. She was initially a ballerina, but when she reached six-feet tall while still in puberty, she could not pursue a professional career in dancing. By then, at the age of 13, she attended a volleyball camp where she qualified for the national girls’ team. After that, she would never do a demi plié again.
In the Cachorros Club, where she also trained aside from school, she found an additional blessing. Legendary captain Milagros Cabral, became a mentor to Gina until she retired in London in 2012.
But she also found support from her new sisters on the court. When she suffered a thrombosis in 2010, which left her recovering for several months and later worked on a knee injury, moral support came from all her teammates. Thanks to this emotional unity, Gina played in the United Kingdom with the satisfaction of a battle well fought.
Currently, the team is composed of Rosalín Ángeles, Cándida Arias, Ana Yorkira Binet, Brenda Castillo, Bethania de la Cruz, Marianne Fersola, Gina Mambrú, Niverka Marte, Brayelín Martínez, Yonkaira Peña, Priscilla Rivera and Annerys Vargas.
De la Cruz is recognized by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), as one of the best strikers in the sport, yet she arrived to the sport by mere coincidence. “My cousin saw that I was very tall, and took me to a volleyball court in the Olympic Stadium and I was hooked,” she explains. “And today I am grateful for it all. Volleyball has given me everything.”
The new queens of the Caribbean did not qualify for Rio 2016, because they lost the first 5 games in the pre-Olympic tournament held in Japan in May of that year. But they kept pushing on. A short time after, they won the World Grand Prix playing in Bulgaria and the Pan American Cup in which they were the host in Santo Domingo.
However, ranked 9th in the world and with a well-formed structure to maintain a constant transition from one generation to the next, everything indicates that they will return to the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.