The journey to Cornell may have taken more time and miles than Thais Mirela expected, but she never doubted she would make her way to the East Hill.
The junior transfer student and outside hitter on the volleyball team came to the United States from Sao Paolo, Brazil. Before arriving at Cornell this fall, she was attending Salt Lake City (Utah) Community College, where she was a second-team All-Region selection and helped her team to the national junior college championship game. Before that, she was at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill. But even when she was thousands of miles away – either in South America or across the continent – Mirela’s sights never wavered from Ithaca, N.Y., and the Cornell Hotel School.
“When I was in high school … I found out that the best hotel school in the world was Cornell,” Mirela said. “The best hotel managers in Brazil graduated from Cornell. Coming to Cornell was a dream for me – to study what I really like and play volleyball. I came to American because I had the opportunity to study, learn a new language, and play volleyball.”
It seems almost inevitable that Mirela would find her way to Cornell and head coach Deitre Collins’ squad. While Collins was at UNLV – her coaching position previous to Cornell – Mirela contacted her for two reasons; to join her team and study hotel management. So when Collins came across Mirela’s recruiting video in her new office at Cornell, she knew that the Brazillian’s dual passions would make for a perfect fit in her new program.
“We just kind of tracked her down,” Collins said. “I knew the type of players that come out of Brazil. They’ve played a lot more volleyball and start at an earlier age. The game is more popular and played at a higher level sooner.”
But even with years of experience in her home country, Mirela has still had some growing pains in her career in the U.S.
“Here we run a lot – that was the most shock[ing] for me,” she said. “Volleyball is the same. Some skills or how people play are different.”
Despite culture shock and different strategies on the court, Mirela has found success in her chosen sport. In Utah, she was second on her team in kills per game (2.87) and third in digs per game (2.49). While the Red has only played three matches this season, all at the Duke Invitational this past weekend in Durham, N.C., Mirela has already shown she has what it takes to make an impact in the Ivy League.
“She stepped in the game this weekend and made just huge defensive plays that were impressive,” Collins said.
Mirela had 10 kills in a 3-2 loss to Charlotte, and added 16 digs against Duke the next day. She also brings a unique playing style and a drive to win to the Red.
“[The team] just see that she does a lot of things well,” Collins said. “She’s got a little different style. It’s harder for her with me than with the team, just some things that are done typically in her country that I do differently here.”
Mirela pointed out that the running aspect of the game and training is very different stateside -volleyball players do a lot more of that here than in Brazil. But Mirela has found that these differences make for thrilling matches in Division I – much like the record-breaking first game against Charlotte at the Duke Invitational, in which the Red fell by a final score of 38-40.
“The players in Division I are very good an very athletic,” she said. “I really appreciate the level of volleyball and my teammates told me it was the hardest tournament.”
Although the quickness of the game at this level might new for Mirela, the goal of competing for championships is very familiar.
“I want to win the Ivy League for the first time for me,” she said. “Every day I find out that people talk about when you won the Ivy League for the last time so I’m excited.”
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Assistant Sports Editor