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The Path to Glory

The Path to Glory
August 21
17:43 2018

By: William Ysaguirre

Belizean fans delighted in the Central American volleyball silver medallists’ victories at the Civic Center last week, but few saw the many years of painful hard work, dedication, discipline and sacrifice that made their success possible. The girls’ mental toughness, their will to win, was molded in the crucible of pain and defeat. Assistant Coach Lupita Quan, owner of the Stars Volleyball Club, has been involved in the training of many of the girls on the team, and she described the not so easy path to their victory.

Belizeans have always had a natural, genetic ability to do well in volleyball and basketball, Lupita says. Belizeans are tall and athletic, which are advantages for spiking and blocking in volleyball, but we lacked the other technical skills in which the other Central American teams were proficient: setting, serving, receiving, digging up saves, and they beat us every time. It was these skills that the Stars dedicated their workouts to perfect.

As Lupita explained, for example our libero Jahshema Saunders needed to practice receptions, with someone to hit the ball to her – hundreds even thousands of repetitions per day, every day. For Karen Quan to develop her expertise as Best Setter, she needed to do at least 2,000 sets per day to be able to place the ball perfectly anywhere on the court in front or behind her, every time. Being able to set the ball to a player behind her makes it harder for the opposing team to see which attacker will have the ball set to her for the hit, increasing the likelihood she will only have one blocker against her. If the opponent can see clearly who the go-to hitter is, she will always have two – three blockers against her at the net. The same is true of serving aces. To be able to hit a ball low and flat, with a jump serve that is so high that it is almost a spike, and still get it across the net every time, takes practice: literally thousands of repetitions per day!

Lupita’s athletic career began with basketball, which was her passion, often as not playing against boys. But through the encouragement of the coach Alice Castillo, she began playing volleyball in her junior and senior years at St. Catherine Academy, where she graduated in 1986. She returned to her alma mater to help coach the SCA team while she was a student at St. John’s College Sixth Form, where she graduated in 1988. After working for a year, furthering her education required a three year stint at university in Florida to complete her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and she returned home in 1992.

She might easily have devoted her energies to basketball, rather than volleyball, but Belize had few female basketball teams back then, and their competitions

were rather informal. Playing both sports was too demanding of her time, and she chose more structured with well-organized tournaments of the Belize Volleyball Association, where Clement Usher was president. The BVA had a published schedule of games which allowed Lupita to plan her time for sport and practice more easily, and so the choice was made for her and she opted for volleyball.

She first played for Cari-Shore Stars, with Jack Reyes as coach, where she won her first championship in 1993. She continued playing the following year, and SCA invited Lupita to coach the volleyball team, when the demands of work obliged SCA’s coach Allan Sharp to bow out. Work demands also forced Lupita to stop coaching SCA’s team for about four years. Upon her return, the SCA volleyball girls began winning championships under her guidance. They have been city champions for 15 years, but they did not always do so well at nationals, where they were dominated by the Independence High girls in 2004 and 2006. The SCA girls won the national championships at the Belize City Center in 2005, but they placed second in 2006 and 2007. The SCA girls began a 10-year reign of high school volleyball nationals when they won the championships in Punta Gorda in 2008, and again at the Civic Center in 2009, at the Andres Campos Center in Corozal in 2010 and in Georgetown in 2011.

Meanwhile the Stars volleyball club had no access to the Civic Center for practice, and so used to borrow the St. Joseph’s RC School playground for workouts in the evenings. It was here that Belize’s Most Valuable Player Sherika Burton got her induction into volleyball at the tender age of 11. She was also on the SCA team that won national championships in 2010 and 2011. The Stars Club kept borrowing venues to practice, moving to the Holy Redeemer sandy field behind the Presbytery, to St. Catherine’s courts, and to St. John’s College gym.

Winning nationals meant that St. Catherine’s team also began representing Belize at the Central American CODICADER Games, but SCA’s debut at the 2008 CODICADER Games in Honduras was not auspicious. They took a beating. The SCA girls struggled at CODICADER in Costa Rica in 2009, in Nicaragua in 2010, and in El Salvador in 2011, gradually winning two or three of their games, but no medals. Sherika was a key hitter on the SCA team which won their first medal – bronze – at CODICADER in Mazatenango, Guatemala in 2012.

Lupita says her natural inclination to coach began when she played basketball, and with no female teams per se, she found herself playing against boys, and she began coaching them, offering advice. Playing and later coaching with the Stars volleyball club, Lupita and the Stars won 16 city championships! In recent

years Allan Sharp’s Lady Jaguars team began winning some city and national championships, but the Stars with Lupita as coach have won the national women’s championships for the past two years.

Allan Sharp noted that all these internal team rivalries had to be set aside for the national team, which drew Shantel Arnold, Maurissa Williams and the Solis sisters – Tichele and Tisha from Lady Jaguars, and Melanie Palacio from the Belmopan Mystics. But the bulk players came from Lupita’s Stars Volleyball club, including team captain Nelissa Ramirez and Sherika Burton who are both students at the University of Belize, and libero Jahshema Saunders – a graduate of Gwen Liz High. Best Setter Karen Quan, middle blocker Kevanna Sebastian and Mya Musa all graduated SCA and are now at sixth form, but it’s a very young team and Allyana Musa, Fatima Ramirez and Ayah Safa are still at SCA.

Lupita said coaching the CODICADER teams and launch of CODICADER Under-13 tournaments made her see that she needed to start recruiting players to the sport from they were eight! Thus she formed volleyball camps for primary school players in Under-10, Under 13 and Under-15 categories as part of the Stars Club system. An early SCA star Emma Hoare who won national championships in 2009 and 2010, got her induction to volleyball when she accompanied her older sister Precelia Hoare to Stars’ practice sessions.

With the demolition of the old Civic Center, the BVA had to find a new venue to practice and to host competitions, and when Belize Elementary School built its auditorium, BVA began renting, even laying down an FIVB standard plastic volleyball court. But as the BES auditorium became busy with many others wanting to rent the venue, the school began cancelling the BVA’s access times, and this prompted Lupita to build her own Stars’ gym in 2012, on a plot of land her mother owned on Princess Margaret Drive.

She now had a year-round facility, but the demands of her business meant Lupita did not have the time to devote coaching all the teams in her programs. She found a need to hire coaching staff to help. These included Kelsey Balderamos, who was back from university in the U.S.; Kelsey had been on the SCA team that won city championships but placed second at nationals in 2007, until she won the national championships in 2008. Other former Stars’ players joined the coaching staff: Sherlene Johnson, Shelmadine Cacho, and since the Stars’ club was also coaching boys and had a male team the S.Q. Dragons; Larry Bennett, Elton Middleton and Tariq Campbell Sr. also joined the coaching staff. Nelissa Ramirez, Sherika Burton and Jahshema Saunders also help coach the U-13 and U-15 players. The Stars club now has a structured program catering to both girls and boys, with Under-10, Under-13 and Under-15 categories, from which players

gradually advance to the Junior U-20 and U-23 teams and to the Senior women’s and Men’s teams.

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