Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Long Beach Poly's Sa Iosia and Litara Keil will be playing Division I volleyball in the fall

Players turn into pioneers by becoming first girls in their families to go to college

Long Beach Poly
Sa Iosia, 19, and Litara Keil, 5, celebrate after Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.)won the CIF Southern Region with a win over Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.).Photo By: ESPN RISE
After moving to California from American Samoa when she was 8 years old, Litara Keil could tell there wasn’t going to be enough to go around.

As one of six children, she knew she’d have to fend for herself if she wanted to be the first member of her family to attend college.

So the Long Beach Poly middle blocker decided to get serious about volleyball. Thanks to a lot of work and a lot of help from coach Leland McGrath, “Tara” will be studying kinesiology and playing for Loyola Marymount in the fall.

Sa Iosia grew up in Long Beach after her dad moved from Western Samoa in 1975 and her mother arrived from American Samoa in 1980.

The third of five children, Sa saw that her mom was holding down two jobs and that her dad worked six days a week. By her freshman year, the Long Beach Poly outside hitter decided it was time to take volleyball seriously so she could help her parents out.

Sa will be studying fashion merchandising in the fall and playing for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. She is the first female on her mother’s side to go to a university.

“The thought of those two girls moving on brings tears to my eyes every time,” Long Beach Poly coach Leland McGrath said. “They are the story of the year.”

A big reason for their success can be traced to McGrath himself, who — along with assistant coach Keli Pula — turned the focus of the program to helping the players get scholarships.

Six seniors from this year’s team, which reached the California state finals for the first time in program history, have secured scholarships.

“The real accomplishment of this program has not been the winning, but the six seniors with scholarship offers,” he said. “It has really come down to the work of these young ladies in the classroom, weight room, and between the lines that has made this success possible.”
Keil Iosia
Photo by: Kirstin Olsen/ESPN RISE
Sa Iosia and Litara Keil are off to DI schools in the fall.

Tara also points to faith for making it possible.

With both of her older brothers in prison, things haven’t been easy for the Keil family. Tara is being counted on to help take care of the family as the oldest of the three girls.

“Our family would have prayer meetings every night since the boys left,” she said. “And it has really helped us keep our faith and stay strong.”

Her responsibility to her sisters and to the rest of her family is part of the reason she decided to stay close to home.

“LMU is near home and that is something that was at the top of my list,” said Tara, who averaged 12 kills and five blocks per match this season. “LMU has a beautiful campus and is also a great school academically. The volleyball coaches are great and so are the players I met on my visit. I believe that this school fits me the best and it is perfect for me as well as my family.”

McGrath knows what kind of talent LMU is getting.

“Tara is one of the most talented all-around players in the nation,” he said. “Her instincts and craftiness remind me of a girl that was born to play this game. She is a baller and absolutely loves to compete.”

On top of her extraordinary work ethic, LMU will also get a player who is extremely proud of her heritage.

“The Samoan heritage has impacted my life in so many ways such as putting God first in everything we do, respecting our elders, and to appreciate anything that comes our way with great joy and pride,” Tara said. “This culture has really shaped who I am today and has taught me how to carry myself everywhere and anywhere I go.”

Family was also something that Sa considered when she was deciding where she wanted to go to college.

Thanks to her brothers, Sa was immersed in sports growing up. When she was 5 she started playing T-ball. At 9 she chose to play Pop Warner football with her brother instead of cheerleading. In eighth grade, she started playing volleyball, and her uncle was her first club coach.

Her oldest brother was offered a football scholarship, but he turned it down to attend Long Beach City College and help her parents take care of the family. Her other brother, Pasefika, is attending El Camino Compton College and is currently training with the U.S. National Under-20 Rugby team.

So, like Tara, Sa is a pioneer in her immediate family.

“I chose UMES because it’s something different for me and I’m ready to take on any challenges that come my way,” said Sa, who averaged 12 kills, 12 digs and two aces a match as a senior. “It’s a big step for my family as well because not only am I the first out of my siblings, but I am the first girl in my generation on my mom’s side to go to a university.

“When I met the coaches (and) team, I automatically felt like family, and that’s something I’m definitely going to need since I’m across the country.”

McGrath knows a special player will be arriving at Maryland Eastern Shore.

“Sa might be the most dedicated worker I have seen,” McGrath said. “She absolutely ‘brings it’ every day and every play of practice.

“She is hungry, respectful and the model team player. She wants as many reps as we can give her.  Her attitude is infectious and it spills over to the rest of the program.”

Both players know that they are role models in their community, and proof that hard work can pay off.

And they do have advice for others.
“Dream big and aim high in everything you do because you will look back and not regret anything, including all the mistakes you made,” Tara said. “It takes a lot of success to get there but it also takes a number of failures.”

Sa agrees.

“All gas and no brakes,” she said. “Go all out and make the best of everything.”

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