Setter of the Brazilian national team for 17 years. 340 matches and 5 Olympic Games played. A gold and 2 bronze medals. Named best setter at the Olympic Games twice over. The most victorious indoor female volleyball player in Brazilian history. The second golden hero of the series is Fofão.
Hélia Rogério de Souza Pinto (March 10, 1970) was born in São Paulo.
In 1983, she started training at the Olympic Center of Training and Research in São Paulo. There Hélia has known João Crisóstomo, the coach who nicknamed her.
When Hélia was taken on as a player in a club for the first time, João introduced her to her teammates with the name of a popular Brazilian character in the 80’s of the children’s television series Balão Mágico because of her huge cheeks.
‘When he took me on and brought me to my first club, I was really happy. However I felt angry with him about my nickname, I’ve got a career in volleyball only because, one time, someone looked hopeful on me and gave me a chance’, says Fofão.
She began to play as a hitter and moved position by chance at the age of 19. Her team, São Caetano EC, lost both setters and she had to replace them. Big surprise! São Caetano EC have discovered a brilliant setter, a legend in Brazilian volleyball history.
In 1991, she was invited to join Brazilian national team. Main setter only at Sydney and Beijing, she was named best setter the one as well as the other. In her career as a national team player she had collected 3 Olympic medals (gold in Beijing and bronze in Atlanta and Sydney), 6 World Grand Prix (94, 96, 98, 04, 06, 08), 6 South American Championships (91, 95, 97, 99, 03, 07), a Pan American Games (1999) and 3 Montreux Volley Masters. The list also includes several silver and bronze medals.
She retired from national team in 2008, after Final Four Cup where she was named best setter and MVP of the competition.
Fofão also played for many teams where she was named best setter several times at important competitions like Champions League, Brazilian Superleague, Italian League and so forth.
The role of the setter in the Brazilian national team
During almost 17 years, only two setters realized the ambition of becoming the main setter of the Brazilian national team with a consistent success, Fofão and Fernanda Venturini. It’s a hard task indeed. The way Brazilians play it’s a big challenge to the setter and requires high maturity and personality.
There’s no clear leading scorer in the team which means there’s no easy decision to the setter. Sometimes the leading scorer is the opposite, sometimes wing-spikers and sometimes middle-blockers. The setter must understand each game differently and what player is able to do a good job in each situation, according to the opponent defensive system or the real shape of the teammates. Brazilian attack system changes a lot and that is of course what makes the team strong. On the other hand, it’s why many setters didn’t succeed like them.
To exemplify the point, on the road to Beijing (2008 World Grand Prix) and at the 2008 Olympic Games, all five hitters that lined-up the team at the Olympics were best scorer at least two times. The leading scorer has changed even against the same opponents.
In the Grand Prix, the best scorers against USA were Mari (14) and Paula (14). At the Olympic final, Brazil defeated USA with Sheilla (19) as the main hitter. In the Grand Prix, the best scorer in the victory over China was the middle-blocker Walewska (18). At the Olympic semifinals, the leading scorer was Sheilla (19) again. In the Grand Prix, the best hitters against Japan were Jaqueline (15) and Mari (15). At the Olympic quarterfinal against the same Japan, the leading scorers were Mari (14) and the middle-blocker Fabiana (14).
It depicts a little bit the complexity of the job of a Brazilian national team setter.
There’s no surprise that only two setters were able to deal with this in Brazilian national team for 17 years, Fernanda Venturini (nominated among the FIVB 20th Century’s Volleyball Best) and the gold medallist at Beijing Fofão (best setter twice at the Olympics, the very two times she was lined-up and played as the main setter).
Hélio Griner (assistant coach of Unilever): ‘She is the best! The best technically and in high spirits.’
Sheilla Castro: ‘My idol is Fofão because, when I started to play in a professional team, I was 17. I played with her and she became my idol that year.’
Jaqueline Carvalho: ‘She is amazing. She has an impressive ability to calm down her teammates while playing. Our great success at the Beijing Olympic Games, it was thanks to her. Many players were in a Olympic Games for the very first time and she made us believe we could make it big. She has a special power as a player and as a person.’
Zé Roberto Guimarães (after Final Four Cup): ‘In today’s match, emotions were running high. It was the farewell of Fofão, a player that was an example during 17 years working at the national team. 340 matches… It’s hard to find a player like her, with her disposition towards the good things and personality. I’m pretty thankful for everything.’
The captain of Unilever
Fofão was hired in 2012, in order to replace Fernanda Venturini who announced the final retirement at the end of 2011/2012 season. She assumed the setter position to give Unilever one more championship. Indispensable, she was named best player in the final match against the rival Sollys/Nestlé.
This year Unilever lost Natália and Logan Tom and signed with Brankica Mihajlovic. The pair of wing-spikers is composed of two young players. The scoring responsability of Gabi will increase while Mihajlovic will try hard to tune with the Brazilian style. No one in the world will be able to work on a 19 years old game and introduce a foreign player to the Brazilian style better than a player who knows all Brazilian generations since 1991 and has played in Brazil for so long time.
At the age of 43, her body demands special care. On court, she remains a master of the set and volleyball game. Fofão’s game is pure art! An artist on canvas.