by Christine Nappi, Features Editor
16-15. Game point. The Azuay State Volleyball team had just pulled ahead of the Manabi State team in the National Ecuador Volleyball Finals. The Coliseo Jorge Calvache Stadium was packed to the brim with spectators, just as excited and tense as the players. The nerves began to set in for Diego Lojano, one of the country’s most skilled spikers, and he was anxious to see what would happen next. He knew the other team was more than just good; they had some of the best athletes, whom Lojano played with on Ecuador’s national team.
As Lojano rotated to the front of his team’s formation, he knew the fate of the game laid in his hands.
“Just set the ball to Diego,” his coach repeatedly yelled.
As the ball was set in the air to him, Lojano wound up, ready to end it all, until he saw four big hands appear, ready to block his spike. In order to save the play he hit the ball over the hands, yet the other team was able to return it back. The game’s tension continued as the full house of fans eagerly watched.
“Here we go again,” Lojano thought.
The ball was set back to him as he prepared to spike it again, this time being triple blocked by the other team. It wouldn’t work, he thought, so he rolled the ball again and the other team kept it going, hitting it back to Azuay’s side.
At this point, Lojano was more than ready to finish it. As the ball was set for him to spike, he closed his eyes and hit it, praying it’d reach the floor.
All of sudden, the fan section swarmed the court; coaches and players were crying out of pure happiness. Lojano just carried his team to state victory.
For Lojano, volleyball has always been something prominent in his life. After watching his dad practice the sport and learning from him at a young age, Lojano knew he was destined to play. When his dad, one of Ecuador’s best volleyball players, passed away, Lojano was encouraged to continue his legacy and follow in his footsteps.
The emotion felt for winning the national championship was greater than just feeling like hard work had paid off. For Lojano, winning that game meant much more.
“That was the best moment ever because I felt like my dad was controlling me there, that’s what I really felt,” Lojano said. “It was amazing, it was one of the best experiences ever. It was so emotional, it was really good and I loved it.”
Lojano began playing volleyball when he was little, but didn’t really get into it until he was 12 years old. Once he got to high school, he decided to try out for the school team on a whim and began playing competitively. His coach noticed a great potential in him and encouraged him to keep practicing.
Despite being benched during his first year of high school, Lojano rose to be a star player by the time of his sophomore year. The following year he became captain of his team. During that year, he was called to try out for the state team where he played for two years, until he got called to be on the nationals team for his age, where he also served as captain.
Lojano describes that he was able to advance so quickly in the sport from practicing frequently and challenging himself to get better by playing with “the big guys” who are older and more skilled.
“All my coaches, everyone that I’ve been with, say that I progress really fast, like from one year to another already being in the national team,” Lojano said.
In addition to advancing in competition level, Lojano also received various national recognitions for his impressive volleyball skills. In 2016 he received his first recognition as the best spiker of Ecuador. That following year, he was dubbed as the best volleyball player in his state. During 2017, following in the footsteps of his father, he received his largest recognition of being the best player of Ecuador.
“That’s when I felt like I really accomplished something,” Lojano said. “[I] felt like I continued his legacy.”
Lojano was additionally the only national player in Ecuador to receive back to back gold medals in national tournaments.
“It’s a good feeling knowing that you’re known for something,” Lojano said. “I’m the only player to have done that. That’s something special.”
After gaining that recognition, Lojano felt ready to move to the United States. Here, he played for the Downstate Volleyball Club, where he carried his team to a few tournaments. He was considering playing volleyball at the division one level for NJIT or George Mason University, yet ultimately decided to come to Manhattan College where he is in his second year studying civil engineering.
Despite not playing competitively in college, Lojano is nowhere near the end of the road for continuing his volleyball legacy.
When playing for Downstate Volleyball club after moving to the U.S., his coach encouraged him to try out for the U.S. national team. Lojano was accepted at the A1 and A2 training level, only being one level away from getting to the national team. Due to complications with his volleyball experience in Ecuador, Lojano held off playing until the following year where he competed at the A2 level. On this team, he got to travel around the country and compete against players from all over, further enhancing his skills and preparing himself to try out for the national level.
“It was a great experience, I got to travel and play with good players from all around, I met players that played in Cali, from Kentucky. It was crazy,” Lojano said. “Right now, I’m still eligible to go next year and I want to, which is why I’m starting again.”
Lojano is currently prepping for the U.S. national team’s upcoming tryouts. He plans on playing over the summer, and aims to be prepared for the upcoming tryout. Lojano misses the game and is eager to get back into it. He hopes to not only continue playing, but also hopes to continue living out his father’s legacy.
“What I enjoyed most about playing was all the emotion that goes through the game,” Lojano said. “Being around my friends, playing the game that I love, it was just beautiful.”