BY NATE SMELLE
After being cut from the Team Ontario volleyball squad in 2016, E.L. Crossley’s Sauli Lianga didn’t give up on his goal of competing at the highest level possible. Dedicating most of his time over the past four years to improving his game, his hard work is starting to pay off. Giving Team Ontario another shot again this past May, he returned home from the tryout camp to find out he had made the cut.
“I thought to myself, well if I didn’t make it last year my chances of making it this year were really slim,” he said.
“I was happy to make the camp but I figured the team was already kind of made, because they had a lot of the same guys from last year. I wasn’t expecting to make it, so when I found out that I did make it, I was really excited.”
Lianga has been training with Team Ontario in Windsor for the last ten days. This week the team will fly south from Detroit, Michigan to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to compete in the High-Performance Championship (HPC) volleyball tournament. Known as the “Spaceship” of volleyball tournaments, the HPC is a five-day tournament where teams from around the world will showcase their best young talent.
While still a member of the high school team at Crossley, Lianga began playing with the Niagara Rapids in 2014. He then joined the Niagara Fury team for two years before rejoining the Niagara Rapids for a brief period. This year, Lianga took his game up another few notches as a member of the Division One Kitchener/Waterloo Predators. There he helped the team earn a Bronze medal in the Provincial championships, and then another at the national championships this spring. By defeating the team that won the Ontario championship, Lianga and the Predators unseated the champs to become the highest ranked team in the province. His successes and abilities are not going unnoticed. Over the past couple of years, several Canadian universities have already shown interest in signing Lianga to their roster.
Because volleyball is played year-round, there is not much downtime for the young athlete. Unable to get enough of the sport he loves, Lianga said he recently signed up to play beach volleyball with the Ontario Volleyball Association (OVA). Also asked to play with the OVA’s provincial beach volleyball team, Lianga had to decline considering his busy schedule with the indoor team. To get more experience as a beach player, he still plans to participate in a series of training camps this summer.
“Beach volleyball is a totally different kind of game,” Lianga said.
“For indoor sixes, there is always a team, whereas with beach volleyball there are only two of you. So, you’re touching one or two out of the three balls on every single contact.”
Always looking for opportunities to enhance his skills on the volleyball court, Lianga is eager to head down to Florida to compete against some of the best up-and-coming athletes in the sport. His parents Lina and Rich are also pumped to see their son compete at such a high level. The two proud parents are planning a road trip south to the “Sunshine State” to take in the tournament firsthand.
“It’s been really awesome watching him grow in the sport,” said Lina.
“We are very, very proud of him, because he could have given up but he didn’t. There is a lot of drama in competitive sports and throughout everything he has persevered and stuck with it. And he’s done it all with a positive attitude.”