St Mary’s Volleyballers buoyed by tough final win in Regionals

The St Mary’s College Senior A Volleyballers will head to this year’s New Zealand Secondary Schools National Championships in a buoyant frame of mind after winning last weekend’s CSW Regional Tournament.

Their victory in the final over rivals Sacred Heart College, Lower Hutt was far from smooth sailing – but it could be the match they needed to get them through some tough games ahead against the best Volleyball schools in the country.

After winning all five games without dropping a set, and also being unbeaten through their first six matches of the Wellington Premier Girls competition up to the start of the tournament, they almost came unstuck in the final.

“Exciting and tense” is how captain Bianca Petelo summed up the final, that saw St Mary’s come back from two sets down to win 3-2.

Sacred Heart made a red-hot start, winning the first two sets of the best of five decider 25-22 and 25-13.

What was said in the St Mary’s team huddle knowing they had to win the next three sets? “We just told the girls to never give up and to keep pushing and keep going,” said Bianca. We came back to win the third set [26-24] and then the adrenaline from that helped us win the fourth set [25-15] and then finish the game strongly.”

This was their third win over Sacred Heart in as many games this year. Going to form, they will be favoured to meet a fourth time on the eve of the nationals in Palmerston North on the Friday before the NZSS tournament starts.

This past Friday, St Mary’s beat both St Oran’s and Mana Colleges 3-0 to end the 8-match College Sport Wellington Premier Girls competition round-robin unbeaten. The semi-finals are this Friday with St Mary’s playing Bishop Viard & Sacred Heart playing Taita.

Bianca explained that the players from both schools know each other well. “Many of us are teammates in the representative IPC team and we have been competing against them for a long time and we know each other’s games well,” says Bianca who plays in the middle position.

St Mary’s going up for the spike on day 1 of the 2019 CSW Senior Volleyball Tournament

On the way to the final, they had 3-0 wins over Queen Margaret College and St Catherine’s College (both on day one) and St Oran’s College in their quarter-final and Taita College in their semi-final (day two).

St Mary’s are a relatively young team. Captain Bianca is one of two year 13, along with co-captain Katalina Tai. The remainder of the 11-player squad is made up of  five year 12s and  four year 11s.

The majority will be returning to nationals, hoping to emulate or better their top eight finish in 2018 that saw them lose 3-0 to eventual champions Westlake Girls’ High School in the quarter-finals, before missing out to Otago Girls’ High School 3-2 in their 7 v 8 playoff.

Most of the team also play other sports such as rugby, netball and basketball and have that additional experience on the big stage elsewhere to draw upon in tight situations.

One of them is the team’s year 12s is setter Valpiname Lanuiuvao who was the CSW Regional tournament MVP. Val said she wasn’t expecting to be named MVP. “I was in shock when they called my name out!”

Two other St Mary’s players made the 12-strong tournament team, year 12 libero Lourdes Faifua and year 11 middle Linda Skelton Chong-Nee.

Valpiname is the team’s international player, having represented both the Samoa U19s and Senior Women’s teams in the past two years.

“I went to Oceania’s in New Caledonia last year with the Senior team and we qualified for the South Pacific Games in Samoa in July.”

In 2017 Valpiname represented the Samoan U18’s at the Youth Girls World Championships in China and U19s at the Australian State Championships on the Gold Coast. Linda also played U19s for Samoa 2017 alongside Valpiname.

Valpiname says that she started playing volleyball in year 9, as did most of the team who have been playing together in school teams since then. In 2017 the St Mary’s Junior team finished fifth at the North Island Junior tournament in Auckland.

The NZSS Senior Volleyball Nationals are in Palmerston North from 25-29 March.

The St Mary’s squad that won the Regionals and that will be playing at Nationals is:

Bianca Petelo (Captain)

Katalina Tai (Co-Captain)

Valpiname Launiuvao

Selina Moananu

Linda Skelton-Chong-Nee

Masina Tauali’i

Lourdes Faifua

Jade Young

Olivia Quinn

Temu Collins

Aria Samia

Head Coach – Ova Moananu

Assistant Coach/Manager – Koleta Skelton