Espinho, Portugal, July 8, 2018 – Things seem to be working again for Liliana Fernandez Steiner and Elsa Baquerizo McMillan on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour. After the well-known Spanish team, as such, had to take the last season off, now they are touring full time again and gradually improving their game and their results towards the level where they want to be. But now they have one additional source of inspiration - small, but very powerful…
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“Yes, this baby is the reason I missed the last season,” says Liliana and points to a stroller standing right beside the court, where she and Elsa have just finished a match at the Espinho four-star event. “His name is Saul and he is 10 months old. So I had to have a fast recovery after birth.”
“Saul and my husband came with me to Huntington Beach. They were in Poland and now they are here. They will come to the European Championship too,” the 31-year-old Spanish standout continues. “It is the way we wanted to work, because I know that my travelling to World Tour events keeps me away from home for a long time. That is why we had to arrange things like this, to be together and see each other at least during some of the tournaments. Of course, I am keeping it all professional. During these tournaments my husband is the full-time babysitter, while I am staying in one hotel room with Elsa, not with my family, at least until the tournament is over. This way I am keeping the professional part and the personal part separate.”
Elsa at Liliana playing at the 2016 Olympic Games
Liliana and Elsa have been playing on the World Tour since 2008. They participated in two Olympic Games, at London 2012 and at Rio de Janeiro 2016. After the World Tour Finals in Toronto in September 2016 Liliana took time off before reappearing on the Tour at the Fort Lauderdale Major in February 2018.
“While Liliana was away, I played a little bit with each of three different partners, trying to maintain my points or at least to have some points for when she would come back,” Elsa says. “It was a different year for me, during which I learned new things. It was nice to play with the other girls, but I was waiting for Liliana to come back.”
Elsa in action at Espinho
“Elsa was playing with different partners, while I was at home, resting and really wishing to come back to play with her again,” Liliana points out. “At the beginning I was not ready to come back, but we knew that. We just kept going little by little, tournament by tournament, and now this last month and a half was really great – we were starting to play our game, with ups and downs sometimes, but we will fix this during the season and next year.”
Indeed, the Spanish pair finished 25th at Fort Lauderdale, 33rd at Xiamen and 17th at Huntington Beach before the better results started coming in – ninth at Itapema, Ostrava and here, at Espinho, and fifth at Ostrava last week.
“It is hard to start again from qualifications. A lot of teams are fighting for not so many spots. We also have a new coach this year, so a lot of changes have happened,” Elsa explains. “We didn’t start the season very well. We could not qualify for the main draw in China. But this just made us a little stronger. Now we knew what we didn’t want and what we didn’t want was to lose and spend the week in training. I think playing qualifications helps us improve our performance. Being in the main draw is complicated, but it’s very nice. We are very happy now and we are going to try to keep improving. Our goal is to go to our third Olympic Games and have options for the medal that we always wanted. We are starting over again and we are aiming to be up in the main draw and have opportunities to get results, which can get us to Tokyo.”
Elsa rejoicing during a match at Espinho
In their long career as a beach volleyball team, Liliana and Elsa have seven World Tour medals (five silver and two bronze) and seven medals from European continental events to their names, but they have never managed to snatch that gold. However, they do not see it as a curse of some kind, but rather all the more reason to keep improving.
“We need more chances to get the gold. We have to play more finals,” Elsa says. “But when your opponents are better, you just have to accept it and start to improve before the next time you meet them.”
Good save by Liliana
“We need more patience, when we get to the final, so we can finally get that gold and not stick to the silver medal. We just have to keep improving and we are working on that,” Liliana adds.
Even though they have just lost their second elimination round at Espinho, Liliana and Elsa keep the attitude positive and the smiles on their faces, and show no signs of disappointment.
Liliana and Elsa during their last match at Espinho
“We are working great. We still have things to improve, but we are moving along the way. We are happy because we will have another chance next week to do better and better,” Liliana explains.
Could little Saul and his father have anything to do with the smile on Liliana’s face?
“Having them around is really great. I look at them while we are warming up, or even during the game for a second, and I think to myself, ‘wow, we have a baby and I am competing at the same time – it’s so great!’ I feel really thankful, because I am doing what I really love, to play beach volleyball, and I am blessed with this family. I always wanted both things and now I have them and I can’t be more grateful. It is tough, but it is possible!”