At age 35, Liliana Fernаndez now returns to the sand after giving birth to her second child and with her sights firmly set on Paris 2024 and the continuation of her Olympic journey. After spending almost her entire career playing with Elsa Baquerizo, the Spanish standout will now have Paula Soria by her side as she comes back from maternity leave to rejoin the international beach volleyball elite and attempt to qualify for a fourth Olympic tournament.
Second-time mother Liliana returns with new partner
The Spanish standout joins forces with Paula Soria to compete for a berth at her fourth Olympics
Опубликовано 08:00, 07 Oct 2022
“I am very excited to come back to the Tour and to compete again,” Liliana told Volleyball World. “And to see my husband and my kids in the crowd would be awesome. I would love that! I think it’s beautiful to share your passion with your family and I am a very lucky person.”
Liliana and Elsa had played together since 2007, with a short break in 2017, when Liliana gave birth to her first son Saul. They participated at the London 2012, the Rio 2016 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, finishing ninth on all three occasions. The pair earned seven podiums on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour and eight continental level medals, including a silver and two bronzes at the CEV European Championships. After the Games in the Japanese capital last summer, Elsa decided to retire, while Liliana went on her second pregnancy leave. On the last day of May this year, she gave birth to Oliver.
“40 days after giving birth, I started doing soft gym and was doing that for the whole summer. At the beginning of September, I got the OK to start on the beach little by little and I feel great! I was so excited to come back to train on the beach and touch the ball… Actually, I didn’t forget that much about how to do the techniques and the contact with the ball was pretty good, so I was happy and motivated.
“In both pregnancies, my time away from sports was not really relaxing. With Saul I was doing a Master’s degree and now, with Oliver, I started my doctoral thesis. So I was pretty busy studying and training, because I was also training, beach volleyball and at the gym, until the seventh month. In the last two months I was doing Pilates, which was great. It made me move more and feel better all the way until two or three days before birth.”
Liliana’s new partner Paula Soria is 29 years old. In her youth years, she represented Spain at a number of world and continental age-category championships. In 2013, she reached the semifinals of the FIVB Beach Volleyball U21 World Championship in Umag with Raquel Brun and took silver at the CEV U22 European Championship with Angela Lobato. She started competing on the World Tour in 2014 and collected two silvers and a bronze alongside Belen Carro. This year, Soria has been playing on the inaugural Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour with Sofia Gonzalez. Their best results were a fourth pace at the Espinho Challenge and gold at the Madrid Futures.
“After Elsa’s retirement, I needed a new partner, so Paula and I decided to play together,” said Liliana. “I play on the left as a blocker and she plays on the right as a defender. So it’s great because we have a short period until Paris 2024 and we can adapt to each other faster. We don’t have to change roles. We’ve known each other for a long time, since ten or twelve years ago. We are both from Alicante and we are both fighters and very good competitors. We are very excited to play together and we will start very soon, as soon as I get a little bit of rhythm.”
Liliana and Paula plan to make their Beach Pro Tour debut as the 2023 season starts and then gradually work their way up the rankings to be able to compete for the spots at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
“Our main goal for the long term will be the Olympics in Paris. To qualify for my fourth Olympic Games would be a dream come true. For Paula it would be the first, so it would be great if we can achieve that goal,” Liliana continued. “In the short term, we have to train a lot, get used to each other and create the chemistry within the team. If we start on the Beach Pro Tour in the qualifications at Challenge tournaments, the goal for the first season will be to go up and be a main draw team. And if we can make the step to the Elite16 qualifications and fight for the Elite16 main draw, that would be wonderful. But we are a new team and I come back from my second pregnancy, so the realistic thing would be Challenge main draws, at least until we start playing the other teams and see what our actual level is and how much more we can push.
“I would really like to thank my main sponsors, UCAM, Proyecto FER and Iberdrola. They stayed with me during this pregnancy. The Spanish volleyball federation and the Spanish Olympic Committee also support me for the second time. I think sponsor and institutional support is very important for athletes who want to become moms and have a family while still competing at a high level. I have both, so I am really, really thankful!”