Modena, Italy, October 4, 2014 – Being four years old does not mean you can’t coach, apparently. Meet Sofia Maria, Kazakhstan’s very special assistant coach!
She calls the exercises during the post-game stretching: shouts “изменение” (izmeneniye, “change” in Russian) and everybody obeys. Sofia Maria, born in 2010, can actually shout orders to a volleyball team in three different languages: Russian, Ukrainian and Greek. Her daddy comes from Cyprus, and her mother is Tatyana Mudritskaya, Kazakhstan’s opposite.
More than a mascot, more than a motivator, little Sofia “has learned to play volleyball right after learning to speak,” mommy says. “She is particularly proficient in reception, and very tall for her age. Hopefully, she’ll become taller than me."
And Mudritskaya, with her 195 centimeters, is the tallest player on Kazakhstan’s roster and one of the tallest of the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship Italy 2014.
Sofia is accompanied by her daddy, who spent the last three weeks in Italy trying to contain her apparently endless energy. “We had a problem at the World Grand Prix in Montichiari, Italy, last year,” mom explains, “because she won’t wait outside the court and followed the team during the court change at the end of each set. It was funny of course, but not safe. So now she has to watch the matches from court side."
Sofia’s presence is the best metaphor of the joyful atmosphere that surrounds the Kazakh team. “We are the very first Kazakh team in 28 years of history to reach the second round of an international competition,” Mudritskaya says. “It is a great honor for us, and of course the pressure is not unbearable. If we had to make a wish, we would love to win at least one match in Modena. We will try hard and see what happens”.
And with Sofia’s coaching, nothing seems impossible.