The 11 ladies comprising the University of Maine at Fort Kent (UMFK) Bengals Volleyball team have brought a whole new level of play to the program, and are responsible for achieving a UMFK record of winning 42-10 for matches in the past two years, according to UMFK volleyball coach Tom Bird.
“They are all great players," said Bird. "Volleyball on the west coast is very well taught and these girls have been playing for forever. This is not anything we're doing special here, they're the ones getting the job done. The special thing we're doing is bringing them here to Maine,” he said.
The University recruited all of the players from California.
“The level of volleyball in California is much higher than here. Having 11 girls from California and bringing them all together has been very successful.”
The University recruited the girls over the past three years. Former coach Quintina Young was responsible for bringing in three star senior players: LaTishsa Carballo, or “La La” as she is known to fans and fellow players; Tiara Nolen; and Hope Grace.
Coach Bird recognized these three players on “senior night” between matches at a doubleheader against the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI) on Wednesday, October 14, at the UMFK Sports Center.
Coach Bird, who took over the team last year, recruited the rest of the current team. “All of the eight newcomers I recruited this year. I made one trip to California for about eight days and was able to recruit eight girls, so it was a worthwhile trip,” he said.
According to Bird, athletic scholarships have little to do with the university's recruiting methods, because only $3,000 in such funds are available for the entire team. Instead, scouts share other practical and attractive benefits UMFK offers.
“School is really cheap compared to California. and they know with 10 or 11 girls on the team they will have an opportunity to play and get a lot of time on the floor,” the coach said. “The student-teacher ratio is small, so teachers are going to know the students on a first name basis, on a day to day basis. They will get all of the attention they need (academically) and not fall behind because they're not just a number like they could be at a larger school.”
Carballo, who is a public safety major, said those reasons were factors in her decision to transfer from Porterville College to UMFK. “It was cheaper to come here and there is more opportunity for playing time than we would get in California.”
La La admitted to finding herself in new territory when she traveled from one coast to the other to attend college at UMFK. “There was definitely a difference. It was a culture shock kind of when I first got here. You don't expect to see moose and deer (in California). If you see a dog on the street, you're more likely to see a moose here.”
Nolen, a nursing student, spent two years playing volleyball at Merced College in California before switching to UMFK. She said it was the academic opportunities at the university that ultimately convinced her to transfer, although she appreciates being able to play volleyball for UMFK.
“They told me about the nursing program. There is a three year waiting list in California (to get into a nursing program). I like the small classes compared to California. You get one-on-one learning. It's hard. It's a challenge. They really push you to succeed here, but it's a really good program,” she said.
Nolen has made the most of her adventure in Maine. She enjoys snowmobiling and snowshoeing, although she admitted she's not a big fan of skiing.
According to Nolen, being thousands of miles away from home is made easier by the fact that her teammates are also far from home. “We click and we are all so grateful for the opportunity to play volleyball. Everyone appreciates being on the court. To have a team come together from so far away from home - but relate as a family together - we all can relate to being so far away.”
According to Coach Bird, the Volleyball team is currently fourth in the USCAA National rankings, which is the highest ranking ever achieved by the volleyball team and hasn't lost a home match in three years. Wednesday's double header versus UMPI did nothing to eliminate that streak, as the ladies took both matches 3-0, 3-0.
“All of us play our roles. Everyone has a role, and without any one of our team members, we wouldn't have this success,” La La said.
As for the three seniors who will be departing at season's end, Coach Bird offered nothing but praise and appreciation for them at senior night. “They came to UMFK at a time of rebuilding, and shattered the school record for wins. They stand out most for their selflessness... Their team-first mentality is something I will never forget about them,” he shared.
The 2015 UMFK Women's Volleyball team members are:
Tiara Nolen (Merced, CA)
Brianna Krystek (Fairfield, CA)
Hope Grace (Fairfield, CA)
Kriston Hilkey (Grand Terrace, CA)
Justine McCorkle (Chico, CA)
Fabiola Gutierrez (Lindsay, CA)
Adriana Gutierrez (Lindsay, CA)
Selina Castro (Fairfield, CA)
LaTisha Carballo (Orosi, CA)
Sweet Vaimoui (Laie, HI)
Tara Kelley (Taft, CA)