Lausanne, Switzerland, June 19, 2015 - Belgium undoubtedly caused the biggest sensation of last year’s FIVB World Grand Prix. Making their debut in the competition, the “Yellow Tigers” surprised many by winning Group 2 and storming straight into the final, which featured the top six teams. And one player was instrumental in their rise: Lise van Hecke.
With an incredible 246 points, the young hitter, who turned 23 on 1st July, topped the list of top scorers at the tournament. The Group 2 final was virtually a one-woman show starring Lise van Hecke: she scored 41 points to guide her team to a 3-2 victory over their neighbours the Netherlands, who won the World Grand Prix in 2007.
This year, Belgium play in Group 1 as one of the top twelve teams at the FIVB World Grand Prix. And it goes without saying that Lise van Hecke is again at the heart of the team. In the three weeks of the preliminary round, her team has been matched with the likes of world champions the USA and Olympic gold medallists and defending Grand Prix champions Brazil. Sometimes, it all still sounds like a dream to Lise van Hecke: “It is great for our little country of Belgium to be able to play against such big volleyball nations.”
The top hitter has established herself as a genuine star of the international volleyball scene. Her exceptional talent came to the fore when she won bronze at the World Championship and claimed the European Championship title with her country’s junior team. She was playing at Asterix Kieldrecht at the time but like the comic-book hero Asterix, the adventurous teenager moved on to conquer the volleyball world at the age of 19 – although she does sometimes miss her native Belgium.
During her four years in the top division of the Italian league, Lise van Hecke has made quite a name for herself: first at Urbino, then at Piacenza, with whom she won the title in 2014. At the same time, she has also played a key role in the meteoric rise of the Belgian national team. In 2013, they first finished runners-up in the European League before sensationally claiming bronze at the European Championship – the first European Championship medal in the country’s volleyball history. The top scorer at the tournament was naturally Lise van Hecke. This success was followed in 2014 by their spectacular outing at the World Grand Prix and Belgium’s first appearance at a FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship for 32 years.
Her exceptional performances did not go unnoticed. Despite this, her recently-announced move to top Brazilian club Molico Osasco still came as something of a surprise. After all, this is the very team that won the FIVB Volleyball Women's Club World Championship in 2012 and finished runners-up in last year’s Brazilian Superliga. The club was determined to get its girl: "Financially it was not easy for the club to get me there. Osasco asked sponsor Nestlé to release extra funds to take me there.”
This is quite an accolade for van Hecke. After all, Brazil are Olympic champions and will host the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next year. “It's a big step, but it's a dream of mine to play in Brazil. Volleyball really lives there, for women it is even the number one sport. It’s definitely a step forward for me. I will play together with four Brazilian players who have already won Olympic gold.”
Sometimes, Lise van Hecke has to pinch herself when she considers the path her career has taken. “It is indeed fast. But I try to grow with every match. And I try to be happy in the sport and in my life.”
That is the secret to Lise van Hecke’s success. Another highlight for her is this year’s European Championship, which Belgium will host together with the Netherlands in September. “It's not that the pressure will be higher because the European Championship is in our home country. We see it primarily as a great honour. We are a team that plays with enthusiasm. The home crowd will only help us.” One dream is still outstanding, however: the Olympic Games. When the time comes, Lise van Hecke, the new star of the Brazilian Superliga, will not have far to go to Rio.