Mata makes Moanalua tick


POSTED: Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Moanalua volleyball player Carsen Mata makes no apologies for being herself.

The senior setter/outside hitter is unapologetically confident. When she says that North Carolina State's incoming recruiting class — of which she is a member — includes “;program changers,”; she says it with neither pretension nor arrogance but simple confidence.

She is unapologetically East Coast. Though she's lived in Hawaii more than three years, she can't shake that New Jersey (where she was born and raised) bravado.

She is unapologetically competitive and intense. She talks of college-style scouting reports for Moanalua's upcoming opponents in the Oahu Interscholastic Association playoffs with incredulity that other high school teams don't scout opponents' hitters and put the findings in an eight-page report.

That is Carsen Mata, an outspoken, confident, intense leader ... and also a major reason why Moanalua (11-1 regular season) returned just one starter this season but still tied Kahuku for the OIA Red Conference regular-season crown. Na Menehune are ranked sixth in the state and are poised for a deep postseason run.

“;We've got really nice kids, but a lot of times they're too nice when the game starts,”; Moanalua head coach Tommy Lake said. “;So Carsen is the one person on the court who's always like, 'Let's go, let's go,' and pumps her team up. I probably appreciate her leadership there more than anything else. Every game she gets on the court and she pushes her team to get better.”;

Mata is the lone returning starter off a squad that had nine seniors and finished fifth in the Division I state tournament last November. When she saw this year's team get together at the end of July, she figured there was no chance Na Menehune would be atop the OIA Red. She looked around and saw all the new faces, saw the errant passes and shanked spikes, and wondered just how miserably long her senior season was going to be.

But it wasn't long before Mata realized her assessment was harsh. With Kapolei transfer Gabby Matautia and sophomore Katiana Ponce leading many talented but inexperienced players, Na Menehune quickly clicked. They won preseason tournaments at Aiea and McKinley and showed promise in the 'Iolani Ann Kang tournament. Then Moanalua took one set each off Interscholastic League of Honolulu powers 'Iolani and Kamehameha in the following weekend's tournament.

Moanalua followed that with a dominating OIA regular season in which it lost once (at Kahuku) and was forced to win in three games just once (against Farrington).

“;I think we're going to go really far,”; Mata said. “;We have a young team this year. ... I have so much faith in my team. I just want to finish my senior year strong. I'm really proud of this team that we have now. We've come a long way.”;

Mata has come a long way on the court. When she first moved to Moanalua from Jersey City as a freshman, she was a solid outside hitter who had never played anywhere else.

But with the 5-foot-6 Mata showing a natural inclination for leadership, Lake saw an opportunity to turn her into a setter.

Three years later, the decision has paid of. Mata has verbally committed to N.C. State for a full-ride scholarship as a setter, and Moanalua has flourished with her quarterbacking the team. But because she is still one of the team's strongest hitters, she gets her swings in the 6-2 offense.

Mata has made it all work, the setting, the hitting and the leading of a young, inexperienced team in her fourth and final year at Moanalua.

“;She's very strong because she's very aggressive,”; Matautia said. “;She knows where her hitters are. She knows where the mismatches are. She knows where a good place to set the ball is, and she knows when someone is on hitting. She's a really smart player.”;

Don't forget about that confidence, competitive nature and intensity, too.