Former Rice volleyball star Olaya Pazo is headed to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro where she will represent her home country of Venezuela in Beach Volleyball.
Pazo last played volleyball at Rice in the fall of 2005 before graduating in the spring of 2006. The native of Caracas, Venezuela, earned Honorable Mention All-America from the America Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) in her senior year, as well as First Team All-Conference USA and the Rice program's annual Most Outstanding Player award. Her team-leading 499 kills in 2005 ranks as the fifth-best single season recorded at Rice, and her 3.67 career kills-per-set is the fourth-best mark in the program's history.
"It is a dream come true," Olaya said about an Olympian. "I still can't believe it!
"Rice University and all of the coaching staff were definitely a part of me achieving this goal," she added. "My Rice coaches taught me discipline, and how to be a leader on and off the court."
After graduating from Rice, Olaya played professionally in European (indoor) leagues as well as on the Venezuelan national team for three years with her twin sister and Rice Owl volleyball great, Rebeca. Olaya started playing beach volleyball in 2010 while living in Miami. The Pazo twins paired together were a formidable sand duo, but Rebeca's full time job in Boston limited her international travel. Rebeca was ruled ineligible for the Olympics by volleyball's international governing body for not playing in enough of the sports Pro Tour events in the Olympic year.
Both Pazo sisters can trace their volleyball paths back to Rice, where they trained under current Owl head coach Genny Volpe. Volpe said the entire program is proud of the examples the two have set and the heights they have reached since wearing the Blue & Gray.
"We are so proud of all of Olaya and Rebeca Pazo's accomplishments in their beach careers," coach Volpe said. "We are looking forward to seeing Olaya compete in Rio and hope all Rice volleyball fans and alumni follow her throughout her Olympic journey."
Olaya has competed in enough events on the AVP tour, with a career-best fifth in St. Petersburg with Sarah Day. Olaya and her Venezuelan Beach Volleyball partner, Norisbeth Agudo, represented their country in the 2014 South American Games where they earned the Silver Medal. The pair won bronze in the 2015 Central American Games and were ranked in the Top 25 in the FIVB World rankings. The team punched their ticket to Rio by winning the recent South American Continental Cup.