Middle blocker Anna Koulberg is one of the youngest members of the Belgian squad at the FIVB Volleyball U20 Women’s World Championship, but she has already established herself as a leading player on the team and was among the starters for their opening match in Kortrijk. She dreams of playing for the Yellow Tigers, her country’s senior national team, and of playing at a high club level, but right now, at the age of 16, her focus is on learning from challenges.

“I am very excited to play at this World Championship, because it’s a big challenge. I was born in 2004 and it is a championship mainly for players born in 2002 and 2003,” Anna told Volleyball World. “I hope to learn a lot from everybody here and from the matches. We did not play any matches this year, so it’s nice to play again against strong teams and against strong players. I hope to learn a lot and that’s my main goal in this tournament. But I also hope we will win a lot of games.”

Of course, further excitement comes from the fact that Belgium is co-hosting the World Championship with the Netherlands, and their players get cheered on by the home crowd.

“Yes, it’s special, because a lot of people can come to the matches, like my mom, my stepdad... Unfortunately, my dad cannot come, because he is in Spain, but a lot of my friends come to the matches and I like it because I play better when they support me.”

Anna (#7) sings the national anthem with her teammates

Anna (#7) sings the national anthem with her teammates

Anna comes from a true volleyball family. Both her mother Anja Duyck and her father Sacha Koulberg are former national team players.

“My dad was an opposite and my mom was a middle blocker, like me. I think they were both very good, among the best players in Belgium. My mom was a big enthusiast and I am also very enthusiastic when I play volleyball. She is my idol,” Anna said. “Actually, my parents did not want me to play volleyball because they were afraid it would put too much pressure on me. So they let me do a lot of sports, like tennis or swimming, but I chose volleyball - not for my parents, but because I like the sport.”

Recently, the young middle blocker signed her first professional contract and as of the upcoming club season she will be a member of Asterix Avo Beveren, a club set to participate in the 2021-2020 CEV Champions League, but again she sees that as just a part of the learning curve on the way to achieving her dreams.

“The Champions League is also a competition where I hope to learn a lot. I will be just 17, so I am very excited to learn from middle blockers who are better than me,” she said. “I have a dream and it is to play for the national team of Belgium and to play in the Italian league. That dream is what motivates me the most.”

Anna Koulberg on a reality TV poster

Anna Koulberg on a reality TV poster

Anna goes to a sports boarding school and does not have time to maintain any hobbies outside volleyball. She just loves to spend the little free time she has on the weekends with her friends or her family. But earlier this year, she did something that was a fresh change from her daily routine. Anna was selected as one of 20 Belgian athletes to take part in a reality TV challenge, called De Container Cup, and she was the only representative of women’s volleyball. On the show, the participants competed against each other in various sporting challenges.

“It was nice! I was not the best among the athletes there, but I stayed through the whole show. I think people liked me because I smile a lot.”