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Long Beach Poly Obituary St. Anthony Volleyball Wilson

OBITUARY: Long Beach Volleyball World Mourns Keli Pula After Sudden Passing

The Long Beach volleyball world was shocked and is mourning the recent sudden passing of longtime coach Keli Pula. Pula passed away last Friday due to complications from a heart attack.

A longtime assistant coach at Poly, Pula was the current girls’ volleyball head coach at St. Anthony, and was well-known and loved by those involved in volleyball throughout the city.

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Girls Volleyball Head Coach Keli Pula,” St. Anthony announced on social media. “Coach is remembered for his remarkable contributions to the girls’ volleyball program. He will be greatly missed.”

Pula had been recovering from a heart attack at St. Mary’s Hospital, where he was enjoying the connections made between members of the volleyball community according to Leland McGrath, who was the head volleyball coach at Poly with Pula as his top assistant for a decade.

“The nurse who brought him in was a Poly volleyball mom and one of the nurses taking care of him was the older sister of one of our players, he was loving it,” said McGrath after visiting with him.

Social media was filled this week with tribute posts to Pula, whose influence went far beyond the volleyball court. He was known as a passionate coach who was not afraid to break a clipboard, but was also there for his players in support, and was always willing to go the extra mile to bring someone into the big tent that is the Long Beach volleyball world.

“I’m sending my gratitude to the Lord up above for giving us so many years with you,” wrote Pai Iosia. “You’re a legend in the community.”

Iosia (and her older sister Sa) played for Pula at Poly, at the Mizuno volleyball club, and on the South Pacific team Pula coached in 2019.

Lance Williams was the dad of two track and field athletes who were very successful at the youth level. Pula is the one who saw them as volleyball players and pursued them to play the sport in high school and club. Several years later, Kalyah Williams (Poly) is at USC playing and Laura Williams (Lakewood) is at Oregon State, and Lance is a volleyball official and assistant coach.

“This man here changed the course of my family all by himself,” Williams wrote in tribute. “Without him there is no Williams sisters of the PAC-12, there is no full-ride scholarships to college!…A man of few words, but HUGE actions.”

Jeff Ecevedo is another Poly assistant coach for the last decade-plus, who was recruited into those ranks by Pula. He said Pula’s influence on him was far-reaching.

“I wanted to quit my job to pursue coaching but you always told me to keep my job to support my family, and to love volleyball for the game and not about how much you can  make,” wrote Ecevedo. “I’m not just losing a friend but I’m losing a father figure.”

Pula moved to Southern California from Samoa as a young man and attended Carson High and Cal State Dominguez Hills. He had been coaching in Long Beach and the surrounding area for three decades when he passed, and never lost his connection with Samoa, returning to coach kids there when he could.

He is survived by his wife, Tali as well as their daughter Deveny and son Jede, along with many other family members, friends, and “volleyball kids” that he coached and mentored.

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.