His VNL performances exceed expectations

After nine matches, Iran’s 22-year-old opposite Saber Kazemi has already contributed to several defining moments at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

It is exceptional for a young player to get a spot as a starter on a team with Iran’s depth of talent, but it is even more extraordinary for that player to turn up with great consistency in each match.

Russian mentor Vladimir Alekno was able to find just that in youthful Kazemi.

“Alekno really gives great confidence to the young players and his trust gives us the opportunity to always show our best performance,” Kazemi said.

Kazemi made his debut with the senior national team in the inaugural edition of the VNL in 2018, when Iran faced Olympic champions Brazil. The Asian side lost to the South American squad in five sets, but Kazemi’s talent was obvious even then as he top scored with 15 markers.

“My first appearance at the 2018 VNL helped me to be familiar with the tournament and gave me an idea on how I should play at this level. It showed me how I should improve myself to be able to be worthy of being a starter,” Kazemi said.

Touted as Iran’s future star, his career was put on pause in 2019 after a fractured ankle sidelined him for months. He was faced with questions and doubts, but the young man never gave up and worked on his recovery.

“My mind is now more prepared than before. Having a good mindset is important in this prestigious competition. After the 2018 VNL, I was badly injured and that kept me in the house for five months. That was so tough for me because at that time I felt like everyone lost their trust in me.

“However, it gave me the motivation to train harder, to be able to get back to the national team. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I had no doubt that I could come back.”

There is no doubt that the 2021 VNL edition is Kazemi’s breakout season as he is the current scoring leader of his team. He has shown a wide range of skills that fit his role whether in offence or defence. His mental toughness has also been put to the test, and he has been the most consistent among the Iranian hitters in crucial moments.

“I knew that the VNL has a very high level, so I prepared myself in full measure and I trained my mind to survive tough challenges.”

His maturity and his pursuit of excellence were developed at a young age in his hometown of Gorgan in Golestan Province.

“I come from a city famous for volleyball. Everyone calls it the cradle of volleyball. My family loves and plays the sport. I would tag along with my father and my brothers who would play volleyball, but they would not let me play because I was little. So the only thing I could do then was to sit in a corner and watch them play.

“I observed how they served, how they spiked, and then I tried to learn and discovered which techniques were useful to be a better player. My father was a constant support and repeatedly told me I could be a great player. He told me I would be a world champion one day. He truly believed in me.”

And for Kazemi it is not so hard to raise his level when he gets good guidance from captain Saeid Marouf and Seyed Mousavi.

“Marouf and Mousavi are experienced players who are always helping us to play smoothly. They make it easier for us when we are on the court.”

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