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Celebration team ends Cinderella season with bronze medals at AAU Nationals

The Brasil Volleyball Academy (BRAVO) 14U volleyball team ended the 2017 club volleyball season with a third place overall finish among 130 competing 14U teams at the 44th AAU Girls' Junior National Volleyball Championships on Sunday, June18, in Orlando.

BRAVO ended the four day tournament with a 12-1 record, losing only to UponTop 14U, from Port St. Lucie, in the semi-finals. Instinct 14U Leopards, from Texas, earned the top spot with a 13-1 record. Each year, the AAU Nationals attract thousands of competitors from all over the United States and the world to Orlando. This year, BRAVO battled teams from as far away as Colombia and Puerto Rico.

BRAVO coaches Ricardo Pereira and Lidvani Paiva expressed great pride in the performance of their team this season. "It truly was a Cinderella story," said Coach Ricardo. "We had just assembled our 14U team earlier this year and played our first tournament together in February. We're so proud of our girls, having come so far in such a short time. It can take a team years of playing together before they achieve this level of success."

After winning their first tournament together at The Big House Gatorade Challenge in February, BRAVO 14U went on to win or place in nearly all of their other competitions this season. In fact, the team earned two free entries to this year's AAU Nationals through first place finishes at regional AAU tournaments, a welcome relief to BRAVO families. "Kids sports can be fairly expensive," said team parent Vanessa Stemples, "Our families were so excited that our girls earned not just one, but two free bids to nationals!"

BRAVO was founded in 2015 in Celebration by coaches Ricardo and Lidvani, husband and wife, to fulfill their dream of teaching Brazilian style volleyball to American youth. Brazil is currently recognized as the top country in the world for volleyball based on medals earned-success that has been attributed to its special style of volleyball practice and play. In fact, in recent years some United States Olympic team volleyball players have traveled to Brazil before competing just to train in the specialized style.

Ricardo and Lidvani had enjoyed tremendous success as professional volleyball players and coaches before relocating from Varginha, Brazil to Celebration and starting BRAVO. Their first academy student was their daughter, Luciana, a 5-11 left-handed power hitter with a magnificent jump float serve. Luciana's performance because of her top-level training has earned her many accolades, including an invitation to train with the USA Volleyball youth team in Colorado Springs later this summer. "Lucy is a great performer and leader on the court." says Coach Ricardo, "but more importantly, she really loves the sport."

This season's BRAVO 14U team included only four experienced club players: Luciana Pereira, hitter; Aimee Stemples, setter; Paola Fregonezi, hitter; and, Caitlinh Nguyen, libero. First time club players included: Michaella de P. Salles, Daniela and Natalia Delgado, Isabella Escobedo, Catthi Nguyen, Isabella Saba, Annielee Schiller and Zoey Williams. "Despite the different experience levels of our girls, they really worked well together all season. I couldn't have asked for better team chemistry," said Coach Ricardo. Assistant coaches Hung Nguyen and Carla Vilhena rounded out this season's coaching team, supporting Ricardo and Lidvani throughout the season.

Also of note, as a result of their extraordinary individual performances and achievements during the 2017 AAU Nationals, BRAVO team members Luciana Pereira and Aimee Stemples were selected by the AAU from among nearly 1,500 competing 14U athletes for the prestigious, 14-member 2017 All-American Team.

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