For some of the top high school volleyball talents, their sport is a year-round commitment.
When the interscholastic volleyball season ended in October 2018, Haggan, comprising athletes from the island's high schools, still hit the gym. All of whom are multisport athletes for their respective schools, the girls learned to juggle multiple practices and community and family commitments, all while honing their skills on the court in anticipation of the Southern California Volleyball Association 11th annual Summer Soiree in Anaheim, California. The four-day tournament, which featured more than 300 club teams, concluded Sunday.
"Training for the tournament wasn't the easiest," said co-captain Chala Connelly, who stressed the various athletic, academic and family commitments the athletes had to juggle. "Because of the support of our coaches and families, we were able to maximize the time we had together."
She added that the hectic schedule helped them play to their full potential.
Members of Haggan Neni have been together for three years "plus a few additions," said Haggan coach Art Stanley. So, expectations were high for Haggan Neni, who would be competing in the 16s division, which featured 69 teams from clubs across the United States.
There was a lot of volleyball on tap for the girls, who racked up wins in the three matches of their first day of competition. From then on, it was pool play and a battle to make the coveted medal rounds.
The girls were playing pretty tough, said Neni head coach Mike Rabago, adding the team was learning to adjust to a very different playing style from the stateside teams.
Rabago said that if the girls were playing in another tournament, the adjustments would have been quicker and Neni would have definitely performed better.
Finishing 2-1 in the first day and 2-2 in the second, Neni placed 19th as the tournament progressed. They still had a chance to play in the medal rounds, pending their performance in Day 3. And, while teams were working to earn their points against a tough Neni defense, Rabago admitted "sparks were happening just a bit too late."
A tough injury to setter Gabrielle Piper put Guam in the hot seat on Day 1. Despite a versatile roster, Piper's precision was sorely missed as Haggan Neni navigated the final days of competition losing a couple of tough sets to fall just short of the medal rounds.
Despite their challenges, Haggan Neni finished 21st overall out of 69 teams, placing in one of the upper flights.
All of this bodes well for the athletes as they move into their junior and senior years at their respective high schools.
Stanley said the goal is for the athletes to grow together and hopefully make an impact at the next levels of competition, whether it be collegiately or internationally in regional competitions as a member of Team Guam.
Stanley said the competition, which offered a chance for Haggan's athletes to level up, was a success. He added that the team placed 10 spots higher than in 2018.
"These girls are ahead of the game before the season starts," Rabago said on the development of skills. "(They're) definitely getting the experience every year and prepping for the future games."
Connelly echoed her coach's statements.
"The tournament was a great experience and gave us the competitive exposure that we need to continue our growth as a team," she said. "Some unfortunate events occurred while we were competing, which really tested our focus and passion for the sport. However, we were able to use (the) events to motivate us to dig deeper and push harder."