Boilermakers , Long Beach State topped list of 30 courting Tigers junior
June 23, 2010 8:13 PM
EDWARDSVILLE - Six months after saying she had not "really gotten into the whole college stuff yet," Sam Epenesa can be done with the college stuff.
With two prep seasons still to be played for the Edwardsville Tigers, Epenesa has given a verbal commitment to play Division I college volleyball at Purdue. Epenesa had a list of 30 suitors, but the final decision came down to Purdue and Long Beach State.
"It was hard to turn down Long Beach State," Epenesa said. "The beach is, literally, a five-minute walk from the dorm."
It's a far longer walk from Purdue to the Pacific, but an April visit to West Lafayette, Ind., and a favorable impression of Boilermakers coach Dave Shondell sold Epenesa, an honors student with hopes of becoming a pediatrician.
"It was just beautiful," Epenesa said. "Just looking around, I thought this campus is so pretty. All the coaches are going to be nice because every coach is going to want whoever comes on their campus. But their coach seemed like a pretty genuine guy. I don't know, it just seemed like the right place to be."
A gifted outside hitter, the 6-foot Epenesa was the 2009 Telegraph Large-School Player of the Year as a sophomore. Epenesa, who plays club volleyball with High Performance - STL, had 356 kills last season, ranking No. 3 all-time at Edwardsville.
She will join her club team later this month in the USA Volleyball Girls' Junior National Championships in Reno, Nev.
Epenesa's pledge to Purdue will force a Big Ten allegiance shift in her family, though they can retain garments in old gold and black. Iowa is the alma mater of both parents. "It's the Big Ten, so they're good," Epenesa said.
Sam's mother Stephanie played college volleyball at Iowa Wesleyan. There, Stephanie met a football player she would eventually follow to Iowa City and pursue a master's degree at Iowa. Sam's father was a 6-foot-4, 260-pound starting defensive tackle for the Hawkeyes after transferring from Wesleyan.
Epenesa Epenesa - "so nice they named him twice," says Hawkeye lore - grew up in the American Samoa capital of Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango).
The South Pacific island located more than 4,500 miles from the U.S. mainland is a football hotbed, with a Samoan boy about 40 times more likely to play in the NFL than a boy growing up in the U.S.
Former Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is Epenesa's cousin. Sam has Division I college football playing cousins at Colorado in Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner and Hawaii in Maxwell's older brother Lafu.
Sam Epenesa calls her father a "Football Dad, 101." Sam grew up playing soccer and softball before taking on volleyball at age 11, though her younger brother has added football to baseball and soccer commitments.
"I think it was easier on him because I'm a girl," Epenesa said of the toll her affection for soccer had on her football-loving dad.
Fa'a Samoa - meaning The Samoan Way - remains a culture dear to Sam Epenesa. And while football is the sport of choice for males in American Samoa, volleyball will pay the way to college for Sam Epenesa.
And some of the qualities that have so many Samoans excelling in football have helped Epenesa reach an elite level in her sport.
"You see a lot of athletes out there that are just great athletes," Edwardsville coach Jami Parker said. "Rarely do you see athletes that work as hard as Sam does."