Another Region I Final appearance in 2019 continues to pay dividends as four Matador Volleyball Sophomores have signed with four-year universities to continue their academic and athletic careers outside of Yuma.
All three returners to the 2019 club including NJCAA All-American Melissa Garciglia Banuelos, dynamic middle blocker Lauolive Tonga, and explosive outside hitter Jovana Papaz announced their decisions this spring while impact transfer Delaney St. Pierre completed her work in Yuma back in December.
St. Pierre brought needed stability at the setting position for the Matadors in 2019, coming to Yuma after a freshman year at Ryder University. The transfer averaged nearly six assists per set while also helping on the opposite side on the attack. St. Pierre signed on to Montclair State University in New Jersey and headed to her new school during the spring semester.
“I expect to bring a lot of experience,” St. Pierre says of her transition to a new program. “I have played at the Division I and Junior College levels, so I think that I have learned a lot over the past two years and developed some great leadership skills. I have really learned how to adapt and adjust to new teammates and new coaching schemes. So, I hope that translates well over to the Redhawk’s program.”
“At Montclair State, I can see the (New York) city skyline every day walking to class. It's beautiful. Additionally, I have always wanted to pursue a degree in Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences degree, and Montclair is one of the few schools in the country that offers it. Coach Stawinski was also one of the most honest, organized, and passionate coaches I had talked to during the recruiting process. That was a huge draw as well.”
The three returners stayed closer to Arizona despite being a long way away from home at AWC. La Paz, Mexico native Melissa Garcigilia Banuelos put together one of the best seasons from the service line in Matador Volleyball History and catapulted herself to NCAA Division II program California State San Bernardino.
“My first year at AWC was difficult,” Garciglia Banuelos recalls. “Because at that time I was adapting to a new country, new team, new language and educational system. It was in my second year that I proved what I had to give to my team in Arizona. I think what I can bring to my new team will be that energy, character, and passion. Leadership on the court.“
Fellow outside hitter Jovana Papaz, from Bosnia, stays the closest to Yuma despite returning home during the pandemic. Papaz announced her signing to the University of California, San Diego.
“My dream was to play in San Diego,” Papaz recalls her recruiting process. “When I was on my visit, I knew that school is everything I was dreaming of. I really like the girls on the team and coaching staff. They are all amazing. Academically, school is one of the best in California, and that was an important fact for me to decide where I will continue my academic career. However, the most important thing for me was good level of volleyball. For next season, they will play in Division 1, Big West Conference. That will be, without doubt, huge experience for me.”
“The experience that I got in Arizona Western will be very important for me,” Papaz continued. “I spent two years in Yuma, playing with incredible players from all over the world. The coaching staff was amazing. They helped me to improve and taught me to believe in myself and to be better team player. Volleyball is a team sport and because of that, it is really important to know how to support others, even when you do not play well. I enjoyed playing in Yuma and every game that I played helped me to learn something new. I did not get just experience, but I also became better teammate.”
Hawaiian Sophomore Lauolive Tonga was an integral part of the Matadors last two runs and will find herself in St. George, Utah at Dixie State University. Tonga will join another Hawaiian AWC alum, Teuila Lolotai, who is transferring to Dixie State from Tennessee State.
“I expect to bring leadership and enthusiasm,” Tonga says of her new team. “I really honed those skills at AWC and I want to bring positive vibes and to be able to just have fun. The campus was beautiful, they had a lot of new facilities and more in the making. I believe it’ll be the best fit on furthering my education. I really loved the area, very similar to home. Everyone knows everyone, it’s a very safe environment.”
With Tonga, Papaz, and Garciglia Banuelos moving on to four-year schools, the Matador’s 2018 squad advanced all 13 players to continue their academic careers at Universities while competing in the Region I Final in both seasons.