Mutual Vision Pays Off for Serea, Hawks
PRINCESS ANNE, Maryland -
What should’ve been a dream summer of 2015 turned into a nightmare for Mere Serea after she tore her ACL. The JUCO All-American middle blocker had already committed to Maryland Eastern Shore volleyball for the coming fall, but with her season for the Hawks wiped out it became a question as to whether she would arrive at The Shore at all.
“I decided to stand by my offer to her with the intention that she’d come in here and redshirt,” said Hawk head coach Toby Rens. “I’m glad we did.”
“After I tore my ACL, a lot of other schools backed off,” said Serea, now a graduate student and, at 6’3”, the team’s tallest asset. “It was only Coach Toby that had a sense of believing in me, and that’s the reason I committed here.”
That mutual commitment has only paid dividends for the Hawk volleyball program. After a bounce back season in 2016, Serea has been a top option for MEAC-leading Eastern Shore in 2017. As of October 27, she leads the team with 101 total blocks, including 21 solo efforts, anchoring a Hawk front line that ranks top-10 in the nation in opponents’ hitting percentage (.149). The Fijian also notches 1.20 kills per set at a .303 attack percentage, part of by far the deadliest offensive attack in the conference.
“Healthwise, I’m good,” said Serea of her sterling final collegiate season. “The chemistry within the team is good. We still have some conference games left, we still have the same mission, we still have the same goals to work on, the MEAC championship. And so far everything has been great.”
Serea grew up in Suva, the capital and largest city in Fiji, where sports like rugby and netball take precedence over volleyball. She was a late arrival to the sport, only taking it up at age 16, but soon suited up for the national team and began to see volleyball as her true calling.
“Coming into my senior year of high school, I decided I was just going to stick with volleyball,” said Serea, who also played netball and ran track at Suva Grammar School, where she won Sports Woman of the Year in 2012. “I kept playing, playing, playing, and I got recruited. One of the coaches from New Mexico Military Institute [head coach Shelby Forchtner] saw the film and went with it and recruited me.”
So it was off from her tiny island in the Pacific Ocean to NMMI, a two-year outfit in Roswell. Serea took to the military lifestyle quickly, balancing cadet life with the life of a student-athlete.
“[NMMI] tended to enforce little things like time management and being disciplined,” said Serea. “All this carried through both academically and on the court. So waking up early in the morning, I got used to that. Being able to juggle many things in a short timespan was kind of hectic, but I’m forever thankful that I went to that military school.”
“She likes discipline and structure,” said Rens. “I think that’s something that she has brought [from NMMI]. The best thing I can say about her is that she really leads by example. If she’s the last one to leave the room, she’ll make sure all the chairs are pushed in. I do have a team that does a pretty good job of that anyway, but she’ll lead by that aspect.”
A leader amongst leaders in Roswell, Serea put together two stellar seasons for the Broncos. She followed up a 2013 JUCO nationals berth with an All-American nod in 2014, amassing nearly 400 kills to lead the team. Several schools came knocking, but Eastern Shore eventually emerged from the pack to sign the prized transfer.
“It wasn’t easy. It took a number of phone calls, I think, and communicating with her,” said Rens, who first saw Serea in action at junior college nationals in Casper, Wyo. “She liked the different opportunities and the different majors that we offered here. And she had family in Baltimore. I think that ended up being a big deciding factor, knowing that there would be family in her own backyard here.”
Being forced to sit out 2015 with the ACL tear turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Serea, who observed the team and received a crash course in a sport most of her teammates had been playing for years before she even touched a volleyball.
“Coming back from the injury was tough, but being on the sideline helped me learn the sport more and be more supportive to my teammates,” said Serea. Coming back with them, it was easy for me to take what I’ve learned from the sideline onto the court. I was more able to contribute to team play and to our mission.”
With 2016 came Serea’s long-awaited Princess Anne debut. She did not disappoint, leading the MEAC in blocks per set (1.11) and leading the team with 97 total blocks. Against Norfolk State last September she was at her best, notching a double-double with 11 kills and 10 blocks on the way to MEAC Player of the Week laurels.
“She really impacts the game all the time, whether she’s on the court or off it,” said Rens. “She’s a constant vocal communicator and does a really good job of seeing things, even before some of her teammates do. Her vision of the game is really, really good, and when she communicates what she’s seen, it significantly helps the team.”
With the home stretch of her final season on the horizon, Serea has been playing her best volleyball. She earned MEAC Defensive Specialist of the Week on Oct. 23 after putting up 10 blocks in three matches, tallying 21 kills to boot. She followed that up with a nine-kill, five-block performance in the Hawks’ thrilling five-set win at Howard on Oct. 27.
Serea has helped put Eastern Shore in prime position to claim their first MEAC title since earning back-to-back crowns in 2011 and 2012, but it’s more than just the court that she’ll remember when her playing days are done.
“There’s a many great things that I’ve learned here,” said Serea, who is currently in graduate school to build on the Business Administration degree she earned earlier this year. “The people that I’ve met, the small community, it’s easy to relay stuff. And I’ll also remember how supportive the university family has been.”
“I think I’ll most miss her smile,” said Rens. “She’s such a good person, she has a very big heart. And she conducts herself in a way that she represents herself very well, certainly the volleyball program, absolutely the university and the athletic department very well. She’s going to be greatly missed because she’s a great ambassador for us and the game and the university.”
Serea and the Hawks wrap up their regular season home slate with two weekend matchups. The Shore welcomes Morgan State to the Hytche Center on Friday at 6:00 p.m., while Coppin State comes to town on Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
Feature story and video by Will DeBoer
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