A team of boys who have been playing together since their elementary years was hailed NMSA Team of the Year during the 2021 NMSA Annual Sports Banquet held last April 19 at the Kensington Hall of Kensington Hotel Saipan.
Mount Carmel High School’s Boys Beach Volleyball Team, which is composed of Richard Steele, Merrick Toves, Jeremiah Diaz, Brandon Lee, Jun Beom Kim, and Sam (Ji Hwan) Ryu, got the nod after going 9-0 in pool play and did not lose a set in the double-elimination 2021 PSS Boys High School 4V4 Beach Volleyball Tournament en route to the championship last February.
The team’s only loss was the first set against Grace Christian Academy in the best 2-out-of-3 championship match. In nominating the team for the monthly plum last February, the Northern Mariana Islands Volleyball Association said Toves, Steele, Diaz, Lee, Kim, and Ryu have been excelling together in school team sports since they were in MCS Elementary School.
Toves said he had no inkling their team would ultimately win the NMSA Team of the Year award since there were a lot of teams vying for the yearly honor.
“I never believed we had a chance until I heard that my team was named the team of the year. I was just really shocked that we won that award. I’m dedicating this to my family and my friends who supported me and cheered me on throughout that volleyball tournament. My school also for coming down to watch us win and cheering for us every game. I also want to dedicate this to my team for working hard each day of practice and in games also and also to our coach, Randy Steele, who coached us and for making me a better player each game,” he said.
For Richard Steele, taking home the coveted honor was also a pleasant surprise for him.
“I was thinking that there were other teams who deserved to win the award, so hearing our school and names get called up definitely caught me by surprise. I would like to dedicate this award to our school and my dad. Mount Carmel School is like a second family to me. As a high school athlete, you dream of winning the championship title for your school.”
On second thought, Steele said completing an undefeated season doesn’t come every day so on that regard, they also deserved the award.
“It feels right to give this team of the year trophy to our school. I would also like to dedicate this award to my dad, who was also our coach. He pushed every single one of us and taught us how to be better players, so without him this award wouldn’t be possible. This award especially means a lot to me. I’ve won athlete of the month a few times, but I’ve never won athlete of the year. I’ve always wanted to win that awesome, giant latte stone trophy, so finally being able to win this, and win it with this team, puts a huge smile on my face,” he said.
Diaz said while there’s a possibility they’d take home team of the year, he was still surprised when their team was called on stage to accept the award.
“We knew we had a chance, but to actually win it? That was a surprise. All the other teams were amazing and are great at what they do, so congratulations to them as well. I’d say I dedicate the award to our school and most especially our coach. Without the school’s support at every game and coach Randy’s training and guidance, we wouldn’t have done as great as we did in the tournament. Our win is their win as well…Winning team of the year has to be one of our greatest accomplishments, both as a team and individually, but it doesn’t stop us from achieving even more,” he said.
Like his teammates, Kim said winning the award also came out of left field for him.
“Frankly, I didn’t expect this award. Our team and I were stunned when we were called as the team of the year. Team of the month was enough for me, but the team of the year made our team and me even happier. Surprise gifts always make them memorable and meaningful.”
He thanked MCS for giving them the opportunity to excel not only in sports but also in academics.
“I appreciate our school, MCS, for providing various fields and funs. I also want to give this big thanks to whoever supported us under the hot weather. Without their support and encouragement, we couldn’t win, and of course, we wouldn’t even think of these significant awards…Frankly, I didn’t have a significant role in our team. I was mainly on the bench shouting my words to my team with hope, earnestness, and courage. I believe the team is a word that combines pros and cons, and Merrick, Sam, Brandon, Jboy, Richard, and I threw out our greed (avarice) and played with our hearts.”
Lee said he also didn’t expect them to win team of the year and wants to dedicate the award to the school. However, if he were to choose one player deserving of the team MVP, it would be Toves.
“This award is the start to my journey in volleyball and it humbled me to do better. I realized I couldn’t do this and get such an award without a great team like this.”
Ryu reinforced his teammates’ surprise of winning the team of the year by saying he was in utter shock when he heard their names and MCS announced as the winners.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect to receive the award for team of the year; although I was hoping to receive this meaningful award. I am dedicating this to my school. I am proud to represent my school and to win the team of the year…This award means a lot to us. This showed everyone that we worked as a team and as a family either we win or lose. Because we had the best teamwork, we gave our best for us to win.”
Mount Carmel High School’s Boys Beach Volleyball Team beat out SIS Cares for Animals (March), Napu Outrigger Canoe Club women’s team (April), Marianas Outrigger Canoe Club (May), Shirley’s Badminton Club (June), TanHoldings FC (July), Southern United FC (August), and Team Santa (December) for the NMSA Team of the Year award.