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Am Samoa’s Beach Handball star recognized at SoCal Championships

Lynette Liu with award

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Lynette Liu #30 of Vaitogi once again came up big for the American Samoa Women’s Beach Handball Team competing this time at Huntington Beach, California in the SoCal Championships, the longest running beach handball tournament in the USA.

Lynette was awarded “Top Women’s Center Back”, an award for the beach handball point guard for her wonderful performance despite the team not finishing in the top three. 

Lynette scored 29 of the teams 97 points and led the team in assists and shots while she also contributed by playing defense when her sister Anamalia fouled out. She once again showcased her remarkable savvy for the game with sharp passes, amazingly accurate quick shots and her ability to create shot opportunities for herself and her teammates. Occasionally she could also be found in the goal keeper position when the moment called for something different.

Lynette has been playing handball since the founding of the American Samoa Handball Association in 2014 along with her older sister, 2018 Youth Olympian Jasmine Liu and her younger sister Anamalia. 

In 2017, Lynette was 12 years old and by the rules of the International Olympic Committee deemed too young to compete in the Youth Olympic Oceania Qualifier at Cook Islands, however ASHA saw big promise in her and brought her along as an assistant coach in order to witness and learn the game on an international level.  Witnessing a team win a gold medal followed by wins at World’s and a bonafide Youth Olympic invitation taught her valuable lessons that would be realized later.

This proved to be a correct decision as Lynette joined the returning Youth Olympic Team at the 2019 Women’s Beach Handball Championships and the Australian Open Club Championships in Adelaide, Australia at the young age of 15.  The team placed second at both tournaments and Lynette was awarded “Most Valuable Player” by the tournament staff.  A remarkable feat considering the long layoff in a women’s open tournament on a team of experienced Olympians.

In 2022, after the COVID travel restrictions kept the team from traveling, the ASA Women’s Beach Handball Team returned to Southern California and placed second, earning Lynette her third international silver medal. During this tournament another ASA player, Stephanie Floor was awarded “MVP” status once again showcasing our Samoan Female Athletes.

It is ASHA training policy to play annually at SoCal.  This policy keeps the veterans interested and sharp while juniors and youth players gain experience. As such, team and or team leaders prepare for Oceania qualifiers, tournaments and championships out of our region and not against their adversaries.

Finding it difficult to maintain an experienced roster due to marriages, child birth, military commitment, college and employment, ASHA looked at 2023 as a rebuilding year with only four of the 10 players at Gold Coast and five if eight at SoCal with having international competition experience.  

Appearing at the 2023 Oceania Women’s Beach Handball Championships at Gold Coast, Australia in early April were 2018 Youth Olympians Naomi, A’asa, Jasmine Liu and Imeleta Mata’utia along with Lynette Liu.  Joining the team was a young group of rookie handballers Azarya Tofagou, Amelie Chen, Tivah Duffy, Tia Cummings, Matagofie Peters and Fatonu Isaako, all under 16 earning the girls the usual title of the youngest team at the Women’s Oceania Beach Handball Championships.

The team’s youth and inexperience was evident however by the end of the tournament they put together what lesson’s that they learned and challenged Cook Islands in a tough game for the right to play for third and fourth.

Taking place annually for the past sixteen years, this year’s 2023 SoCal Championships was a very important tournament featuring teams from Mexico, Canada, USA and American Samoa.  With interest in the USA growing and the backing of the International Handball Federation and the International Olympic Committee, American Samoa is in their eye site in a big way.

The American Samoa Women’s Beach Handball Team poses for a photo during the SoCal Championships in Huntington Beach, California. [courtesy photo]

The 2028 Olympics is taking place in Los Angeles, California and the International Handball Federation is hoping to add beach handball to their indoor handball events. 

The 2023 SoCal Championships Team consisted of three former Youth Olympians, Stephanie Floor, Jasmine Liu and Naomi A’asa along with Veteran Lynette Liu.  Joining the team were a fine group of talented handballers, the younger sister of the Liu girls Anamalia along with Falesiliga Makaafi, Maraeah Afoa and Azarya Togafou who also competed at Gold Coast, Australia

The young gun’s Anamalia and Azarya scored 8 points while Falesiliga scored 7. Maraeah, Azarya and Anamalia were credited with defensive dive blocked shots as was Falesiliga at the keeper but the exact statistics are not available yet.

Stephanie Floor scored 25 and Jasmine Liu 14 rounding out the team’s top scorers while Naomi A’asa’s offensive assists and screens never go unnoticed.

Azarya Togafou, Anamalia Liu and Falesiliga Makaafi are all born between 2008 and 2010 which qualifies them to compete in next year’s 2024 Youth Olympic Qualifying Oceania Championships, the first segment for the 2026 – Senegal Youth Olympic Qualifiers. 

ASHA is currently recruiting and trying out young athletes, boys and girls born between 2008 and 2010 who can get a USA Passport by being born in American Samoa or USA. ASHA wants 10 boys and 7 more girls who are raised here in American Samoa, who would like to take a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel the world, playing one of the newest and coolest Olympic games at no cost to your family.

A winning coachable attitude, a discipline punctual personality and pride in carrying the American Samoa Flag on the world’s most elite courts and parental support is all that’s needed to call 272-1735 and speak with Coach Carl Sagapolutele Floor or message on Face Book at American Samoa Handball Association.

Placing fifth and loosing by the slimmest of margins, it was evident that the team was disappointed.

ASHA President and Head Coach Floor had this to say,” I am very proud of our girls.  Placing fifth was not the outcome that we’ve become accustomed to and that adds to accomplishing our mission on this tournament, building our 2028 Women’s Beach Handball team, beginning now. 

“We were in almost every game by a point or two and as a team we are all responsible for the outcome.  A missed practice, a dropped ball, a missed rebound, missed shot, missed block, a foul are all examples of a missed opportunity.  I also made mistakes that contributed.  However given the specifics of the trip, I have nothing but praise for these awesome athletes because unlike back in April at Gold Coast where we were rostered by newer players, we had a much more experienced and stronger team this time and we had our chances and should have been in the championship game. 

“Along with our game performance our girls were loved by everyone.  Their smile captivated everyone as did their amazing skills on the court.  At least 50 people now know that American Samoa is nowhere near Hawaii.

“As a team we are always striving for the gold however winning individual accolades is great as it validates our program and our athletes.  Lynette did a great job representing American Samoa and our women’s handball program at SoCal both on and off the court. 

“As is typical of Lynette, she wowed the crowd and wooed the opposition and at times, her team mates and I as well.”

Her award marks the sixth individual award for ASHA handball players, 2017 Stephanie Floor - Oceania U17 MVP/2017 ASNOC Top JR. Athlete, Naomi A’asa - 2018 ASNOC Top JR. Athlete, 2019 - Lynette Liu Oceania MVP, 2022 Stephanie Floor -  SoCal MVP and 2023 Lynette Liu – SoCal Top Center Back.

“We have been forced to play different than the rest of the world because we cannot train nor practice the acrobatic high scoring moves and diving defensive blocks without a sand court.  Many if not most of our new girls run on sand for the first time in an actual game and that’s most unfortunate yet amazing when you consider their successes.  I can only imagine how strong we would be adding the acrobatic skills to our game.

“The court we built at Fogagogo is no longer accessible to us, the stadium is closed to us and we share hard ground at Lions Park with soccer clubs and Nuuuli VoTech football.  It’s hard, rocky and congested but because my friend lets my girls use his restroom facilities, a convenience offered for my players.  Our national team’s are at a disadvantage and although that fills me with a tremendous amount of resolve it challenges my ingenuity and the athlete’s willingness to adapt in creating training opportunities.

“Our program is successful and we are worth the investment, both here with a sand court and in international competition bearing the American Samoa Flag, with locally raised athletes on a sand court.

“Thank you to Lynette Liu, for coming up big for our territory on the international stage.

“Thank you to ASG, Manua Store, Young Electric Services, Michael Marsik, Milton at Hawaiian Air, Lydia from JPS, ASHA VP Wilhelmina Togafau, Park and Rec Director Kenneth Tupua and the awesome supportive parents of our minors for their trust and especially my mom, who passed away during our training, granted us $2000 and to whom I dedicate everything that I do.”