"I always wore salwar kameez while playing.”
Historically, female volleyball players from India have put in a lot of effort to reach the top. The Indian women’s volleyball game has a rich history, tracing back to the early 50s.
Nirmal Saini, Zubeida Khalili, and a select group of other volleyball players were the early pioneers.
However, it was in 1977-78 that the women’s game began shaping up. Veteran volleyballer Dipti Malik was an influential force within the sport.
She was in charge of the Indian Railways team that clinched the inaugural senior volleyball championships.
After this victory, volleyball players from India were employed by the railways. Thus, with financial security and stability, female volleyball players were able to focus more on the sport. From then on, the India women’s team found success, especially at the South Asian Games.
Over time, more and more female volleyballers started emerging, with some working very hard to be amongst the best.
DESIblitz looks at 15 sensational female players of India who have made a mark in the sport.
Nirmal Saini is a prominent former captain of the women’s Indian volleyball side. She was born as Nirmal Kaur Saini in Sheikhupura, Punjab, British (Present-day Pakistan) on October 8, 1938.
Nirmal had a Political Science Master’s degree in 1958 from Punjab University. She was captain of the Punjab volleyball team on three separate occasions. In 1955, she also went on tour to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) as part of the UP volleyball team.
Additionally, during 1956, she was a member of the Punjab team who became National Champions in Patiala. The team did not lose a single game in the tournament.
The same year, whilst participating in the Indo-Ceylon Championship she met her future hubby, the eminent athlete Milkha Singh.
Furthermore, in 1959, Nirmal led an Indian side to success on their Ceylon tour, winning every match.
According to an interview with Harmony, Nirmal says, she was always wearing traditional clothing during global tournaments:
“During international matches, I always wore salwar kameez while playing.”
In 1962, after tying the knot with Milkha, she left the sport to concentrate on her new marital life. Despite quitting, the Punjab side that she had been representing was the number one team in India until 1963.
Nimal Saini is the mother of Indian professional golfer Jeev Milkha Singh. Her sporting background surely must have had some effect on Jeev.
Zubeida Khalili was one of the most noteworthy and pioneering volleyball players of India. She was the first-star player to come from Madras, Tamil Nadu, India.
Zubeida went onto becoming captain of the women’s side for the Pre-Olympics event in Delhi. This took place in December 1963.
Hence, she made history by becoming the first woman to lead India in a major global event. Before a match against Korea, Zubeida exchanged souvenirs with the opposing captain from the South East Asian team.
Paramjit Kaur, Renu Waalia, Mulini Reddy, and Lakshmi were some of the other players to play alongside Zubeida.
The Indian team featuring Zubeida came last in the rankings, following the competition of the Pre-Olympic event.
Nevertheless, this global tournament gave exposure to female volleyball players from India.
Zubeida was a prime feature of the Madras team that went on to win the 12th (1962-63; Allahabad) and 13th(1964-65) National Championships.
As per visuals, Zubeida was a fairly tall and attractive Indian volleyball player.
Saly Joseph was one of the most legendary female volleyball players from India. She was born in Kuppayakkodu, District Kerala, India. Saly is the daughter and fifth child of Karintholil Joseph and Thresiakutty.
It was at St Joseph’s High School, Kotancherry that she began her sports career. After moving to Providence College in Calicut, she made improvements to her overall performance.
She is a Calicut University graduate. From 1977-78 to 1981-82, she was twice a gold medallist with Calicut in 5 Inter-University Championships. She was the captain of her university team during 1980-81.
Many fans believe that Saly was a remarkably good player of the 80s. A Facebook community page describes Sally with some glorious words:
“A Great Volleyball Gift To Indian Volleyball”
On the volleyball court, she was famous for her attacking nature. Besides being a beautiful striker, she was equally a super spiker.
Saly was the skipper of Team India for key events. This includes the 1981 Mexico Junior World Cup, the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games, and the 1982 Test matches versus Sri Lanka.
She won four gold medals at the National Championships between 1976-77 (Calcutta) and 1986-87 (Bangalore).
Saly was representing the Kerala and Syndicate Bank women teams in the national competitions.
She had some fantastic teammates at the Kerala gold-winning team during the 1985-86 National Championships. These include Geetha Valappil, Leegemma Thomas, Molly Thomas, and Reji Antony.
Saly is the sister-in-law of the excellent volleyball player Stanley D Levillard. In 1984, Saly went onto receive the Arjuna Award for her outstanding performances in sports.
Jagmati Sangwan is a former Indian female volleyball player who made early inroads into the sport. She was born into a farming family in Butana Village, District Sonipat, Haryana, India on January 2, 1960.
Jagmati was initially a student at the Government Girls High School in Butana.
She later had her education at the Sports College for Women in Haryana, which the Devi Lal government had set up in 1978. This was followed by studying at Haryana Agricultural University (HAU) in Hisar.
Finally, she did her Physical Education Ph.D. from Maharshi Dayanand University in Rohtak.
Jagmanti was a national level volleyball player, representing India globally. She was part of the bronze-winning Indian team at the 1980 Asian Volleyball Championships in Seoul, South Korea.
She became the first female volleyball player from Haryana to represent India in the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi.
Lohithan Kunjusankaran went on the Facebook Page, ‘Legends of Volleyball’ to share his thoughts on Jamati:
“In my opinion she is the best women volley ball player India ever produced. She was such an aggressive fighter.”
Between 1977-78 (Calcutta) and 1985-86 (New Delhi), she competed in nine National Volleyball Championships. She was the skipper of Haryana in the nationals.
Jagmati who is a Human Rights Activist believes sports can help with empowering women”
“Sports can play a pivotal role in women’s empowerment. It gives identity to an individual and boosts confidence.
“So, the people of the society are still afraid of being with a woman who has an identity of her own.”
Jagmati was also the first female to win the Arjuna Award for volleyball under the women category. Recognising her sporting achievements, she was given a Bhim Award in 1984 too.
Varinder Lali Sandhu
Varinder Lali Sandhu is the first female volleyball player from Punjab to play for India in the Asian Games.
She was born in Jalandhar, Punjab, India. Whilst studying Grade 8 in Government Girls High School, Jalandhar, Varinder got into volleyball.
She later had her education at HMV College Jalandhar.
Varinder won the 1980-81 All India Inter-University Championship in Amritsar as captain for the Guru Nanak Dev team.
She also picked up a bronze medal with India at the 1980 Junior Asian Championship.
At the Asian level, this was the first medal for the Indian team. She was part of the Indian squad for the 1981 Mexico Junior World Cup.
In 1982, she was also an integral part of Team India’s 1982 Test matches in Sri Lanka. The same year saw her participating in the 1982 Delhi Asian Games.
She participated in five National Championships. This is between 1978-79 (Hyderabad) and 1982-83 (Bhopal).
Between 1979-1982, in numerous All India and state-level tournaments, Varinder received trophies for the ‘Best Player.’
In 1982, she was conferred as the ‘Best Sports Woman’ of Punjab. Varinder was also honoured with the 1970 Maharaja Ranjit Singh Award.
Varinder later became a resident of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.
Priyanka is a former ace Indian volleyball player. Playing in a specialist position, she became famous as the ‘Queen of Libero.’
She was born Priyanka Ashok Khedkar in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh, India on November 1, 1984. Her parents are Ashok Khedkar and Sandhya Khedkar. She has one brother named Swanand Khedkar.
Her mother and brother were also excellent volleyball players. She began playing volleyball from the tender age of three. Nagpur Club was the starting point of her volleyball journey.
She has attended Somalwar High School and L.A.D.College, Nagpur. At a young age, she was playing as an attacker, claiming gold at the Sub Junior Nationals. She was playing for Maharashtra state at the time.
She is the only Indian female volleyball player to participate in three consecutive Asian Games. This includes the 2010 (Guangzhou), 2014 (Incheon), and 2018 (Jakarta-Palembang) Asian Games.
She is a gold medallist with Team India at the 2014 Lusofonia Games that were held in Goa, India. Priyanka was also part of the Indian gold-winning team at the 2016 South Asian Games.
She took part in fifteen National Championships from 1999-2000 (Salem) to 2019-20 (Bhubaneswar).
Representing Railways for nine years, she went onto win nine gold medals at the National Championships. She is also a four times Federation Cup gold medallist.
Despite there being a lot of competition in women’s volleyball, she was able to retain her place in the team. This was due to her sheer hard work in the sport.
Priyanka Bora is an international volleyball player from India. The 178 cm tall universal player was born in Pune, Maharashtra, India on January 7, 1985.
Premchand Bora is her father, with Asha Bora being Priyanka’s mother. Dr. Abhijeet Bora is her brother. After studying at the H.H.C.P School, she became a graduate from SP College.
Over a twenty-year career, Priyanka has competed in numerous junior and senior international volleyball tournaments. At the sub-junior national level, she secured a gold.
She won her first significant gold medal at the 2006 South Asian Games in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
She was also triumphant at the 2019 South Asian Games in Kathmandu-Pokhara, Nepal.
Priyanka was earlier made captain of the Indian team for the 2009 Asian Championship. This event took place in Vietnam from September 5-13, 2009.
She went on to compete in the 2010 Asian Games, in Guangzhou, China. After that Priyanka became a regular member of the women’s national team.
In the 9th-10th place Asian Games match against the Maldives on November 25, 2010, Priyanka came up trumps. She was the ‘Best Scorer’ for India, winning 17 from a total of 37 attempts.
Priyanka has taken part in seventeen National Championships, from 2003-04 (Davangere) to 2019-20 (Bhubaneswar).
At the nationals, she collected thirteen gold medals. Additionally, she was successful in leading her Indian Railways team to triumph in the 2006-07 Raipur National Cup.
Furthermore, in the Federation Cup, she won four gold medals.
Aswani Kiran is a former Indian volleyball player and captain of the national team. She was born in Kallamballam close to Attingal, District Thiruvananthapuram District, Kerala, India on May 15, 1985.
From 1988 to 2000, she was a trainee at GV Raja Sports School. Then from 2001 to 2004, she was training at the SAI (Sports Authority of India) Koland.
Her coach at the SAI was KJ Jose. She is twice a Junior National gold medallist. She also has one gold medal to her name at the Youth National level.
In 2006, she was a gold-winning member of the Indian volleyball team at the 10th South Asian Games. These took place in Colombo, Sri Lanka from August 18 to 28, 2006.
She then went onto lead Team India at the 2010 Asian Games (Guangzhou). Aswani was the ‘Best Scorer’ for her side in the 3-0 Pool B defeat to Japan.
She had won six points from thirty-eight total attempts. Aswani took part in many other international competitions.
From 2002-03 (Chauathala) to 2010-11 (Chennai), she competed in nine National Championships. She was a two times national gold medallist. She also led Kerala to gold glory at the 2007-08 Jaipur National.
Additionally, in 2002 and 2007, she was a member of the Kerala gold-winning teams at the National Games.
Furthermore, she has a gold medal from the Federation Cup. In 2010 she received the ‘Best Achiever Award’ of Reach.
Tiji Raju was amongst the top female volleyball players of India. She was born in Punalur, District Kollam, Kerala, India on July 27, 1986.
Raju Varghese and Kunjumol Raj are her parents. She also has two brothers. She was a student at St Goretti HSS Punalur and Fathima Matha National College, Kollam.
After joining the (SAI) hostel at Kollam in 2001, she started playing at the junior level in 2004.
She then gradually made the transition into the senior team. She also got to play at the highest stage for India at the 2010 (Guangzhou) and 2014 (Incheon) Asian Games.
During the 2014 Games, Tiji was dominant as the ‘Best Scorer’ for India in several matches.
The year 2014 was lucky for Tiji, claiming gold for India at the South Asian Championships in Nepal and the Goan Lusofonia Games.
She also had the honour of being captain of India for the 2011 and 2015 Asian Volleyball Championships. Further gold glory came to Tiji, as India won the 2016 South Asian Games (Guwahati-Shillong: India).
Additionally, she had played for various clubs in the Maldives over a four year period.
Tiji has taken part in twelve volleyball National Championships between 2005-06 (Pune) and 2016-17 (Chennai). She has one gold medal in the nationals as well as two in the Federation Cups from 2013-2016.
Tiji has collected the ‘Best Blocker’ award across different national-level competitions She is also the recipient of the 2016 Udayakumar Award. This was for being the ‘Best Volleyball Player of India.’
Former national player, Shamji K Thomas is the hubby of Tiji Raju.
Minimol Abraham is amongst the leading female volleyball players of India. She was born in Chunngakkunu close to Peravoor, District Kannur, Kerala, India on March 27, 1988.
The ‘Outside Hitter’ began her volleyball career in 2003. She was training at SAI Thalassery, Kerala for five years.
Her early coaches were Mr. Preman and Mr. Balchandran. Minimol’s initial accomplishments include two gold medals at the All India Inter-University Championships.
It was in 2010 that she earned her selection to represent India at the Asian Games (Guangzhou).
Minimol was then made captain of Team India in July 2018. Her first major event as skipper was the 18th Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta-Palembang, Indonesia.
She was also ‘Best Scorer’ for India with 24 in a narrow 3-2 Pool B defeat versus Chinese-Taipei at the Games. This match took place on August 25, 2018.
Her biggest achievement was winning a gold medal at the 2019 South Asian Games (Guwahati-Shillong) She was also declared the ‘Best Player of the Tournament.’
At the domestic level, she participated in eleven National Volleyball Championships. She competed in the nationals from 2006-07 (Raipur) to 2019-2020 (Bhubaneshwar).
In the National Championships, she picked eight gold medals. Taking part in the 2007 and 2011 National Games, she won two gold medals for Kerala.
She also led her Indian Railways side to victory at the 62nd National Volleyball Championship during 2013-14. Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, India was the venue for this tournament.
Additionally, she was involved in 5 Federation Cups, bagging 3 gold. Furthermore, she was chosen as the ‘Best Universal’ player in 2017 and 2018.
She is famous for being one of the best players to come from Kerala state.
During 2019, she was given the Udaykumar Award for being the ‘Best Volleyball Player’ in India.
Rekha Sreesailam is a terrific volleyball player of India. She was born in Kottur, Naduvannur, District Kozhikode, Kerala, India on October 10, 1992.
The training she had at the Nadavannur Recreation Club Volleyball Ground gave her the impetus to do well in volleyball.
Rekha had her education, attending various places. These include Peravacheri LP. School, Kottur UP School, Naduvannur Higher Secondary School, and Vattoli National Higher Secondary School.
She is an Economics graduate from Assumption College, Changanacherry. Rekha had a successful volleyball start at the school, junior, youth, and university level. She then made it to the senior Indian team.
During 2014, she was part of the Indian team which took gold at the Lusofonia Games (Goa).
It was double gold for her in 2014, with India winning the South Asian Women’s Championship in Nepal.
She then also made it into the Indian squad for the 2014 (Incheon) and 2018 (Palembang) Asian Games.
Rekha won further gold medals in consecutive South Asian Games. This includes the 2016 (Guwahati-Shillong) and 2019 (Kathmandu-Pokhara) Games.
During 2019, she also became captain of India for the Asian Senior Women’s Volleyball Championship in Seoul.
From 2012-13 (Jaipur) to 2019-20 (Bhubaneswar), she participated in eight Volleyball National Championships. She clinched two golds at the national competitions.
Meanwhile, from 2013 to 2020, she bagged four golds from eight Federation Cups. This includes being the captain of the 2019 triumphant team.
She received the ‘Best Attacker/Player’ award during the 2013, 2018, and 2019 Federations Cups.
Anusri Ghosh is an Indian volleyball player known for participating in many international competitions.
She was born in Burdwan, West Bengal, India on October 9, 1994. Her parents are Chintamoni Ghosh and Chaina Ghosh. Debasri Ghosh is her elder sister.
Anusri attended Bansberia Girls High School and Chandernagore Government College. She then completed her graduation from Netaji Subhash Open University.
After representing West Bengal at the junior level, she was quick to make the senior team. Her first success came at the 2014 Lufsonia Games (Goa), winning gold with India
The same year, she became part of the Indian squad for the 2014 (Incheon) Asian Games. During several matches of the Games, Anusri had the ‘Fastest Serve’ or was the ‘Best Scorer’ for India.
She was also a member of the 2018 Asian Games (Jakarta-Palembang) squad for India.
She has won gold two times at the 12th (2016: Guwahati-Shillong) and 13th South Asian Games (2019: Kathmandu-Pokhara) with India.
Many fans of female volleyball players consider Anusri to be the wall of the Indian team.
Anusri has taken part in nine National Volleyball Championships. This is between 2011-12 (Raipur) and 2019-20 (Bubhaneswar).
She has six gold medals at the national level, along with four golds in the Federation Cups. She was also successful in leading the Railways team to become the 2017-18 Calicut National Champions.
Anusri has many awards and honours to her name. This includes a Khel Samman Award for ‘Best Volleyball Player of the Year 2013.’
Preeti Singh is a national level Indian Volleyball player with quite a few accolades in such a short space of time. She was born in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India on June 2, 1995. Her father is Lallan Singh.
Preeti comes from a sporting environment. Her father Lallan Singh was a former college long-distance runner. Preeti’s father told the Hindustan Times that he never got in the way of his daughter following her dreams:
“We never stopped her from playing and she has passion for volleyball.”
With a height of 6”3, she is one of the tallest volleyball players from India. Like so many other volleyball players, she took part in the 2013 Inter-University Championships.
She was fortunate to represent Team India at the 2014 Incheon Games (Incheon) at a young age. After gaining selection, her father gave his best wishes to Preeti. In a conversation with Hindustan Times, he said:
“For all of us, it’s a great moment of pride and we would love to see Preeti doing wonders at the games.”
However, it was in 2016, when Preeti made her family proud. She won gold with India at the South Asian Games (Guwahati-Shillong).
Between 2013-14 (Moradabad) to 2017-18 (Calicut), she participated in five National Championships.
She has a gold medal each in the National Championship and the 2016-17 Federation Cup.
Nirmal Tanwar is an attacking Indian volleyball player who hails from Aasnakalan Village, District Panipat, Haryana, India.
She was born as Nirmal Tanwar Gurjar on September 5, 1996. Madan Lal and Bala Devi are her parents. She also has two siblings, brother Ankit Tanwar and sister Komal Tanwar.
She began developing an interest in the sport during her school game lesson. Nirmal tells the Times of India more about this and her initial trainer:
“I began playing volleyball during the physical training classes in school.
“Our school instructor Jagdeesh was my first coach and it is he who taught me the basics of the game and I soon fell in love with it.”
Nimal normally positions herself just outside the hitter spot. She went from representing Haryana at the junior and under-19 level before eventually making the senior Indian team.
She was a member of Team India that won gold at the 2014 Lusfonia Games (Goa). Her big break came when representing India at the 2014 (Incheon) and 2018 (Jakarta-Palembang) Asian Games.
During the group phase of the 17th Asian Games, Nirala had the ‘Fastest Serve’ in many games. At the 18th Asian Games, she was delivering the fast serves and was also ‘Best Scorer’ for India in some matches.
His first major Indian gold medal came at the 2016 South Asian Games (Guwahati-Shillong).
Three years later, she led her Indian troops to a victorious gold at the 13th South Asian Games (Kathmandu-Pokhara) in 2019.
From 2012-13 (Jaipur) to 2019-20 (Bhubaneswar), she was involved in eight National Championships. Of the eight, she was two years with Haryana and six playing for Indian Railways.
She has four golds at the nationals, with three gold medals in the Federation Cups. She was adjudged ‘Best Player’ during the 2015-16 Bangalore National Championship.
Sruthi Murali is an impressive attacking Indian volleyball player. She was born to N Murali and Padmini.
She is from Vatakara town, District Kozhikode, Kerala, India. Sruthi got in volleyball, whilst studying at St Antony’s Girls High School in Vatakara.
Though Sruthi became more serious with volleyball a little later on. Talking to The New Indian Express, she says:
“However, it was at St Joseph’s College, Thrissur that I became actively engaged in the sport.”
Sanjay Baliga was one of her earlier coaches at the time. After making an early impression at the junior, youth, and university level, elevating to the senior team was a natural progression.
At the age of twenty-three, she felt on top of the world. This is after making the squad for the 2018 Asian Games (Jakarta-Palembang).
By then, Sruthi was concretely nourishing her game under the influence of coach Sridharan. Two years later she attained two major gold medals with Team India. The first came at the 2016 South Asian Games (Guwahati-Shillong).
She collected her second gold medal at the 2016 Women’s Volleyball tournament in Katmandu. Nepal.
Following a three year gap, Sruthi picked gold at the 2019 South Asian Games (Kathmandu-Pokhara).
Sruthi is also a twice volleyball gold medallist at the National Championships. She has competed at the nationals between 2014-15 (Chennai) to 2019-20 (Bhubaneswar),
In addition, she is twice the gold medal winner in the Federation Cups. Furthermore, she was the Kerala captain for the 2020 Federation Cup.
Watch Highlights of India beating Nepal to win Gold at the 2019 South Asian Games here:
There are also many other female volleyball players who have had a major contribution to India.
Salomi Ramu, Beena Varghese, Jaisamma J.Moothedam, Krishna Tarafder, Srimathi Vasudevan, Rama Pandey, Vinita Ohri, Usha Rehani, and Dr. Radhikha Reddy MD are a few to name.
The early prominent names also had a major impact on numerous contemporary volleyball players. These include Anjali Babu, Aswathi Raveendran, Princy Joseph, Poornima, Anju Balakrishnan, and KS Jini.
There is no doubt that female volleyball players in India have had success. Volleyball leagues have also promoted the women’s game, along with giving more exposure to female players.
Fans will be hoping that the Indian women’s volleyball team will bring more laurels to the country, especially with medals at future Asian Games.