Talavalu and Segaula first of Team American Samoa off to Games
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Team American Samoa’s first sports teams for the upcoming 17th Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands left the Territory on Sunday.
This is because the men’s Rugby Sevens team the Talavalu and women’s team the Segaula, will be competing in the Oceania Rugby Sevens Olympic Qualifiers in Brisbane, Australia to be held on November 10-12, then the teams will join the rest of Team American Samoa in the Solomons for the Pacific Games.
Last Saturday, the American Samoa Rugby Association (ASRU) hosted a farewell dinner at the Good Vibes Restaurant in Tafuna to officially send off the two teams.
The teams comprising local and off-island players recruited by ASRU, received words of wisdom and encouragement, blessings and good wishes from a representative of the many parents who were present, and sound advice from ASRU President Falefata Moli Lemana, who reminded them that they will be representing the government and people of American Samoa.
“Remember, wherever you go, just remember that you carry on your shoulders your parents and aiga’s name, your village, your government and the name of American Samoa,” Falefata reminded. “Your character speaks volumes of who your are and where you come from. So please, always be on your best behavior.“
He also acknowledged with thanks the off-island players who answered ASRU’s call for assistance because of the lack of eligible local players to make up the teams for Brisbane, Australia.
“You heard our call for assistance and you responded even though you had to pay your own airfares to get here,” the ASRU president acknowledged. “I take my hat off to you because without you, we wouldn’t be able to compete in Brisbane. Thank you very much.”
Falefata also acknowledged with thanks the and support sponsorship of various companies who funded the teams’ play, traveling and formal uniforms.
They include Ford, Minks Refrigeration, Silva Construction, Willis Construction and Logoitau Mark Atafua.
He also acknowledge the monetary assistance from the American Samoa Government of $20,000, which has helped a lot in funding the team’s trip.
Like FIFA (the world governing body of soccer) regulations which stipulate that all members of the different countries’ national teams must hold that country’s passport, the Olympic Games are the same which is why only US passport holders can play in the team that is competing in Brisbane, Australia.
However, the Pacific Games regulations are more flexible and they allow players who have resided in a particular country for a certain period of time, to represent that country in sports.
Hence, four players for the men’s team and five for the women’s team, all who are not US passport holders, will be traveling with the rest of Team American Samoa to the Pacific Games.
According to the men’s head coach Fata Jioko Asotau he is happy with his local players’ level of fitness and skills and is optimistic that their performance will be boosted by the four players they managed to recruit from off-island, who have been competing at a much faster pace of the game in the more competitive leagues they have been playing in.
Unlike the national men’s soccer team who are all Samoan except for one player of Korean descent, the men’s rugby sevens team, Talavalu, is a melting pot of different ethnicities.
Two players, Joe and Riko Koroiadi are part Fijian, part Samoan, their father being Fijian and mother Samoan. Joe was born in Fiji and his younger brother Riko was born in the Territory, so he left with the team for Brisbane, while Joe will be leaving with the rest of Team American Samoa for the Pacific games next week.
The four players from off-island are brothers Niles and Noah Tuamoheloa who are half Tongan half Samoan. Niles has been playing his rugby in East Palo Alto, while Noah has been playing in Hawaii.
The other two are Nu’uuli native Michael Pa’aga who lives and plays in San Francisco and Ryan Anderson from Orinda, California, who is one of two non-Samoans of caucasian origin. The other one is team captain Casey Te Beest who resides on-island and is employed at ASPA.
The four players from off-island recruited by the Talavalu sevens team for the Oceania Olympics Qualifier Tournament in Brisbane, Australia. (l-r) Ryan Anderson (Orinda, California), Noah Tuamoheloa (Hawaii), Niles Tuamoheloa (East Palo Alto), Michael Pa’aga (San Francisco, CA) [photo: Asi A. Fa’asau]
According to the four players from off-island, they all work but have accumulated enough leave days to make the three-week international competition.
Coach Fata told Samoa News that the team for Brisbane, Australia will be joined in New Zealand by veteran Talavalu player Lolesio Lolesio, who is now based there, and they will travel together to the Land Down Under.
Fata revealed that Lolesio has been a regular part of the Talavalu team having being selected for four international tournaments.
The Assistant Coach is Fijian national (Riko and Joe’s father), Belasio Koroiadi and the Physio/Trainer is Afa Tuiletufuga.
The Segaula (women’s team) which includes some players of Tongan descent managed to recruit six off-island players all hailing from California. They are Punipuao Lealofi Skipps, Marlee Ana Garrison, Manaia Maleka Moala, Jessie Jeanette James, Cynthia Senetenari Fonoimoana and Bianca Claire Curtis.
Segaula’s participation in this Olympic Qualifying Tournament is historic because it is the first time they have been able to compete in the international arena.
In an earlier interview with Oceania Rugby, ASRU President Falefata Moli Lemana expressed his delight at the progress the union has made in developing the women’s sevens rugby.
“After 12 years of becoming a full member of World Rugby, the struggles of putting together a women's team to represent American Samoa in the world stage of rugby was surreal,” stated Falefata. “It was very difficult. Not only is rugby not an American sport, but the mentality of our local people, that rugby is a sport only for men.
“Nevertheless, we did not give up. Although very few in numbers, we explored every avenue to ensure there will be women teams in all of our competitions.
“The people of American Samoa are very proud in supporting for the first time American Samoa's women's team’s participation in this year's Oceania Olympic Qualifier Tournament. The American Samoa Women’s team, Segaula look forward to bringing their excitement to Brisbane!”
The six off-island players recruited by the Segaula sevens team for the Oceania Olympics Qualifier Tournament in Brisbane, Australia. (l-r) Cynthia Senetenari Fonoimoana, Bianca Claire Curtis, Marlee Ana Garrison, Punipuao Lealofi Skipps, Manaia Maleka Moala, Jessie Jeanette James. [photo: Asi A. Fa’asau]
OLYMPIC QUALIFICATION GAMES
A total of 18 men’s and women’s teams will be vying for Olympics qualification and the top placed teams will qualify to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The American Samoa Segaula will battle it out with teams from Fiji, Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu for the sole qualification spot to Paris 2024.
A total of 66 matches (35 men’s and 31 women’s matches) will be played across three days of competition.
The Segaula coaching staff comprises Head Coach Tommy Elisara, Manager Annie Coffin and Physio/Trainer Fiona Traill.
The Segaula team left the Territory at 11am on Sunday morning while the Talavalu followed at 3pm. The teams stayed overnight in Apia before departing for Australia at 7am the next morning.