Senior caps off four-year career with first All-MW appearance
Sekola Falemaka came to UNLV four years ago very reserved and shy around her teammates.
Cindy Fredrick said that when she became the volleyball team’s head coach during Falemaka’s sophomore year, she hardly said a word.
The more vocal she became, the better she got as a player. Tuesday, the outside hitter was rewarded for having the best season of her career by being named to the Mountain West All-Conference Team for the first time.
“Although we didn’t go as far as planned, being recognized kind of helped me accept the fact that my season is over,” Falemaka said. “I felt like I have worked very hard this season, so being selected for this honor has reassured me that my hard work has somewhat paid off.”
Ever since UNLV made the conference championship match back in 2011, the expectations and the success for the volleyball team continued to grow. The Rebels finished third in the Mountain West last year.
Falemaka was fighting with multiple injuries, which included pain in the shoulder and ankle. She dealt with shoulder problems all of this season, yet still managed to finish fourth in the Mountain West with 3.56 kills per set and led the conference in double-doubles with 11.
“To lead this conference in double-doubles says a lot,” Fredrick said. “That’s a huge accomplishment, especially when she’s 5-8, when the minimum [height] is 5-10.”
Despite being banged up, Falemaka’s work ethic and leadership rubbed off on her younger teammates and inspired them to win five of their first six conference games heading into the Rebels’ first matchup with undefeated Colorado State.
She left the locker room after the five-set loss very emotional, knowing they had the chance to pull off the upset. From then on, UNLV went 5-7 in its final 12 games of this year and finished in a tie for fourth in the Mountain West.
Falemaka was one of three seniors leading the 2013 UNLV squad, joining Madeline Westman and Stephanie Thelen.
When she arrived at UNLV, she had the luxury of learning under a plethora of veteran leadership to help guide her throughout her career. When they left, she instantly became that vocal leader that Fredrick always wanted her to be.
She wasn’t a captain, but Falemaka didn’t need to be considered one because of the leadership she brought.
“You don’t have to have the title to be a great leader,” Fredrick said. “She’s always been a hard worker.”
Falemaka never let her height prevent her from being the player she became, but she was able to show her toughness by playing through pain. She thought her shoulder was giving out before the season ended and got frustrated because of it.
To be able to do what she did and finish the season atop the leaderboards of major stats in the Mountain West makes this appearance just as rewarding.
“It really is [satisfying] because that has been something that I’ve been struggling with all season,” Falemaka said of her injuries. “I couldn’t play as well as I knew I could.”
Falemaka’s emotion and leadership are two major components that Fredrick is going to miss with her team heading into 2014.
The hope is someone has the ability to pick up where she left off.
“We hope that someone else is going to pick that up and say, ‘I’m going to be the next Kola,’” Fredrick said.
That could be a challenge. Falemaka went from a girl who was shy around her teammates and didn’t like interviews, to someone who became the heart and soul of UNLV Volleyball.
That’s a good enough legacy to leave, but she has another way to be remembered.
“The best way I want to be remembered at UNLV is a player who played with heart and loved what she did,” Falemaka said. “Never let her height define the player she wanted to be or hold her back from anything.”