Defence is her forte

Having excelled for AP in the National Championships, Naima has now set her sights on earning a berth in the Indian team. By J.R. Shridharan.

She is a key member in the Andhra Pradesh volleyball team's defence. She is determined to make it to the Indian team for the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. Meet Sk. Naima, the 23-year-old spiker from Vijayawada.

A junior India international, Naima played a significant role in helping Andhra Pradesh win the bronze medal in the National Championship in Jaipur recently. "I have taken part in six senior Nationals so far and I have attended two senior India camps. My goal is to enter the big league and represent the country in the Asian Games," says the spiker, who took to the sport to beat depression.

Recollecting Naima's early days, former Krishna District Volleyball Association and Indian Railways player Koteswara Rao says: "Naima was studying at the Railway Mixed High School in Vijayawada. She used to go to the railway mini stadium to fill her water bottle and she would spend some time watching the game. What struck me instantly was her height. She was only in Standard VII then."

Realising that Naima (she is now six feet tall) could be moulded into a quality spiker, Rao made efforts to convince her mother. Her nod was sufficient for him to chalk out a plan to introduce Naima to the game of smashes and blocks.

"I went into depression soon after my father passed away prematurely. My mother felt that volleyball was a God-sent boon for me to get back to my normal self," says Naima, a centre blocker who has travelled with the junior India team to Thailand, Chinese Taipei and the Philippines.

Naima soon landed at the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh Volleyball Academy in Visakhapatnam and under the watchful eyes of coach Promod Reddy, she learnt the rudiments of the game. She was also at the Centre for Excellence in Hyderabad and at the SAI Centre. "Based on my coaches' suggestion, I began specialising as a centre blocker or a middle player," says Naima, who is employed with the South Central Railway, Secunderabad.

Naima idolises Central Railway blocker Priyanka Bora, who is also a member of the Indian team. "She makes things so easy with her effortless jumps and reflexes," says Naima.

According to the South Central Railway coach, Nagavardhini, Naima is basically a block-oriented middle player. "Though she dominates the net, she needs to improve her attack, especially while tackling the short ball over the net. She is good at float serves and takes on the role of a setter when the designated setter moves to the backcourt. She is constantly in motion and very aggressive," the SCR coach says.

Nagavardhini is of the view that Naima has a chance to enter the Indian team, as there is a dearth of quality young legs. "The Indian senior team will have at least three middle players and Naima is preparing hard to be one of them," the coach says.