Cuba’s recent dramatic qualification for the 2018 World Championships was a bittersweet event. How can a country that has the best and highest paid male volleyball players in the world go through so much trouble to simply qualify for a tournament? Even sadder to consider, is that this is the same Cuban national team that has had historical success in the court, winning one World League in in 1998, one World Cup in 1989, and 15 NORCECA Championships.
Surely, if it had at its disposal all its best players, most elite national teams would have a lot of trouble keeping up with the Cuban squad. Instead, it plays its international competitions with youngsters and always get completely outclassed. This is a not a knock at current Cuban national team players, but with a squad with an age average of only of 21.6 years, no players on it would make the team if Cuba was able to call its best of the best.
Imagining a “Cuban Defected Dream Team”
Drawing up fantasy volleyball scenarios is a common pastime of many volleyball fans. Of these, perhaps none clouds the fan’s minds than that of a perfect Cuban male team removed from all of its bureaucratic problems and player defections. Due to strict regulations regarding professional sports in Cuba, all of country’s best volleyball players are scattered around the world, representing other nations in international play. The most recent cases of this is Yoandy Leal‘s Brazilian naturalization and Wilfredo Leon‘s clearance to represent the Polish national team.
We at VolleyMob also allowed ourselves to indulge in such thinking, and have come up with the perfect Cuban Defected Dream Team, with players who are ineligible to play for the squad. How far could it go in the 2018 FIVB World Championship?
Starting Outside Hitters: Wilfredo Leon and Yoandy Leal
We start off with the best paid male volleyball player of the world, according to Worldofvolley. Winner of the last three Russian Championships and CEV Champions League with Zenit Kazan, Leon is rumored to make over $1.4 Million per season.
At 6’7″, Leon is able to attack the ball at almost 12 feet, and has decent passing abilities. He is considered many the current best playing in the world. Able to play both hitter positions, Leon debuted with the Cuban national team at only 14 years old, and a year later won the best receiver award at the 2009 FIVB World League. At only 17 years of age, he captained Cuba to a silver medal in the 2010 FIVB World Championship. He defected from Cuba in 2013, and is now eligible to play for Poland.
His list of accolades is long:
CEV Champions League
- 2014/2015 – with Zenit Kazan – MVP and Best Outside Hitter
- 2015/2016 – with Zenit Kazan – MVP and Best Outside Hitter
- 2016/2017 – with Zenit Kazan – Best Outside Hitter
- 2008/2009 Cuban Championship, with Capitalinos
- 2009/2010 Cuban Championship, with Capitalinos
- 2010/2011 Cuban Championship, with Orientales de Santiago
- 2014/2015 Russian Cup, with Zenit Kazan
- 2014/2015 Russian Championship, with Zenit Kazan
- 2015/2016 Russian SuperCup, with Zenit Kazan
- 2015/2016 Russian Cup, with Zenit Kazan
- 2015/2016 Russian Championship, with Zenit Kazan
- 2016/2017 Russian Cup, with Zenit Kazan
- 2016/2017 Russian Championship, with Zenit Kazan
Just like Leon, Yoandy Leal was a star in Cuba since his teenage years, shining in domestic and international tournaments alike. Leal, now at 28 year of age, defected from Cuba to Brazil in 2010, and after two years of ineligibility joined powerhouse Sada/Cruzeiro to start off his briliant international career. After an additional long waiting period, he was also cleared to defend Brazil’s national team in international competitions.
Watching Leal play is a treat for volleyball fans, as he is the prototypical Cuban volleyball player, a master in all of volleyball’s basic fundamental skills. He is a very efficient server and spiker, regularly hitting over 60% in games, as well as a superb passer.
His long list of accolades is impressive:
FIVB Club World Championships
- 2013 – Gold medal with Sada/Cruzeiro – Best Spiker
- 2015 – Silver Medal with Sada/Cruzeiro – MVP
- 2014 – Gold medal with Sada/Cruzeiro
- 2016 – Gold medal with Sada/Cruzeiro – Best Spiker
- 2013/2014 Gold Medal at the Brazilian Superliga, with Sada/Cruzeiro – Best Spiker
- 2013/2014 Gold Medal at the Brazilian Cup, with Sada/Cruzeiro
- 2014/2015 Gold Medal at the Brazilian Superliga, with Sada/Cruzeiro – MVP and Best Spiker
- 2015/2016 Gold Medal at the Brazilian Superliga, with Sada/Cruzeiro – MVP
- 2015/2016 Gold Medal at the Brazilian Cup, with Sada/Cruzeiro
- 2016/2017 Gold Medal at the Brazilian Superliga, with Sada/Cruzeiro – Best Spiker
South American Club Championship
- 2014 – Gold medal with Sada/Cruzeiro – Best Spiker
- 2015 – Silver medal with Sada/Cruzeiro – Best Spiker
- 2016 – Gold medal with Sada/Cruzeiro – MVP and Best Spiker
- 2017 – Gold medal with Sada/Cruzeiro – MVP and Best Spiker
Starting Opposite Hitter: Osmany Juantorena
32-year-old Osmany Juantorena is also one of the world’s top paid players. Having played for the Cuban national team from 2003 to 2006, he won a bronze medal at the 2005 FIVB World League. He then defected from Cuba on the same year to join Russian Club Ural Ulfa.
After many years playing in Italy, he applied for Italian citizenship, which was granted, and now is one of Italy’s national team most important players, having won a silver medal with the squad at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Juantorena is 6’7″ tall and is able to attack at over 12’5″. His list of accolades is astounding:
CEV Champions League
FIVB Club World Championship
- 2009 – Gold medal with Diatec Trentino – Best Server
- 2010 – Gold medal with Diatec Trentino – MVP and Best Spiker
- 2011 – Gold medal with Diatec Trentino – MVP and Best Spiker
- 2012 – Gold medal with Diatec Trentino – MVP
- 2009/2010 Gold medal at the Italian Cup Serie A with Diatec Trentino
- 2010/2011 Gold medal at the Italian Championship, with Diatec Trentino – Best Server
- 2011/2012 Gold medal at the Italian Cup Serie A with Diatec Trentino – MVP
- 2012/2013 Gold medal at the Italian Cup Serie A with Diatec Trentino
- 2012/2013 Gold medal at the Italian Championship, with Diatec Trentino
- 2013/2014 Gold medal at the Turkish SuperCup, with Halkbank Ankara
- 2013/2014 Gold medal at the Turkish Championship, with Halkbank Ankara – MVP
- 2014/2015 Gold medal at the Turkish SuperCup, with Halkbank Ankara
- 2014/2015 Gold medal at the Turkish Cup, with Halkbank Ankara
- 2016/2017 Gold medal at the Italian Cup, with Cucine Lube Civitanova
In addition, he was the 2005 FIVB World League’s best receiver, the Russian League’s MVP in the 2004-2005 season, the MVP of the Emir of Quatar Cup twice (2012, 2015), the MVP of the 2014 Italian Cup, and the Best outside spiker of the 2015 FIVB World Cup.
Starting Middle Blockers: Robertlandy Simon and Isbel Mesa
Watching Robertlandy Simon play is like watching someone play a videogame with cheat codes, he is just that good and above his competition. Standing at 6’10”, the 30-year-old middle-blocker is able to attack the ball at almost 13 feet. It is no surprise then, that he is also one of the world’s best paid players, earning around &1 million per season, according to Worldofvolley.
He was first called to serve the Cuban national team at only 17 years of age, and captained it from 2005 to 2010. With the team, he was awarded the best spiker and best blocker award of the 2009 FIVB World League, the best blocker, best server, and MVP award of the 2009 FIVB Grand Champions Cup, as well at the 2010 FIVB World Championship best blocker award. In 2010, he was a silver medalist of the FIVB World Championship with the Cuban national team.
He has since defected from Cuba, and played in Italy, Quatar, Korea, and is currently a player for Brazilian powerhouse Sada/Cruzeiro, with fellow Cuban national Yoandy Leal. He has requested FIVB to be cleared to play for the Canadian national team. Here is a list of his accolades:
CEV Challenge Cup
- 2012/2013 Gold medal with Piacenza
FIVB Club World Championship
- 2016 Gold medal with Sada/Cruzeiro
South American Club Championship
- 2017 Gold medal with Sada/Cruzeiro
- 2005/2006 Gold medal at Cuban Championship, with Ciudad Habana
- 2008/2009 Gold medal at Cuban Championship, with Ciudad Habana
- 2009/2010 Gold medal at Cuban Championship, with Ciudad Habana
- 2013/2014 Gold at the Italian Cup, Piacenza
- 2014/2015 Gold medal at the South Korean Championship, with Ansan OK Savings Bank
- 2015/2016 Gold medal at the South Korean Championship, with Ansan OK Savings Bank – MVP
- 2016/2017 Gold medal at the Brazilian Superliga, with Sada/Cruzeiro
Isbel Mesa is another player in the list who was a silver medalist with the Cuban national team at the 2010 FIVB World Championship. Differently from the others, though, he didn’t defect from Cuba right after the tournament, instead spending a little more time in his home country, enough to win a bronze medal at the 2012 FIVB World League. He only defected in 2015, to play for Brazilian powerhouse Taubaté, winning a Brazilian Cup with the squad in 2017. Since he had to serve a two year suspension for defecting, he is only now getting back into perfect playing shape. At 6’8″ tall and able to attack at almost 12 feet, he will have no trouble making his name known in the Brazilian Superliga the next few seasons.
Starting Setter: Raydel Hierrezuelo Aguirre
For the starting setter spot, we are going with Raydel Hierrezuelo Aguirre, who led the Cubans to silver medals in the 2009 Grand Champions Cup and the 2010 FIVB World Championship. Aguirre left Cuba in 2014 to play in Italy, where he wore Molfetta and Piacenza‘s collors. This year he made the change to Turkey’s Halkbank. Hierrezuelo is a tall setter at 6’5″, and is able to block at over 11″, which means Cuba’s defense will not be compromised when he is at the net.
Starting Libero: Ángel Dennis
Since there are no elite Cuban liberos playing outside of Cuba, we are going with an unusual pick for the libero spot. Cuban opposite hitter Ángel Dennis was once one of volleyball best high flyers, standing at only 6’3″. Now, at 40 years old, it is safe to say that he has lost a bit of his springing power, thus making him the perfect candidate for a libero crossover, much like Brazil’s Murilo Endres recent move to the position. Although he was an outside hitter in his last few seasons with Modena, he started his Italian career as an opposite hitter with Lube, putting up decent receiving numbers.
With the Cuban national team, Ángel won the 1998 FIVB World League, before defecting to Italy and spending many seasons in League A1’s best teams. Currently, he is playing in Portugal for Sporting Lisbon. He is now a naturalized Italian. Here is a list of his many accolades:
- 1998-99 Gold Medal at the CEV Challenge Cup with Palermo
- 2004-05 Gold Medal at the CEV Challenge Cup with Lube
- 2005-06 Gold medal at the Italian Championship, with Lube
- 2005-06 Gold Medal at the CEV Challenge Cup with Lube – MVP
- 2006 Gold Medal at the Italian Cup, with Lube
- 2006 Gold Medal at the Italian Supercup, with Lube
- 2007-08 Gold Medal at the CEV Challenge Cup with Modena
- 2010 – MVP of the Italian Championship
Leonell Marshall – Opposite Hitter or Libero
Perhaps one of the best known Cuban volleyball players to the general crowd, due to the immense fame his amazing vertical leap prowess got on the early days of youtube, Leonell Marshall would surely be a strong candidate for a starting spot in our list if not for his age. The high flying player in now 38 years old and although experienced and with many tricks at the net up his sleeve, is not the same player who once had his jump touch height measured at a record breaking 13 feet.
Marshall played at the 2000 Olympic Games with the Cuban national squad before defecting to Italy, where he played the next 10 seasons for Piacenza and Roma. He then spent five years in Turkey with Fehnerbaçe and Arkaz Izmir, one year in China with BAIC, and is now currently back in Italy playing once more for Piacenza. Here is a list of his accolades:
2009 Gold Medal at the Italian Championship, with Piacenza
2010-11 Gold Medal at the Turkish Championship, with Fenerbahçe – MVP and Best Spiker and Best Passer
2011–12 Gold Medal at the Turkish Championship, with Fenerbahçe
2014-15 Gold Medal at the Turkish Championship, with Fenerbahçe – Best Passer
2011-12 Gold Medal at the Turkish Volleyball Cup, with Fenerbahçe:
2011-12 Gold Medal at the Turkish Volleyball Super Cup, with Fenerbahçe
2013-14 Gold Medal at the CEV Challenge Cup, Fenerbahçe
Fernando Hernández – Outside Hitter
Also a member from the Cuban squad that won silver medals at the 2009 FIVB Grand Champions Cup and 2010 FIVB World Championship, Hernández did not defect right away, choosing instead to remain in Cuba for a little longer. He also played the 2011 FIVB World Cup with the team, winning the Best Spiker award. He defected in 2012, and after serving his 2 year ineligibility time, debuted in the Japanese Premier league, where he played for 2 years. He then played played for Italy’s Mofeltta and Piacenza.
Hernandez was the 2nd-highest scorer in Italy’s Serie A last season, scoring 563 points in 26 games (5.4/set, 21.6/game), and 484 kills (most in the league). He is currently in Turkey’s Halkbank.
Michael Sánchez – Opposite Hitter
After winning the silver medal with the Cuban national team in the 2009 Grand Champions Cup, Sánchez defected to Russia. He served his two year illegibility, and then went on to play for Lokomotiv Novosibirsk, winning the 2011 Russian Cup with MVP honors. He has since played in many different Asian leagues and is a naturalized Russian Citizen. He is currently playing for Turkey’s Arkas Spor.
Oreol Camejo – Opposite Hitter or Setter
Originally an elite setter at the youth level, he was good enough to win Best Setter honors at the 2008 Olympic Qualification Tournament in Düsseldorf. Camejo then defected to Brazil in 2009. After waiting out his ineligibility period, he debuted for Vôlei Futuro as an opposite hitter, with which he spent two seasons and won a silver medal at the 2010 Brazilian Superliga. He has since played in Korea, Quatar, China, and Russia. With Lokomotiv Novosibirsk he won silver medals at the 2013 FIVB Club World Championship and 2014 Russian Championship. He currently plays for Zenit Petersburg.