Rising star Sam Epenesa returns to her roots for Samoa Bowl
By all accounts, Samantha Arasi Epenesa — known by her family and friends as simply “Sam” — is the kind of daughter that would make any parent proud. An honors student at Edwardsville High School in Edwardsville, Illinois, the 18 year old senior is also a formidable athlete, breaking records and setting new ones at something like warp speed with her high school volleyball team, and the driving force behind their final impressive record among high schools in the state.
And, to the delight of her family and friends, she is visiting the territory, and — scheduled to arrive last night — she will participate in the highly anticipated Samoa Bowl IX which takes place this week. Epenesa was chosen to be a member of one of three volleyball teams coming from California to compete.(See story in today’s issue about Samoa Bowl)
But it is the sport of women’s volleyball that brings Epenesa here, and it is her volleyball prowess and remarkable skills that have opened many doors for the six-foot senior with the beautiful smile and the heart of a true competitor. Epenesa has been offered, and accepted, a full scholarship to Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, and it was her overpowering presence on the volleyball court that earned her that honor.
Samoa News spoke to her father, “Eppy” Epenesa by phone before her arrival, and when asked to describe Samantha, he stated “My daughter is amazing… she is outspoken, but very easy-going, very friendly. She is not shy, has no fear (”no fefe”) and takes each challenge with a lot of heart.”
He also called her “a great blessing from God” — and a fabulous example to her siblings (she is the eldest of four children.)
The elder Epenesa noted that just before speaking to Samoa News, the family learned that she had been voted “Player of the Year” for the St. Louis Gateway area by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. He explained that Edwardsville is closer to St. Louis than Chicago, and is actually a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, although it is over the state line.
According to her hometown newspaper, the Edwardsville Intelligencer, who voted her their Female Athlete of the Fall twice, Epenesa had decided on Purdue prior to her junior year at Edwardsville. The paper catalogued numerous records which she set for her school — hitting records, kill records, and nearly every other volleyball record possible in her final two seasons of high school volleyball.
During her four seasons at Edwardsville High School, her team, the Tigers, enjoyed the program's greatest success. Tigers they proved to be, winning four Southwestern Conference championships, four regional titles, three sectional titles among numerous other awards. According to The Intelligencer, her individual accomplishments are also impressive, as she leads the school in “kills”, is second in “aces”, and holds other season records as well as being a three-time All-SWC selection.
As a senior, she helped Edwardsville to a school record of 34 wins, said her hometown paper.
She was always tremendously athletic said her father, and had played several sports when she was younger — notably soccer, softball and track in her early years.
As a sophomore in high school, she was really busy, so her parents advised her to pick a sport which could help her get a scholarship. “She was good at every sport she tried,” her father said, and both he and Sam’s mother, Stephanie, had played volleyball in their youth and they taught all their children how to play.
According to her father, Sam “competes at the highest level of the game” saying that she reminds him of his older sisters, Arasi, Josie, and Anna Epenesa. Her understanding of the game he deems “awesome”.
Just before going to press, her father sent word that Sam “just made the Illinois 1st Team All State.”
The eldest of four siblings of Samoan and Caucasian heritage, all raised in the mainland, Sam chose volleyball as her gateway to higher education. She says she hopes to be a doctor someday, and has commented that she “loves biology.”
Her motto is simple: “Strive to be my best, on the court and at school... and don’t let anyone phase me.”
Said her father about Sam as his eldest child, “She is amazing with her younger siblings... a great role model for her younger brothers. She gives a true meaning to the words ‘older sister’.
“ She met my oldest sibling, older brother Vainini (Vice) Epenesa last summer and he had several conversations with her about life. My brother told her he will be waiting for this moment for Sam to come home to see him. Sadly, my brother was severely ill and passed this last March... but he symbolized what older siblings are supposed to be. I am so proud to be your younger brother Vice, I miss you very much and I know you are proud of your niece for coming home to you!”
“Although his body won't be there for my daughter” he went on, “ I know he is in heaven’s ‘amazing sibling’ village and he is going to watch her from up above... R.I.P to my second dad, my protector, my inspiration, my amazing older brother... You got an awesome view from up there so, Cheer loud for her bro...”
Sam is eager to learn more about her Samoan roots, which include family in the villages of Nua and Seetaga, Vailoa and Leone. With her star rising, she returns home to see what that really means.