Height is might in basketball and apparently in volleyball too. This, after Grace Christian Academy 2 leaned on 5’11” Azriel “Azzy” Fatialofa and a bunch of good receivers to win the 2021-2022 Girls Middle School Volleyball Championships last Saturday at the Koblerville Gymnasium.
Fatialofa, who a few months ago led the Lady Eagles to the middle school girls basketball tiara, dominated the finals against Tanapag Middle School, helping GCA 2, helped sweep the Tatagas in two sets, 21-15, 21-14. That capped an undefeated run in the two-day tournament for the Lady Eagles as they topped Pool 1 with a 6-0 win-loss card.
GCA 2 faced off against Saipan International School in the semifinals and came out on top, 21-16. Tanapag, which headlined Pool 2 with a 7-0 card, drew three-time defending champion Hopwood Middle School 1 in the bottom half of the draw and advanced, 21-15.
That set up a GCA 2-Tanapag finals, which unlike the earlier matches was a best-of-three affair.
It was evenly matched in the early goings of the opening set, as the Tatagas played Fatialofa and company into a standstill and even led 11-10 on their steady service game. It was still 14-14 as GCA 2 fumbled through a couple of errors before Fatialofa personally presided over a 7-1 windup courtesy of her dreaded spikes as the Lady Eagles took the first set.
Tanapag briefly held the lead at 8-7 at the start of the second set, but Fatialofa got some timely help from the receiving corps of Vaniqa Torres, Matty Angeles, Beatrice Fabre, and Nevaeh Camacho to take the upper hand at 11-8. It was 17-13 following a strong service from Llyanna Jairah Libut and GCA 2 made it 18-13 after Tanapag failed to receive a deep shot.
After a momentary reprieve, the Lady Eagles scored the last 2 points with no less than Fatialofa delivering the coup de grace with a couple of hammer spikes in the gut of Tanapag’s defense to take the set, the game, and the tourney championship.
The rest of the champion GCA 2 Lady Eagles are Masofia Gomez, Ana Villagomez, and Miley Mafnas.
GCA 2 head coach Cesar Libut, who steered the Lady Eagles to the high school championship last October, said they didn’t really expect to come out on top this year and win the school’s first-ever title in the middle school level.
“This was just a blessing. One month no practice because it’s not allowed in school because of the COVID. Then we planned to practice Thursday but it rained the whole day. We’re just surprised that we’re able to do this because we had no practice at all, but they’re very dedicated to keep practicing just the same.”
Just how dedicated? Last Friday, GCA 2 had a scheduled game at 3pm, but they arrived at the venue at 1pm just to practice. And then last Saturday, their first game was 9:40am, but they came at the Koblerville Gym at 7:30am to practice again.
“It’s the dedication of these kids and wanting to practice and be the best [that led them to this championship].”
Asked how important was Fatialofa on the team’s success, Libut said GCA 2 just had to capitalize on their advantage and with the 5‘11” Fatialofa they obviously had a very big advantage.
“Because there’s no practice you need to capitalize on your advantage. We have other spikers but no practice at all so what we did to make sure to get the win was let Azzy spike. The switching wasn’t easy for her to go in the center there. It’s a lot of switching. If you don’t switch properly the referee will call us for illegal formation, but that was done inside the hallway of the high school building ‘this is how you rotate, this how you rotate…’” he said.
Libut also gave credit to Fatialofa’s teammates when he said: “The key is this, Azzy cannot spike without a good receiver. The service was awesome and I was pleasantly surprised. Same with the setting and receiving. I think the best one is the receiving especially in the last two sets, those were awesome. I dedicate the win definitely to the students/players. You should’ve seen them when we won they were crying. Some of them are sixth graders and some of them are eighth graders. Half of them can still play next year to defend their championship.”
Earlier in the quarterfinals, SIS 2 ousted sister team SIS 1, 21-16. Hopwood 1 also punched its ticket to the Final Four after eliminating Francisco M. Sablan Middle School, 21-15.
The 2021-2022 Girls Middle School Volleyball Championships was organized by the Public School System Athletic Programs with help from the Northern Mariana Islands Volleyball Association.