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Looking At The Top 10 Active Volleyball Players

by WoV

It’s fun to remember some all-time great volleyball players, but what about the best still playing? Let’s look at 10 of the best players in the world.

Image credit: Erik Mclean via Unsplash

In the United States and other nations, volleyball is a growing sport. Both in popularity and participation, the sport is surging in the United States, with USA Volleyball membership up nearly 10% last year. However, on the professional level, the sport is relatively unknown to even the most avid sports fan. Among the most prestigious volleyball trophies include the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup and the Olympic games. A player like Sergio Santos, who played well into his 40s, won the FIVB Championship, becoming the first libero to be named Most Valuable Player. This led to his name being recognized in international sports before his retirement. Now that it’s becoming a popular global sport, let’s look at the top ten active professional volleyball players, five men and five women.

Wilfredo Leon | Outside Hitter, Poland

At 30 years old, the 6’8″ outside hitter nicknamed Lo is currently the world’s top men’s volleyball player. Considered by many analysts to be a generational talent, Leon was a member of the Cuban national team from 2007–2012 and is currently on the Poland national team, as well as Sir Safety Perugia. The Cuban-Polish national has spent nearly 20 years as a professional volleyball player and has the record for serve speed at 138 km/h. He has 18 individual awards, including five Most Valuable Player awards. Check the odds, and you’ll likely find Leon the favorite to win any MVP award for events he participates in.

Brenda Castillo | Libero, Dominican Republic

A member of the Dominican Republic national team, the 31-year-old Castillo is currently the world’s top-ranked women’s volleyball player. Castillo has been a pro since 2007, with dozens of individual awards, four club championships, a junior team Pan-American Cup gold medal, and a Hato Mayor Beach Volleyball Tournament gold medal. She may be the most accomplished women’s volleyball player of her era by individual awards.

Maksim Mikhaylov | Opposite, Russia

At 35 years old, Mikhaylov is one of the oldest players on our list. The Russian opposite is a former gold medalist at the Olympic Games London in 2012 and a silver medalist at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, as well as taking home a bronze at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008. He is arguably the most accomplished Olympic performer on this list, adding ten national championships and five CEV Champions League golds to his trophy case. Known for his versatile play, Mikhaylov has been known as the best server, spiker, blocker, and scorer at times during his career.

Image credit: Vince Fleming via Unsplash

Yeon-Koung Kim | Outside Hitter, South Korea

Nicknamed Yaki, Yeon-Koung is the former captain of the South Korean National Team and a former member of the FIVB Athletes’ Commission. The Outside hitter has been a pro since 2005, playing for eight different teams in four countries. She is also a trailblazer, becoming the first Asian volleyball player to win the CEV Women’s Champions League Most Valuable Player in 2011-12. Without question, the most decorated volleyball player to ever come from South Korea, Yeon-Koung, is among the most decorated players in the world today.

Osmany Juantorena | Outside Hitter, Italy

Born in 1985, Juantorena began his national career with the Cuba national volleyball team from 2003 to 2006 before joining the Italian club Modena Volley. The Cuban-Italian national is arguably the greatest individual performer on this list, with a record four Most Valuable Player awards at the FIVB Club World Championship. Since 2015, Juantorena has played for the Italian National Team, taking a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Ting Zhu | Outside Hitter, China

At 29 years old, Zhu is one of the youngest players on our list, and her unprecedented performances have earned her the nickname “MVP Harvester.” Across her 11 years as a pro, Zhu has earned 15 Most Valuable Player awards across all levels of competition, including an MVP at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Her performance in that tournament helped China take home the gold medal, one of six they have won while Zhu has been on the squad. Despite that, injuries prevented her from participating in China’s VNL campaign last season.

Wallace de Souza | Opposite, Brazil

There’s a case to be made that de Souza is the most accomplished volleyball player in Brazil’s history, an opposite on the national team for 13 years. During his career, he took home three MVP awards and a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. However, it hasn’t been without controversy. In January 2023, he posted a now-deleted post on social media about Brazilian president Lula that saw de Souza suspended.

Image credit: Ildar Garifullin via Unsplash

Thaisa Menezes | Middle-Blocker, Brazil

A two-time gold medal-winning middle blocker for Brazil, Menezes most recently took home the 2023 Women’s South American Volleyball Championship in Recife, Brazil. The two-time MVP has a litany of individual awards to go with her national team success and a successful club career that continues today at Minas Tenis Clube.

Robertlandy Simon Aties | Middle-Blocker, Cuba

At 6’10″and 251 pounds, no player on our list is a more imposing figure than Simon Aties. Currently playing for the Italian club Gas Sales Bluenergy Piacenza, the Cuban national has taken home three gold medals for Cuba so far. In club play, he has won the CEV Champions League, the CEV Challenge Cup, and three career MVPs.

Gabriela Guimarães | Outside Hitter, Brazil

At 29 years old, Guimarães has already established herself as the top young player in Brazil, the powerhouse for women’s volleyball. She helped Brazil win a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020 and already has five MVPs to her name, although she doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

What Is Next for These Players?

Many players on this list are older and nearing retirement, but players like Guimarães and Zhu still have long careers ahead of them. As the sport continues to grow, it’s important that these names become recognizable, especially as we approach the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.

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