Legendary water polo player Evgenia Soboleva left big sport

The name of Evgenia Soboleva, the captain of the KINEF-Surgutneftegaz team, is associated with the brightest victories of the Kirish water polo players and the Russian women’s water polo team: from the first gold at the National Championship to the Euroleague Cup and bronze at the Olympics. Recently Evgenia handed over the captain’s title to Ekaterina Prokofieva.

Evgeniya, you are a perfect example of the work of the system for growing champions built in Kirishi. How it all began?

Evgeniya Soboleva: I was seven years old. For the first time I came to the sea with my mother and saw how some person was swimming incredibly beautifully (as I understand now, crawl). And I also wanted to be able to do that. I think next time I will come to the sea – I will enter the water, swim, and everyone will admire me … We returned home, and my mother took me to the pool. I quickly learned to swim, but over time it became uninteresting to me: from side to side – boring. She began to skip. The coaches said: “Yes, you will not become a great swimmer. Maybe you will try yourself as a water polo player?”

At the age of eleven I came to the water polo section, and I liked it. Not just swimming, but meaningfully, throwing the ball, playing as a team is a completely different matter. It began to work out quickly and somehow by itself. And so it remained.

And just two years later, at the age of fourteen, you, together with the KINEF-Surgutneftegaz team, won the Russian Championship for the first time. Talent?

Evgeniya Soboleva: Talent plus hard work. Well, and enthusiasm. From the very beginning I went to training with joy. To be honest, I can’t even remember if it was hard for me. Probably, children have so much strength and energy that when they are interested, they simply do not notice the difficulties.

Just a year earlier, I was rooting for our girls on the podium. And then I was taken to the Russian Championship – and immediately gold! Since then, the first place in the country is only ours. Nineteen times in a row. But that first victory remains one of the most striking. My path to big sport began with her. I understood: now only forward!

Speaking of victories, one cannot ignore the bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Moreover, the Olympic women’s water polo team consists of half of Kirish athletes …

Evgeniya Soboleva: Oh, I have never had such strong emotions as then – neither before nor after. I laughed, then cried … Yes, we were all like that. After the adrenaline rush, devastation ensued. And the real realization came when we returned to Russia, when relatives and friends began to hug and congratulate us. Only then did we understand what had happened.

It was completely different at the Olympics in Japan this year. After all, they could have taken a medal, they certainly could, but it did not work out. Defeated?

Evgeniya Soboleva: Of course, there was an unpleasant aftertaste. At first, it was difficult to realize that everything was over. That’s it, the next morning the game will be gone, it’s time to go home. We returned to the Olympic village, gathered as a team, sat in a circle and talked. There were no hysterics, sobs, depression. What’s the point? This is a sport. If you don’t know how to lose, you won’t learn how to win. We draw conclusions and go to new medals.

What data should a water polo player have? You could easily make a career in the modeling business. With your correct features, your article, your height …

Evgeniya Soboleva: High growth is not required, but it provides undeniable benefits. Same arm length. This is especially important for the goalkeeper. The famous American water polo player Johnson – she is one meter ninety – at the goal spreads her arms from barbell to barbell. At the same time, I know a lot of players of average height who are in no way inferior to tall ones due to their activity and mobility. For example, it is easier for them to make quick throws.

You were the center-back on the team. This is probably the most traumatic role?

Evgeniya Soboleva: Indeed, the two positions – center forward and center back – are very difficult. You need great endurance and strength. There, such a struggle goes on sometimes – it’s just horror. Hands, legs are twisted, sometimes it will fly into the eye so that the stars are spinning …

Isn’t that a violation?

Evgeniya Soboleva: By and large, what happens underwater is not sued. Yes, there are cameras. But they are not for judges, but for the audience, exclusively for entertainment.

I know that in some teams water polo players are purposefully taught hand-to-hand combat techniques. We don’t practice that. Sometimes, the coach showed us techniques on how to get rid of the grip, to skillfully get away from the blow. But this is more for defense.

Obviously, the national teams of different countries have different styles of play. Who is it pleasant to play with? Not because they are weaker, but because it is interesting.

Evgeniya Soboleva: Probably with the Greek women. For a long time, the central striker in the Greek national team was Alexandra Semaki. I always liked to fight with her. She is small, but very tenacious, strong, powerful – an interesting player.

What about Asian countries? What can you say about Korean women, for example?

Evgeniya Soboleva: Oh, Koreans … In 2019, at the World Championships, which was just taking place in Korea, they were in our group. They played with everyone with a crushing score like 30: 0 … Somehow it became a shame for them: to lose like that, even at home. In general, we allowed them to score one goal. They had such jubilation in the stands!

This is how we learned the nature of the Kirish water polo team – you are generous.

Evgeniya Soboleva: And also strong, confident, purposeful.

Well, not always the same. Surely there are moments of weakness when you want to give up everything and forget about training twice a day?

Evgeniya Soboleva: Of course! It happens, it rolls over: I’m tired of everything, I’m tired, I don’t want any more. But then you exhale. You will look at cups and medals, remember how much struggle, defeats and victories are behind them. Think: and what, you just drop your hands like that? Aren’t you a leader, not a winner? No, I can, I’m not tired, I’m fine …

How do new acquaintances react when you are the captain of a water polo team? Are they surprised? Still, it is not every day that one has to communicate with a world-class water polo player.

Evgeniya Soboleva: In general, I usually tell everyone that I do … chess. No, really! It happens that at the airport someone will stare at our team: “Oh-oh, how broad-shouldered you are! And what kind of sport? .. Chess? What, really ?!” In fact, such arrogance infuriates. And so to new acquaintances I speak vaguely: I am an athlete-instructor.

Did you manage to fulfill the childhood dream that started it all – to come to the sea and swim beautifully so that everyone was stunned?

Evgeniya Soboleva: Oh sure. I was already thirteen years old. I arrived at the sea, with my head held high, entered the water and swam: crawl, breaststroke, all styles. Beautiful, like a competition. And now, on vacation, I don’t swim like that. Yes, I also like to spend my vacation by the water – I don’t get tired of it. But in a different way. To the sun, sea, deck chair. And if you swim, then calmly, without styles, like a dog.

Aren’t you afraid that with your departure something in the team will break, the triumphal path of the Kirish water polo players will be interrupted?

Evgeniya Soboleva: I don’t even admit such a thought! I handed over the captaincy to Ekaterina Prokofieva, who, no doubt, will lead the team to new victories over the years. And the twentieth Cup of the Championship of Russia, I am sure, will also be ours.

Yes, I am ending my sports career, but my heart and soul will remain with KINEF-Surgutneftegaz forever.

Do you regret connecting your life with water polo?

Evgeniya Soboleva: What do you! Becoming the captain of one of the best water polo teams in the world is the best that could happen to a girl from a small regional center.

About captaincy

What is the role of the captain?

Evgeniya Soboleva: First of all, in team building. For a team of fifteen girls, each with its own character, this is important. You need to be a bit of a psychologist, be able to smooth corners, resolve problems and disagreements. And, of course, set up correctly before the game, charge for victory, give strength and energy.

What should be the correct attitude before the game? Anger? Calm? Concentration?

Evgeniya Soboleva: Together. Of course, there must be a cold calm so as not to do nonsense. A good player is focused and confident. And angry, of course.

Governor of the Leningrad Region Alexander Drozdenko awarded the Kirishi water polo players and their coaches. Photo: Press Service of KINEF

by the way

In the city of Kirishi, a gala evening took place, timed to the opening of the 1st round of the XXX Russian Championship in water polo among women’s teams. On it the Governor of the Leningrad Region Alexander Drozdenko awarded the water polo players who took 4th place in the water polo competition at the 32nd Olympiad in Tokyo with certificates and mementos. These are Nadezhda Glyzina, Evgenia Ivanova, Anna Karnaukh, Ekaterina Prokofieva, Anastasia Simanovich and Evgenia Soboleva.

Evgenia Soboleva, in addition, was awarded the Badge of Distinction “For Contribution to the Development of the Leningrad Region”.

Separately, the governor thanked the head coach of the team Alexander Naritsa and coach Elena Smurova, they were also presented with certificates and gifts.

Sports titles of Evgeniya Soboleva

– bronze medalist of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro;

– bronze medalist of the World Championship 2007, 2009, 2011;

– two-time European champion;

– bronze medalist of the 2006 World Cup;

– Silver medalist of the 2018 World Cup;

– Winner of the World League 2008;

– five-time silver medalist of the Euroleague;

– four-time bronze medalist of the Euroleague;

– Winner of the Euroleague 2017, 2018;

– LEN Super Cup winner;

– 19-time winner of the Russian Championship;

– 11-time winner of the Russian Cup;

– Silver medalist of the European Cup in 2019;

– silver medalist of the European Championship in 2020.

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