Senior Zoe Bowens (pictured) plays with former high school teammate Saitaua Iosia on the Hawks.

Sept. 28, 2011

By: Dave Vatz

PRINCESS ANNE, Md. - In 2007, high school senior outside hitter Zoe Bowens and a freshman middle blocker who had recently been promoted to the varsity team, Saitaua Iosia, were trying to win a championship for Long Beach Polytechnic High School. Four years later on the opposite side of the country, these two compete together again for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, looking for a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title.

Bowens, a senior outside hitter, and Iosia, a freshman right side/outside hitter, suit up for the Hawks as representatives of Long Beach Poly and Mizuno Long Beach in California.

Long Beach Poly has produced collegiate and professional athletes in numerous sports, including having more alumni currently in the National Football League than any other public high school in the nation. The city of Long Beach is one of the most diverse in the country, reflected by the public school of Long Beach Poly.

"When you travel around the country, seeing the level of play in different states, you can tell California is very high, and that can be attributed to the fact that we play year-round because it is always sunny. Whether it is indoor or beach, people are always playing," says Bowens.

2007 started with Bowens on the varsity team and Iosia on the JV squad. Later in the season, Iosia was moved up to the varsity team and was part of the final stretch. That year, the Jackrabbits reached the second round of state championship.

Bowens was first seen by UMES at the Northeast Qualifier in Baltimore while part of Mizuno Long Beach, a club team that plays at the conclusion of the high school season. Bowens had already known Hawks volleyball player Caylin Woodward, another Long Beach native and former Mizuno player from Garden Grove High. Woodward finished as the only player in UMES history to record 1,000 kills and digs in her career.



"Caylin was one of the best players ever at UMES," says associate head coach Eric Hammond, "she was the first to come to us from Mizuno, so ever since her we have had that pipeline."

"We were both from California, so we had that connection. She told me about the school, and I talked to my father about it. We came out for a visit and I liked it, so I came here," Bowens says about her recruitment.

Hawks head coach Don Metil found out about Bowens and later Iosia through Keli Pula, who works at Long Beach Poly and the Mizuno club team.

"Keli gives us information on some athletes and also speaks highly of our program. He knows we treat our girls well, and the athletes we have recruited off his leads have been successful here on and off the court, thus, we have a great working relationship," says Metil.

Bowens has made her mark with the Hawks, becoming team captain her junior year and leading all of Division I in aces per set at the conclusion of the 2010 season. In her first three years, the Hawks would win the MEAC Northern Division each time.

Three years later, Iosia was also looking to play at the next level. Her senior year, Long Beach Poly was at one point ranked third in the country and first in California, so she was looked at widely by schools in her own state, but she had other plans.

"I wanted to come to the East Coast," mentions Iosia, "I know I'm going to be home the rest of my life, I want to use this opportunity, go to college somewhere else and explore these things before I start a new life."

Iosia, who also played for Mizuno, would hear about UMES from a Bowens, but not Zoe.

"I played with her little sister, Zana, for three years in high school, and she mentioned that Zoe's school was looking at me, and was thinking I wouldn't mind going out there."

Later she came on a visit and chose to suit up for the Hawks.

"When Saitaua came here, Zoe was her host on the visit. So she had her friend and former teammate here, and Zoe could give her an honest opinion," says Hammond.

"In my family, no one has graduated from college, something would happen like they would miss home and they would drop out," Iosia added, "For me, I want to graduate and to grow because I have a long way to go, that would make my family proud."

Metil says getting players from Long Beach is great as they have the skills to play well before they step foot on campus.

"They start playing volleyball at a young age compared to some places where your first introduction into organized volleyball is not until ninth grade, it is great to get Mizuno Long Beach athletes because you do not need to retrain them in the aspects of the game since we use a very similar system," Metil says.

For some, playing so far from home is a challenge. But for these two, it is no problem playing on the east coast.

"For me it is not hard," says Iosia, "I know I have so much support and motivation from my past and my family."

Each has been an integral part of the Hawks this season. Iosia, who is now playing as an outside hitter, has already been named MEAC Rookie of the Week four times, tabbing 200 kills and 137 digs in her first 12 matches. Bowens serves as team captain for the second straight season and has recorded 59 kills with 91 digs and 13 aces.

"Since I've been here, this is the most athletic team that we have had," states Bowens, "And once we can get the chemistry on the court, then we can really go far."

Bowens, Iosia and the rest of the team continue their season as they open up at home for the UMES Hawk Invitational on Friday, September 30th with Alabama State at 5:00 p.m.

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