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A three-time Olympian, Nicolai is looking for a fourth appearance at the Games, now with Cottafava

After 11 years, Paolo Nicolai was ready for a change. Following the Tokyo Olympics, his third appearance at the Games, it was time for something new.

And last year's World Tour Finals on home sand in Sardinia provided the perfect setting for a farewell from the winningest team in Italian beach volleyball history, Nicolai's partnership with Daniele Lupo. It was also the perfect time for the 33-year-old Nicolai to set out on a new adventure.

“I was looking for a new challenge, just that,” he told Volleyball World. “Daniele and I had a great time together but I was looking for a new challenge. We were together for more than 11 years and it was time to change something. Now I have a new partner and a new coaching staff and that’s exactly what I needed.”

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Lupo and Nicolai's farewell was at last year's World Tour Finals in Sardinia

In the 11 seasons they played together, Lupo and Nicolai took Italian beach volleyball to new heights. Besides winning medals in 22 international events together, the two became the first Italians to win an Olympic medal, silver at Rio 2016, and a World Tour event, and also the first men from their country to become European champions, a title they claimed three times.

But change was needed and it came in the form of Samuele Cottafava. Coming off a solid 2021 season with Jakob Windisch, in which they won a World Tour event and the Italian Championship, the 23-year-old left-handed defender was one of the most promising players of his generation and Nicolai had no doubts about joining him for the 2022 season.

With a new partner also came a new coach, Simone Di Tommaso, and a new base for training, in the region of Pescara.

“I believe Samuele has the potential to be one of the best players on tour,” Nicolai added. “That’s something I’m really confident about. He’s been a great teammate and is very talented and a hard worker and a quick learner.”

With a new partner and a new coach in place, now comes the most difficult part of Nicolai's challenge. After 11 years of playing a very specific system with Lupo, it’s time for Nicolai to adjust to a new partner on the court and to shape his game to make the team as strong as possible.

With the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour inaugural season set to start in March, the veteran blocker and his new partner still have a few weeks to find their best chemistry and to improve as a team. And they don’t want to waste a single minute.

“We’re still building our game as a team but it’s already clear that it will be very different to the one I used to have with Daniele,” the blocker explained. “Samuele is a different player and I’m really excited by the prospect of this change pushing me to improve my game. We know we start a little behind the teams that remained together, but we have big goals and are working hard to be ready as soon as possible.”