We caught up with proud Adelaide United Ambassador, Mariafe Artacho del Solar, after she completed her quest to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio!
Firstly, Mariafe, congratulations to you and your teammate, Nicole Laird, on qualifying for Rio, how does it feel to be heading to the Olympics?
It feels surreal, really. It’s an absolute dream come true. We were working so hard for four years and for it to become a reality is a very special feeling for me, and for Nicole.
When we spoke in January, you said that all you were thinking about was Rio, that you were visualising yourself playing at the Olympics, how has that helped you make what was just a dream then, come true?
Visualising the moment of us qualifying and also walking out at the Olympics’ opening ceremony in Rio is something I’ve been doing every day. It’s helped because I’ve been able to see myself there and I believed it could happen and that I could do it. It’s like that quote (by Theodore Roosevelt), “Believe you can and you’re halfway there,” and that’s what I’ve been doing and I’ve kept working hard at it.
Was there ever a moment along your journey where you thought it was maybe too hard or that you wouldn’t make it to the Olympics?
To be honest, there wasn’t a time when I thought we wouldn’t make it. You know, at first I believed we could qualify and I really wanted to be part of it, but there were very small doubts and some ‘what if’ moments that crept into my mind, but with every step closer to qualifying, those thoughts and doubts became smaller. The belief that we had (Nicole and I) as individuals and as a team grew more and more because of the hard work we kept putting in. It was just a matter of managing our emotions on the day because the work was done and we knew it was only up to us from there.
Before we discuss your epic Olympic qualifier, let’s touch on the Reds. How amazing was it to see the boys become Premiers and then Champions of the Hyundai A-League?
It was so amazing! I was travelling overseas towards the end of the season and during the final matches, but I was constantly following the scores and reading updates about how the team was going. It was very exciting to see the boys win and the way they won was incredible too, but I wasn’t able to watch the match live because I was in Asia. I said that I believed in the team from the moment I started supporting the boys so it was never in doubt! In the end, they only lost one match since I got my Adelaide United shirt so hopefully being a lucky charm can continue into the new season!
Well, is your confidence in the boys going to flow into the new season? How do you think we’ll go in 2016/17?
My confidence in the team will definitely stay and I think the guys can carry some momentum into the new season for sure. There’s a couple of new boys that have come into the team which is exciting and I’m sure they’ll bring plenty of good things to the way the team plays. I think the team will stay as strong and they’ll be very confident, taking the games as they come and working as hard as ever.
Now, the match against Miller Pata and Linline Matauata of Vanuatu in Cairns for your spot at the Olympics in Rio… Were you and Nicole expecting such a tough match?
Yes, definitely. We have played Vanuatu more than enough times previously to understand just how difficult the match would be. We know each other’s games very well and every time we’ve come up against them the matches have been close battles. Going into the match, we knew it wasn’t going to be pretty and we knew it was going to be a tight fight, but, for us, it was a matter of being patient and staying focused. We had to fight for each point and had to grind for each advantage, which is what we did.
Just talk us through the match because the weather was awful in the first set in particular, how much harder did the rain make it for you and Nicole?
Of course the weather can be a factor in our sport, but it wasn’t a distraction for us. We’re experienced enough to understand that we have to deal with whatever circumstances we’re faced with and we’re mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared to be able to deal with whatever we’re presented with. The rain was only going to be a distraction for us if we let it become one, but we were focused on our task and blocked it out well.
Vanuatu won the first set 21-19, but you managed to bring it back to a set each, winning a tight second set 21-18. Into the third and it was now or never stuff and you seemed so calm and confident, but were you nervous at all?
During the match, the nerves were definitely there, but we knew we had to stay strong and composed to manage our emotions. We made sure we stayed present as well, not thinking about the previous points or anything like that, only the point that we were about to play. This is something that we’ve worked very hard on throughout the year and we’ve been doing a lot of meditation and working on our self-awareness, which I think definitely played a big part during each of the three sets.
There was a moment in that third set when there was a questionable call made with scores at 12-8. The umpire eventually overruled a decision, taking the scores to 12-9, then Vanuatu served an ace the following point and the match was turned on its head. A few points later and it’s 13-13… What goes through your mind at a time like that when one call changes momentum so quickly and your back is seemingly against the wall?
During that stage of the set, we were even leading 13-10 and in the third set we just needed to reach 15 points to win the match, but it turned so quickly and all of a sudden it was 13-all. We said to each other to forget the decision and we accepted it because we couldn’t change anything about it, but dealing with the shift in momentum was hard. Again, though, we kept composed and we believed that we could turn it all around, continuing to think about each point individually. We stayed focused and kept grinding out the points we needed to win to keep in control of the set.
Points went back and forth as you traded blows with Vanuatu until your fifth match point with scores at 18-17 and you, yourself, are suddenly serving for a place in Rio. How did you cope with the pressure in that moment and what were you thinking?
At that time, Nikki and I weren’t attached to the outcome of the match, which is a big thing in beach volleyball. The game can go up and down so quickly and if you’re not careful you can get attached to that rollercoaster of emotion. But because we were so strong mentally, we weren’t caught up on how the match could finish and stayed in the moment and that’s what was going through my mind at the time.
You served perfectly, then Nikki sets, and you hit a massive spike to win the match. Just describe the wave of emotions that came over you when you saw the ball land in.
Jumping up for that spike at the end, I gave it absolutely everything I had and it was definitely the last 10 per cent of my energy. I left everything on the court and when we got the point and I knew we had won, it was a very unique feeling. All our hard work, the dedication, and our sacrifices to achieve our goal… it was incredible and a relief to finally make it.
So you’ve made it to Rio, we guess the next step is winning Gold?
Exactly! There’s nothing stopping us from going all the way and the sky is the limit so we can’t wait for Rio! We’re heading to Austria later this month to compete in a major tournament, but then we’re Rio-bound which is very exciting.
Everyone at Adelaide United wishes Mariafe and her teammate, Nikki, the best at the Olympics in Rio. We’re sure she will do herself and Australia proud!