Super Finals are the big prize for Cazaute's fantastic ascension


Article Thu, Apr 18 2024
Author: Adrian Costeiu

At 26-years-old, French outside hitter Héléna Cazaute is entering her prime and she made the most of this when signing for Allianz Vero Volley Milano, an up-and-coming team on the European scene, which has been one of the big surprises of the season, making it for the first time in the Super Finals.

Cazaute is no stranger to volleyball, as her mother was a player and coach, while her father was a rugby player turned president of the club where the outside hitter made her first steps in volleyball. With two other sisters also playing volleyball, Héléna had her future earmarked for her.

“I was maybe one year old, and my mom was already taking me with her for her practice sessions, so every weekend, I was in the gym to see my sisters play, so this for sure helped. And I also tried a bit tennis, but I really wanted to be part of a team. I also dipped my toes a bit in gymnastics, but yeah, it was not the sport for me. I was tall also, so for sure I would have had to stop, like very soon. So yeah, I chose this because it's a very important sport for me,” says Cazaute.

The outside hitter made the switch to the Institut fédéral de volleyball, in Toulouse, where all of France’s big talents make their first steps and learn the ABC of the sport. Then, she moved to Béziers Volley, RC Cannes and ASPTT Mulhouse before her maiden experience outside Europe, at Chieri, in 2021.

“I really wanted to go to Italy, this was a big target, and this finally happened in 2021, therefore I was very happy. There is, for sure, a difference between France and Italy. I think in Italy, like, the level is higher. I think we're working more technically here also, most of all in passing, in defence. We are working a lot in defence in Italy,” says the French star.

“Physically, the players spike stronger, they block higher. But France, in the last two or three years, the level has gotten better there too, so I am happy to see that.”

After winning the CEV Challenge Cup Women in the 2022/23 season with Chieri, Cazaute, who was the MVP of the French league in 2021, was snatched up by Allianz Vero Volley Milano, a team which has shined over the past years, being one of the most consistent in the European premium competition, having been eliminated in the quarter-finals in back-to-back seasons.

Milano’s ambition was bigger and bigger and signing another superstar in Paola Egonu really boosted the credentials of the team, which stood strong, won eight of their 10 matches this season and overcame a huge challenge from Fenerbahçe Opet Istanbul in the semi-finals, taking a 15:11 win in the golden set, after the two sides split the wins in their doubleheader.

Now, Allianz Vero Volley Milano are for the first time in their history in the Super Finals, where they are due to face A. Carraro Imoco Conegliano, fierce rivals in the Italian league. But the prize is even bigger, as Milano were eliminated in the semi-finals of the domestic league and this could be their chance of silverware this season.

“I feel great. I think this season was really, like, up and down. And I had to find my place in the first months. The end of the season has been kind of better for me. I tried to find my place, like, slowly. And I could show which player I am. So I'm really happy for it,” says Cazaute.

The French outside hitter has scored 50 points in nine matches in the European premium competition, but has been important to the side which also has players like Paola Egonu, Miriam Sylla or Kara Bajema.

“When you practice with these players, you can only improve, and it is a very nice feeling in our team is that even if we are, like, four good outside hitters, we really help each other. I mean, there is not someone who is more jealous, we are focused on really helping each other,” says Cazaute.

But with the Super Finals on the line, that depth and camaraderie will be tested even harder, especially as Conegliano have lost only two matches so far this season, but both came in the business end of the season, which means Milano can spring another surprise, despite losing the last six matches in a row against their opponents.

“I really hoped at the beginning of the season to make it here, because to play in the Super Finals and sit on the sofa and watch it are not the same thing. Especially to be here, with Milano, is very special,” says Cazaute.

“We really had to fight to be here. And I really like the way our team fought. And we were really like as a team. I want this feeling will come back again because it's a bit where what we were missing on the last part of our season and on the Italian league, but I am sure that we can get there.”