Sacred Heart College Volleyball on a Roll

Volleyball is booming at Sacred Heart College this year.

Over 100 students turned up to trials at the start of this year – a 300 percent increase in numbers from recent years. Lead coaches, Tessa Siolo-Tuiletufuga and her husband Nevo Siolo-Tuiletufuga, together with assistants Brookie Siemonek and Tuimaleali’ifano Fiso, and others, have been busy.

“Our team of ‘big sistahs’ with the help of a few parents help train, coach, manage, transport and support nine teams this term. This has been the most challenging year for us as coaches with the number of teams we are across,” said coach Tessa Siolo-Tuiletufuga.

“We also train and coach four teams at St Bernards College alongside the nine at Sacred Heart.  We are on the court six days a week either training or coaching.”

Tessa is a former student, and her daughters attend the school, as well as two of her sons attending St Bernard’s College.

Sacred Heart’s Senior A team is providing the inspiration, having recently won the CSW Regional Tournament and breaking a three-peat of wins between 2018-20 by city rivals St Mary’s College.

They beat St Mary’s in the final of the CSW Regional tournament.

“The Marys game was definitely our toughest match, but the girls had a strong, vibrant and confident vibe going into the tournament.  Our programme at Sacred Heart is based on a strong line of ‘sistahoods’ [former students] spanning over the past 16 years that have been at the school.  That is and always has been the key to Sacred Heart Volleyball,” said Tessa.

“It was awesome to see the girls “hunger” for the win – especially as five of our players are Juniors (14 and 15 years old), so that made it all the more special.  Our programme embeds itself squarely on the shoulders of our sistahood! Our big sistahs who left the school up to 8-9 years ago, give back to the sistahood that gave them so much when they were here. Our programme is nothing without them.  This is a core value of the programme, and what has kept us coaching at Sacred Heart for so long.”

Sacred Heart are off to Nationals in Palmerston North next week, and as top Wellington qualifier will be seeded 11th in the draw of 32. They will be up against the traditionally powerful schools from North Harbour and Bay of Plenty.

“Those regions have a whole whakapapa of strength and mana behind them, and they are a pleasure to watch at any time.  We just hope we are watching them from the other side of the net in a final!  The highest Sacred Heart has come is fifth at Nationals – a huge claim as Wellington is not necessarily known for high level volleyball against regions like the Bay of Plenty or North Harbour, our programmes are miniscule in comparison – but sometimes we will want it more!  With a young team, it will be interesting this year.”

Like most sports and national events, the volleyball Nationals were cancelled last year. How did that affect those players and the team composition this year?

“Eight of our girls this year were due to play last year – but one left without her last Nationals tournament due to Covid – the girls were heartbroken.  Seven of our players remain, although we are very light on ‘senior’ level experience and commitment, and so we have had to backfill our team with five of our juniors, just so our seniors don’t miss out this year.  But they are very mature and resilient juniors that we are very proud of. Only three of this team of 12 leave this year.

“It is only through going to such competitions that you can gauge where you are outside your local pond into a national lake.  One of our girls, Kelsie Walker, left last year in December on a volleyball scholarship in Florida at Palm Beach University Walker. She was a huge influence with this group of girls, still regularly checks in at trainings via zoom or video chat to remind the girls to move their feet and watch their landing, we are all very proud of her and she is definitely one of our role model big sistahs.”

With youth being a feature of this year’s team, there are some key players that form the nucleus of the side on court.

Bryanah Siemonek was the CSW tournament MVP. “Bryanah is an outside/ passer hitter.  She is beyond her years, matched only by her aggression and will to win.  We coached her older sister Brooklyn Siemonek also – she is now one of our big sistahs that still come back to help the programme.

“Gibeon Pole’o was another outstanding player that contributed hugely to great team outcomes, as well as Kiana Uriarau – both are Juniors, and are definitely players to watch in the future.

“Tayla-Kei Rahui-Laulu was another outstanding player for us as our Libero: backcourt specialist and made it easy for our setters to get in position early and feed our hitters. She was definitely the difference for us and could have easily been MVP as well for her tenacity and overall skill and game smarts.”

The team’s mascot is Lisle the Lion. “She’s attended a few tournaments with us over the years!”

“We also do not take court without a prayer for strength and humbleness both in victory or loss. We don’t warm up until everyone is on the baseline at the same time – we pray together, we warmup together, we win or lose together, we warm down together and we debrief together – we are very disciplined around this and every team has been like this for the past 10 years at least, as an extension of “team” is everything and everyone!

“How we play is more important to us than the result sometimes – these are young people!  What we instill in them from game to game will help them become better players, hungrier players and have the strive and drive for better outcomes.

There is so much more to learn when you have kids who “strive” and drive themselves to win for their team or be successful in the pursuit of a goal, so that same strive and drive pushes that success when they leave school on to the next journey in university, interviews and paid work etc.  We don’t just want good volleyballers leaving our schools, we want aspirational, motivated kids leaving our schools and into our communities.”

Coach Tessa thanks the huge support Sacred Heart provides.

“We are all volunteers part time to this amazing sport, but we are advocates, educators and motivators of strong young men and women full time, all the time when they leave to go out into the communities – and we will keep doing this, until another sistah comes along to take the reins.”

Tessa and husband Nevo also coach the St Bernard’s Senior A team, who also made the Regional tournament final.

“St Bernard’s won their semi-final against a very experienced and polished St Patricks College team – that was definitely the highlight for the boys – and making the final was just cream.  Unfortunately, they went down to St Patricks Silverstream, who were aggressive, intense and everything you want in a competitor!  It was a nail biting 5 setter.  We were very proud to have made it a “Hutt” final for the boys – 3 out of the top 4 teams are from the Hutt.  Silverstream were very well deserved and we have a lot of respect for Junior Paulo and Conner Tuifao who lead their team’s outstanding performance at Regionals and throughout the whole season.”

The semi-finals of the regular season CSW volleyball Senior A competitions are this Friday, ahead of Nationals all next week at Palmerston North and the CSW finals the following Friday.

CSW Tournament Final Placings:

SENIOR GIRLS FINAL PLACING

1.SACRED HEART COLLEGE
2.St Marys College
3.St Catherines College
4.Mana College
5.Taita College
6.Paraparaumu  College
7.Porirua College
8.Wellington Girls College
9.Bishop Viard College
10.Naenae College
11.St Orans College
12.Samuel Marsden College

SENIOR BOYS FINAL PLACING

1.SILVERSTREAM COLLEGE
2.St Bernards College
3.St Pats Town College
4.Taita College
5.Aotea College
6.Rongotai College
7.Wellington College
8.Mana College
9.Porirua College
10.Bishop Viard College
11.Hutt International Boys
12.Paraparaumu College

-Story courtesy of College Sport Media