It’s a sport that was invented, per Britannica’s Jonathan Hogeback, “at a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) community center. In the city of Holyoke, Massachusetts, in 1895, William Morgan decided to create a new indoor sport that was less strenuous than basketball but still consisted of some physical activity and fun.”
Volleyball truly is fun, so shout out to Morgan for accomplishing what he set out for. It’s fun playing either casually or super competitively. The list is focusing on the latter.
From a YMCA in Massachusetts to around the world, if you go to a beach or a local rec center, you may run into a volleyball net. It’s a popular sport to play amongst your family and friends. It’s a go-to summer sport, whether on sand or wood chips and a common winter sport indoors on a court.
There’s been a lot of incredible players since 1895 to pick up a volleyball and bump, set, and spike it. This doesn’t even scratch the surface but let’s take a shot at it.
20 Of The Best Volleyball Players
Thanks to Volleybox‘s compilation of “TOP men volleyball players” and “TOP women volleyball players“, where the “(r)ankings are based on the positions of player’s teams in tournaments and individual awards won by players”. These compilations were very helpful in determining who made this list, with most of the list coming from these compilations while adding other volleyball players, as well. Some of those players were thanks to a Google search of “best Olympic volleyball players”.
In parentheses is the country the players are from, per Volleybox.
20 – Fabiana Oliveira (Brazil)
Even if it’s just for this play, which seems to be highlighted on her Twitter page, she’s gotta’ be on the list. A “(t)wo-time Olympic champion” per her Twitter bio, she is a Brazilian libero per Volleybox.
19 – Brenda Castillo (Dominican Republic)
18 – Bruno Rezende (Brazil)
A common theme you’ll see in this list and in some of the best volleyball competitions throughout the world is: Brazil. Brazilians are on this list and comprise some of the best volleyball players the world has seen.
According to Olympics.com, “(h)is parents were both volleyball players, which influenced his decision to pursue the sport. ‘I did other sports, badminton, basketball, football – which was the dream of other Brazilians. When I was 14 years old, I decided on what was in my blood, volleyball. Upon that moment I had no doubts that I wanted to follow my parents’ career.’ (gq.globo.com, 31 Jan 2020)”.
Olympics.com also stated that “(h)e was first named captain of the Brazil team following the retirement of Giba in September 2012. ‘I have always been the one who is motivating other players and taking care, especially of those who are younger and maybe have less experience. That’s what captains are here for, so it comes quite naturally. On the other hand, I do not carry this responsibility all alone. There are other players in the group who have been around for quite some time and they share that task with me.'”
17 – Sheilla Castro (Brazil)
According to Esportelândia, she’s a “(t)wo-time Olympic champion, seven-time Grand Prix champion, two-time champion of the Women ‘s Superliga and world interclub champion…With so many achievements and several individual awards, the 13 shirt of the Brazilian team is recognized as one of the greatest volleyball players of all time“.
When you have that type of volleyball experience, you belong on this list.
16 – Mariusz Wlazly (Poland)
Bump, set, spike. Here’s a set to two European volleyball players who come in back-to-back on this list, starting off with Mariusz Wlazly.
According to FIVB Club World Championships, “Mariusz Wlazły had been one of the leaders of the Polish junior national team, which had won the U-21 World Championship in 2003. Immediately after the tournament in Teheran he moved to Bełchatów and started to play as the first opposite. It was the beginning of the PGE Skra golden era and the great period in the history of the Polish volleyball.
Wlazły not only led PGE Skra to 8 Polish championship, 7 Polish Cups, 3 medals of the CEV Champions League, 3 medals of the FIVB Club World Championship but withe the national team added 2014 FIVB World Championship gold medal and silver one, one 8 years earlier. After the tournament in 2014 Wlazły was named Best Opposite Spiker and Most Valuable Player.”
15 – Earvin Ngapeth (France)
Next up is Frenchman Earvin Ngapeth. If the name sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, one of the best basketball players of all time. Well, apparently, so was Earvin’s father when his son was born as according to Olympics.com, Earvin “was named Earvin after US basketball player Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, who was his father’s sporting (role model). (lci.tf1.fr, 01 Jun 2016)”.
And check out this fun fact Olympics.com also listed where Earvin reportedly spoke to Liberation.FR and talked about a very important summer camp:
“‘My mother signed us up for a sporting summer camp where there was volleyball. I had some skills as I had trained with my father. A regional counsellor advised my mother to issue me a sport licence. If I hadn’t gone to that camp I wouldn’t be playing volleyball. In volleyball the only person who speaks is the coach, in football everyone comments. I enjoy the beauty and elegance of volleyball and the joy of playing together.’ (liberation.fr, 27 Sep 2010, 17 Sep 2019)”.
14 – Saeid Marouf (Iran)
According to Pantheon, “Mir Saeid Marouf Lakerani…is an Iranian volleyball setter. He was the captain of the Iranian national team. He was named best setter at the 2014 World League and 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic qualifying tournaments, as well as most valuable player at the 2013 Asian Championship.”
13 – Sergey Tetyukhin (Russia)
With a gold, a silver, and two bronze Olympic medals (per Olympics.com), it’s safe to say he helped tally up win after win and medal after medal for Russia.
12 – Osmany Juantorena (Italy)
Check out those kicks! Juantorena may be a volleyball player but he’s rocking those Kobes and straight spiking on teams, which would obviously could take a Mamba mentality approach to the game.
11 – Karch Kiraly (USA)
Shout out to Michigan! According to Britannica, it was Jackson, Michigan where Kiraly entered the world. Per Britannica, “Karch Kiraly, byname of Charles Kiraly, (born November 3, 1960, Jackson, Michigan, U.S.), American athlete who was the first volleyball player to win three Olympic gold medals and was considered one of the sport’s greatest players, excelling at both indoor and beach volleyball.”
10 – Ting Zhu (China)
And shout out to trail blazing. Zhu Ting reportedly made history for her country just recently in Tokyo at the Olympics.
According to the South China Morning Post’s Wendy Wu, “Chinese volleyball star Zhu Ting (was) named as the country’s first female flag-bearer at the Summer Olympics. Zhu Ting, the captain of the women’s team, (was set to) jointly carry the national flag with male taekwondo champion Zhao Shuai at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games…Zhu…has won multiple most valuable player awards at different levels of competition since making her debut for the national under-18 team in 2011.”
9 – Maxim Mikhaylov (Russia)
Maxim has been maximizing his potential as he’s been named MVP on multiple occasions as listed by Olympics.com. Maxim can also cross off flag bearer for your country off a list if that was one of his goals because according to Olympics.com per Tass.com “(i)n June 2021 he and fencer Sophia Velikaia were selected as flag bearers for the Russian Olympic Committee team at the opening ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. (tass.com, 30 Jun 2021)”.
8 – Giba (Brazil)
Giba’s story is one of overcoming adversity, one that can be very encouraging and inspiring in whatever difficult situation you find yourself in today.
According to the International Volleyball Hall of Fame, “Brazilian Gilberto Godoy Filho stands as one of the best volleyball players to ever play the game, and arguably the most decorated the world over during the early 21st century. Known the world over as Giba, his place in the history of the sport may never have happened if not for the courage to overcome major odds as a youngster.
Giba was diagnosed with leukemia when he was merely 6-months-old. At age 10, he was in a serious accident that damaged his left arm. Neither setback held him back from reaching the stars.”
7 – Regla Torres (Cuba)
According to the International Volleyball Hall of Fame, Torres “is a superb middle blocker and hitter. She has devoted her life to volleyball, playing no other sport. She started playing volleyball as a child, training from the age of 8 in a Havana sports school. By the time she was 14, she was participating in international matches with the Cuban Youth National Team…Playing with the Cuban National Team, Torres became the youngest Olympic gold-medal winner in volleyball history in 1992 at the age of 17 at the Barcelona Olympic Games.”
6 – Lang Ping (China)
According to Britannica, Ping is a “volleyball player and coach who was the lead spiker on the Chinese national teams that dominated women’s international volleyball in the early 1980s. Known as the ‘Iron Hammer,’ she…(had qualities of ) elegant athleticism, fierce spiking, and tactical brilliance…she was a key player on the Chinese team that won the 1981 World Cup championship, China’s first major title in volleyball.”
5 – Misty May-Treanor (USA)
U-S-A! U-S-A! Mistay May-Treanor, according to Team USA, has the following accomplishments on her accomplished volleyball resumé:
- Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings are considered the greatest beach volleyball team of all time after winning three-straight Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008, 2012)
- May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings and won 21 consecutive Olympic matches and only lost one set (to Austria in 2012) during their 11-year run together
- May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings won three-straight FIVB World Championships in 2005, 2007 and 2009
- As an indoor setter at Long Beach State (1995-99), May-Treanor led an undefeated team to the 1998 NCAA Division I National Championship
4 – Kerri Walsh Jennings (USA)
May-Treanor’s long-time teammate, another name you may recognize on this list, Kerri Walsh Jennings according to Team USA:
- Became the most decorated beach volleyball Olympian of all-time after winning bronze in 2016; has three gold and one bronze in beach volleyball; she is a five-time Olympian
- Is one of only three U.S. beach volleyball players with more than one Olympic medal (also Misty May-Treanor and April Ross)
- Holds the record for tournament victories (domestic and international) with 135 and for career earnings with $2,648,135.00
- Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor won 21 consecutive Olympic matches and only lost one set (to Austria in 2012) during their 11-year run together
3 – Sérgio Dutra Santos (Brazil)
Not just any libero, Dutra Santos is one of the best volleyball players to ever play the game-type-libero. And this. This moment winning a medal for his country. This is what sports can help do in bringing countries together and what accomplishing what you set out for can mean in the moment when receiving one of the greatest awards you could in the sport.
According to Volleyball Mob, “Sergio Santos is one of the best liberos in the history of volleyball. He is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a two-time Olympic silver medalist and he finished his national team career at the 2016 Olympic Games. He represented Brazil for 15 years.”
2 – Hélia Souza (Brazil)
All she did was…win. And helping your country win, well, it helps in becoming one of the best volleyball players to ever play the game.
According to DBPedia, “Hélia Rogério de Souza (born 10 March 1970 in São Paulo), nicknamed Fofão, is a retired Brazilian female volleyball player who competed for her country’s national team in five consecutive Summer Olympics, starting in 1992. She won a gold medal in 2008 and twice won a bronze medal, in 1996 and 2000. She also claimed the gold medal at the 1999 Pan American Games”.
1 – Yeon-Koung Kim (South Korea)
Bump, set, spike. You’ve made your way to the best player on this list and Yeon-koung has spiked her way here on the court as Sportsmatik notes “(h)er team won the silver medal in 2014 Asian Women’s Cup Volleyball Championship in which she was awarded the ‘Best Outside Spiker’ title”.
Yeon-koung was also “honored with the ‘best scorer’ and ‘best server’ awards at 2013 Asian Volleyball Championship (and) (e)arned the ‘best scorer’ and the ‘MVP’ award at the London Olympics in 2012″.
According to Pantheon, “Kim Yeon-koung…is a South Korean professional volleyball player and a member of the FIVB Athletes’ Commission. She is an outside hitter and the former captain of the South Korean National Team. She announced her retirement from the national team in August 2021.” That was just this month after suiting up with her country at the Tokyo Olympics per multiple reports.
There you have it, folks! 20 of the best volleyball players. Hope you enjoyed this list! Who’s your favorite player (whether they’re on this list or not). Let me know in the comments! And go set yourself up for success today, having yourself a wonderful day!
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
- 1 20 Of The Best Volleyball Players
- 2 20 – Fabiana Oliveira (Brazil)
- 3 19 – Brenda Castillo (Dominican Republic)
- 4 18 – Bruno Rezende (Brazil)
- 5 17 – Sheilla Castro (Brazil)
- 6 16 – Mariusz Wlazly (Poland)
- 7 15 – Earvin Ngapeth (France)
- 8 14 – Saeid Marouf (Iran)
- 9 13 – Sergey Tetyukhin (Russia)
- 10 12 – Osmany Juantorena (Italy)
- 11 11 – Karch Kiraly (USA)
- 12 10 – Ting Zhu (China)
- 13 9 – Maxim Mikhaylov (Russia)
- 14 8 – Giba (Brazil)
- 15 7 – Regla Torres (Cuba)
- 16 6 – Lang Ping (China)
- 17 5 – Misty May-Treanor (USA)
- 18 4 – Kerri Walsh Jennings (USA)
- 19 3 – Sérgio Dutra Santos (Brazil)
- 20 2 – Hélia Souza (Brazil)
- 21 1 – Yeon-Koung Kim (South Korea)
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