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Vera Oliveira tackles English on court with help form Brazilian teammate

by Derek Clarkston, associate Sports editor


Knowing little English and taking over for an All-American hasn’t slowed down Brazilian-native Vera Oliveira, as she is one of the reasons why the HPU Lady Sea Warriors volleyball team has a 4-2 record in PacWest play.

Oliveira, a freshman from Londrina, Brazil, has taken over the setter position left vacant when three-time All-American Nia Tuitele finished her career at HPU last season. Oliveira had some pretty big shoes to fill, but she has proved worthy of filling the position. She’s dished out 646 assists, averaging 10.59 a game. She is first on the team in attack percentage at .385 which places her second in the PacWest conference. Oliveira is second on the team in blocks, with 45, and has 99 kills and 114 digs.

“I’m honored to be playing on Nia’s old team, and in Nia’s place,” said 5-10 Oliveira, “because everybody recognizes her as a very good player.”

With Oliveira at the reins, the team has gotten off to a 10-6 start and leads the tough PacWest conference ahead of Brigham Young University-Hawai‘i by one game.

Playing the setter position is like playing quarterback on a football team: you have to talk and communicate with you’re teammates to set up the play. Oliveira’s native tongue being Portuguese and her teammates speaking English, she hasn’t been able to communicate easily. She has learned English phrases that help her out on the court.

“I know little things like ‘good pass,’ ‘high pass,’ ‘go,’ ‘I go,’ ‘mine,” said Oliveira. “When I try to say something I make little words and gesture at the same time.”

Doing that has worked early and often throughout the season, but Oliveira also has a little help on the court, as she relies heavily on teammate and fellow Brazilian Suzy Garbelotti to help her communicate to the rest of the team.

“Without Suzy on the team, it would be difficult for me on the court to communicate with the other players,” said Oliveira.

Garbelotti recalls a moment earlier in the season when Oliveira was trying to get the team to celebrate and she kept saying “celebration, celebration.” “Someone asked me what she was trying to say, and I told them celebrate, smile, be happy,” said Garbelotti. “Oliveira only needed one correction.” It is the little things that she is learning on the court, and because it does take time to learn a foreign language, she is looking forward to next year when she will have more English words added to her arsenal.

“I was at the same stage when I came over here,” said Garbelotti. “I just told her, ‘you’re going through a process, so don’t be afraid to speak up, it’s just going to take awhile.”

Oliveira isn’t afraid to speak up at all, as she considers herself to be a talker on and off the court, something that will work to her advantage in learning English. Right now, she says, she is just happy to be part of the Sea Warriors volleyball team. She hopes that she can help the team get to regionals and is looking forward to the next three years of playing Sea Warrior volleyball.

“I’m happy and I’m learning English,” said Oliveira. “And I know that next season I’m going to be ready, at least knowing more English than I do now.”


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