Thu, 10 Mar 2005

Pereira puts spark into Jakarta Electric

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It could have been a listless Aline "Lily" Pereira who took the court for the opening of the 2005 Proliga Volleyball championship.

The Brazilian, who arrived here only a few days before the tournament began last Friday, instead provided a much-needed boost to defending champion Jakarta Electric PLN.

Although her team lost 2-3 in its first outing against Jakarta Monas Bank DKI, Pereira was singularly impressive in her debut.

The team returned to beat Gresik Phonska Bank Jatim, with Pereira once again playing a starring role.

She proved a great asset to her team, an all-rounder whose powerful spikes and jumped serve helped win many points, while her blocks and digs were invaluable on defense.

Pereira, who turns 24 on May 5, also became a crowd favorite. She gave her all on every point; pulled out of position, she would use every bit of her 1.78 m frame in a desperate lunge to keep the ball in play.

Every winner was greeted with a joyous shriek, meant to spur on her teammates, most of them young rookies who were not part of 2004's winning side.

"My strength is my serve and my spike, I am confident of those. But I know that I must improve my block," she said after the match against Gresik.

Overnight, she became a force to be reckoned with by other teams.

"Pereira is a good player, she has powerful spikes," coach Yopie H of rival team Jakarta Monas Bank DKI said.

"If she could get one good teammate, Jakarta Electric PLN would be a stronger team, and they could beat us."

Although other foreigners have been recruited to strengthen local teams, including from China, Belarus and the United States, Jakarta Electric PLN manager Hendra Saleh said Pereira was the standout in helping her team.

"That's what we saw in the first series of Proliga in Jakarta," he said.

Pereira, the oldest of four siblings from Sao Paulo, was introduced to the sport by her aunt when she was eight.

"My aunt used to play in a club next to my home and she took me to play volleyball with her," she said.

"Since then, I could not stop playing volleyball and I decided that volleyball is my life."

Her skills led her to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. She had an outstanding collegiate career which included being named the Colonial Athletic Association player of the year for three consecutive years, only the second player in league history to receive the honor.

"When I entered George Mason University in 2000, that was my greatest moment. It's always great for a Brazilian to study in the U.S."

In the second half of 2004, she played for a club in Switzerland, before her friends told her that she should try Indonesia.

"My friend told me that volleyball competition in Indonesia is well managed and the quality of the players is quite good, so I decide to come to Indonesia."

She is quickly adapting to the culture, and already knows a smattering of Indonesian.

"My teammates helped me to know the culture here," said Pereira, who, as well as her native Portuguese, also speaks English and French.

Bandung fans will get to see her skills for themselves when Proliga moves to the West Java capital from Friday until Sunday.