As the tears ran down the face of Nora To’omalatai and sadness overcame the rest of the Lancers’ volleyball team, sophomore outside hitter Thula Parks was nowhere to be found.
After losing the conference title on the last day of the regular season, the co-captain Parks could not let anyone see her drop a tear or hang her head.
“After the loss I just left,” Parks said. “I hate losing and I didn’t play well against El Camino at all. I needed to be alone. I know that our team has the talent to not only contend with the top teams in the state, but to win as well.
The athletic duo took the loss personally after leading this year’s Lancers volleyball program to another Top 25 state ranking. The Lancers would finish the regular season second in the South Coast Conference with a record of 12-2.
In her second year for the Lancers, Parks was named to the 2013 All-SCC Second Team. Parks ranked third in the SCC this year in total kills (267), To’omalatai ranks first. In Tuesday’s win, Parks had one of her most complete games of the season leading the Lancers with 13 kills and 14 digs.
“The El Camino loss was always on the back of my mind,” Parks said. “Our coaches encouraged us to put the loss behind us, but for me I felt like I didn’t perform well so I had to prove my capabilities to myself. I just wanted to perform well and I left everything on the court because any loss could be our last game.”
One of the more vocal leaders on this year’s squad, the enthusiastic and versatile Parks hails from South Hills High School in West Covina. The aspiring math teacher has been playing volleyball since her freshman year of high school and she considers herself a natural leader.
“I’ve always been a leader,” Parks added. “Not to be cocky or anything but I’ve always been a vocal leader. Maybe I’m a good leader because I can be loud or because I’m one of the captains this year. My team inspires me to play well so we all help one another.”
A two-way player, Parks is averaging 2.97 kills per set and 2.31 digs per set this season. Her constant leadership and passion to win has continued to help the Lancers succeed on both ends of the net.
“We started at the bottom,” Parks added. “No one thought we would play well in conference and we really had a great year despite all the obstacles.”
After losing their first conference match of the season Parks picked up her play to average 3.05 kills per set against the following five opponents.
“I love playing with Thula,” To’omalatai said with a huge smile. “She’s always excited and she makes playing the game so much fun. Even when we’re down she’s the one to motivate the team and we want to go out on top together.”
For Parks, the admiration and respect for To’omalatai as an athlete and leader shines through Parks’ wide smile.
“I love playing with Nora,” Parks added. “That’s my girl. She’s a beast on the court and I know that when the ball is set for her, she’s going to make the kill or make an amazing play. She’s a great player and even better teammate. She always leads by example and gives that leadership that every team needs.”
A graduate of Monrovia High School, the athletic kinesiology major began playing volleyball in the third grade. Her goals include playing for a Division 1 university and possibly coaching in the near future.
“My dad inspired me from the beginning,” To’omalatai said. “I play because of him and I’ve fallen in love with the sport since he introduced it to me years ago.”
In her second year with the Lancers, To’omalatai received her second consecutive All-SCC First Team selection.
The Lancers’ all-time kills and aces leader, To’omalatai topped the Lancers’ five 2013 All-SCC selections while also being selected to the elite All-Southern California Region squad.
“I played against her in high school and she was very intimidating,” sophomore libero Victoria Arreola said. “Now that I’m playing with her it’s so much better and she’s gotten so much better. She deserves to be at a Division 1 program.”
In the Lancers’ upset over No. 5 ranked San Diego Mesa College on Tuesday, To’omalatai recorded 11 kills to break the Lancers’ single season kill record (389 and counting). A record set in 2001 by standout Mariel Arcos.
Against the Olympians Tuesday, it was To’omalatai’s defense (16 digs) that helped keep the Lancers’ 2013 season alive.
The athletic and talented To’omalatai is not your average student athlete. To’omalatai’s humble personality and big smile easily makes her a joy to work with both on and off the volleyball courts.
“I guess I stay so consistent because of all the support I have,” To’omalatai said as she smiled. “My team supports me, my family and friends all support me. I play for them.”
The talented outside hitter has 643 career kills and 93 aces in her two seasons. To’omalatai also led the Lancers in digs this year with 231.
With both grace and power, To’omalatai’s presence on both sides of the net continues to lead the Lancers and motivates others to perform at their best, according to Arreola.
“Our hitters Thula and Nora have been one of our biggest weapons this season,” Arreola said. “Nora is a great player that brings out the best in her teammates. I never want to let her down with a pass. She can kill the ball with force and she’s just awesome.”
To’omalatai’s SoCal selection placed her among just 14 players in the South who were recognized for postseason honors (seven were All-State).
“Without my team I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today,” To’omalatai said. “The individual awards mean a lot but I owe it all to my teammates. I appreciate everything that they do for me. I work hard for them.”
Appreciative of the individual accolades, the pair of outside hitters continue to remain focused on their current goal of winning the regional tournament. With their win on Tuesday, the Lancers became the first No. 12 seed to defeat a No. 5 seed in the opening round of the Southern California Regional Playoffs since 1999.
“My team is very good at motivating one another,” To’omalatai said. “Someone is always helping someone on the team and we all want to win. Thula brings the vocal leadership every game as one of our leaders and we’re playing some of our best defense of the season. We want to win not only for ourselves but for our coaches and our family and friends that come out to support us.”
The Lancers (15-9) swept the Olympians in three close sets 25-16, 26-24 and 31-29 on Tuesday. The Lancers will now travel to play No. 4 seed Santa Barbara City College on Saturday at 5 p.m.
“Our captains have really helped us both on and off the court this year,” freshman libero Saige Spence said. “They’re like my closest two friends on the team so I look up to them a lot and I really respect them as student athletes.”