The562’s coverage of Long Beach Volleyball in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Misty May-Treanor and the Dream in Gold Foundation.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.
Everyone deals with grief differently. JoJo Fuamatu handled her grief with volleyball.
Fuamatu’s dad, Iuta, passed away last year due to COVID-19, and Fuamatu was back at Long Beach Poly girls’ volleyball practice the next day.
“I felt like I needed the team to get me away from all of that stress I was going through,” Fuamatu said. “Going to practice every day and playing volleyball helped me be sane.”
Carol Fuamatu, JoJo’s mom, said Poly coach Megan Moenoa and Fuamatu’s Long Beach Volleyball Club coach Gerald Aquiningoc were instrumental in keeping her youngest daughter safe and focused on her future. Carol even let Moenoa pick up JoJo for practice.
“There’s only maybe one or two aunties that she’s able to drive with,” Carol said. “But (Moenoa) offered to help, and I knew the volleyball family was (JoJo’s) comfort.”
“Anytime an athlete has something happen like that in their lives it’s just a big realization that the sport can be such a big escape for some kids,” Moenoa said. “With JoJo in particular, it was very evident that she needed volleyball. She needed the gym to be a place she could get away from her outside reality… JoJo really had to tap into that and did it on her own.”
Moenoa made sure to address the Jackrabbits with the information Fuamatu was comfortable with sharing before and after her dad’s passing. She also told the team to reach out to Fuamatu in whatever capacity was comfortable for them and their relationship with her, saying, “In that situation it was my job to help them make JoJo comfortable in the gym without being overwhelming.”
“Sometimes I do have my bad days where I feel like I want to give up, but when I surround myself with my friends and family I forget about everything and just live my life,” Fuamatu said.
Fuamatu felt that love earlier this month when she played in her Senior Night game at Long Beach Poly where the Jackrabbits hosted Wilson and a large section of the home stands were taken up by Fuamatu’s family and friends.
“It was just a text and everybody came out,” Carol said of organizing the support. “It’s family that’s been with us through everything.”
It just so happened that her club coach Aquiningoc is also Wilson’s coach, so Fuamatu got to celebrate her final home game with both of her coaches.
“As a coach you’re always talking about what it is to be resilient, and when you look at JoJo’s story, she has gone through things as a kid that a lot of adults don’t go through until they’re much older,” Moenoa said. “As a senior leader and somebody who has had to be resilient on and off the court since she’s been at Poly, when I think about JoJo resilience in the first word I think about.”
Not only did Fuamatu have eight kills on Senior Night, she helped Poly win a dramatic five-set match and then got to celebrate with everyone who had helped her get through the toughest year of her young life.
“I felt really loved by everyone,” Fuamatu said. “And it felt so good to win. That’s a big accomplishment that’s even better when you go back to your family to celebrate.”
“I cried literally all day, but when I got to (Poly) I had to fix myself and focus on (JoJo),” Carol said. “For her to be on her journey without her dad here is tough for me… After I watched her I said to myself, ‘Her dad showed up for her tonight.’ It was very emotional. We waited for this day for her to shine.”
Fuamatu is verbally committed to Providence Christian College in Pasadena, which is impressive for a volleyball player who didn’t know where she wanted to play while growing up in Long Beach.
“I’ve been 5’3” since sixth grade so I didn’t think I was tall enough to be an outside hitter,” Fuamatu said.
Good coaching and a dedication to jump classes working on her vertical leap transformed Fuamatu into a force to be reckoned with at outside hitter. Her brother and sister went to Jordan High, but Fuamatu said her dream school was always Poly. She is now in the CIC program and wants to study kinesiology and physical therapy in college.
Fuamatu didn’t know many kids at Poly when she was a freshman because Jordan is her home school, but she quickly found friends in the volleyball program. Playing the Senior Night game with friends like fellow senior Imajaleah Goggins made those years together mean even more.
“We really wanted to show out in front of everyone, but especially our own team because we’ve been through a lot,” Fuamatu said. “It was high energy and we were all positive.”
Fuamatu and Moenoa agree that the victory over Wilson meant more than just one notch in the win column.
“As a coach who is building a new foundation you have to hold onto those little things that the score doesn’t always reflect,” Moenoa said. “Like the things you see in your culture changing, or kids like JoJo reminding me why I’m coaching. That Wilson match was a big moment for the program. It was validation for all of the girls in the program to see what Poly volleyball should look like and the kind of fight and resilience that it should have.”