The562’s season previews for the 2022-23 school year are sponsored by Vertical Raise, the official team fundraising partner of The562.
The562’s volleyball coverage is sponsored by Misty May-Treanor and the Dream in Gold Foundation
New St. Anthony head coach Keli Pula has roamed the sidelines for some of the biggest and most successful high school volleyball programs in the area. Now that he’s back coaching in his hometown, Pula is excited about working with this young group of Saints. Though the spotlight may not be as bright as it was when he was at Long Beach Poly or Mater Dei, he’s got the same passion for the sport and the desire to bring championships to Long Beach.
“Every practice we have, I feel excited and encouraged about what we have,” said Pula. “The players have accepted me; the parents, the AD, the principal, they’ve all made me feel welcome, and that makes my job very easy.”
Pula won’t have too much time to get to know his new team, since he took the job about six weeks before the start of the season. As he works to build chemistry among the roster, he knows he’s got a few veteran leaders he can rely on, including senior captain Rylee Tuaolo.
Standing 6-feet tall, Tuaolo is the most imposing presence for the Saints, and she’ll be taking on a new role this season. She played middle last season for St. Anthony–also her position in club–but she’ll be moving out to the pins this season where she’ll look to rack up kills and anchor the Saints attack.
“As a senior and as the team captain, I want to have my presence known on the court and I want the girls to know they can depend on me,” Tuaolo said. “Anybody who plays middle knows that it’s a big transition from middle to pin, but it’s just something to adjust to and it’s better for my team. Whatever works for the team, that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Tuaolo said she’s excited to be more of a focal point for the offense and take more swings this season. She’s also enjoyed the transition to the new coaching staff, with Coach Pula taking over for Alicia Lemau’u, who stepped down after a decade at St. Anthony.
“It’s been different, but in a good way,” Tuaolo said. “It’s more competitive I feel like and we’re learning more routes and systems. I learned a lot of stuff from Coach L., so I just transferred over to Coach Keli and his great coaching skills, so it’s all been good.”
Junior libero Annalee Smith will be a top contributor for the Saints, and is easily the most vocal leader on the floor. Pula offered high praise for both her ability and her work ethic.
“The last time I had that kind of a player at libero play for me, we won a CIF championship and went to State at Long Beach Poly,” Pula said of Smith. “I like her vision, her nose for the ball, and she works really hard.”
Championship aspirations will require a big step forward for the Saints, who won just one game in 2021. However, Smith feels the group is getting better every day and she’s hoping to push them toward a more successful campaign.
“Since I’m gonna be an upperclassman this year, I really want to try and show some more leadership,” Smith said. “I think we’re definitely hoping to accomplish some more wins this season. We’ve all talked about it. Every practice is really helping us.”
Elsewhere in the Saints’ lineup, senior Sydney Luckey will start on the outside, while freshman Piper Owen shows a strong arm and great potential. With just two seniors on the roster, there will be plenty of chances for newcomers to make their mark as Pula looks to put his stamp on the St. Anthony program.