(Story courtesy of Amit Raj of Fiji Sun - 17th December 2007)
Fiji women's volleyball coach Ro Varanisese Logavatu Maraiwai, a
secondary school teacher holds a firm belief that investment in
nurturing and developing young talent will eventually pay off for the
Vara as she is commonly known, quit playing in 2001after realizing she
could better contribute to the development of the sport from the
sidelines. Recently she led a new- look national team, the core of
which is less than 20-years old to a historical achievement in the
Pacific Games where the side became the first women's team ever to
contest for the elusive gold medal.
The 33 year-old from Lomanikoro, Rewa is a former national captain and
she said the silver medal win was a stepping stone for her team.
It was the first time for any women's volleyball team to play in the
final. Fiji never made it to the finals in the previous games.
We proved with a very young team that Fiji women have potential to win
gold and also be the best in the region. We have also managed to lower
the age. Unlike previous years that had a lot of experienced players in
their late 20's this time we have a squad that is full of teenagers.''
"For us the silver medal win is an achievement. For a young team like
this, it is a big thing but we can't stop here. We need to continue the
progress to win gold in the next Pacific Games.''
"The squad has a lot of young players and the average is around 20.
More than 50 per cent of the team is below 20 years old. They are high
school students,'' Vara proudly said.
She said women's volleyball in the region was always dominated by countries in the French territory.
"In volleyball, the French territory have always dominated the medals
playoffs and what we've shown is we can upset teams in the French
territory and break their dominance.''
"This was the first time for most of girls to play at such intense
level of competition. All these players are locally based and just by
training locally and playing together over the years we have proven
Fiji can mould a winning team for the Pacific games.''
She said the bitter lessons learnt from the 2001 Oceania championships outing changed her perception of the game.
"In a way I was disappointed with how we performed. We had a good coach
in Sikeli Koroivulagi. He is one of the best coaches I've ever worked
"It contributed to my decision to retire. I thought I was better off
out of the team and instead concentrate on trying to get the women to
another level by coaching.''
"As a player and captain I could see 10 years down the line.
I thought my role would be better played if I stood on the side and
pushed the girls because being part of the team as a player was not
enough,'' she said.
"To have some development you have to be in a position of influence and that made me give up playing."
Unlike her young national team, the 2001 Oceania championships team she
said came together for a few months prior to start of competition.
"To prepare for the Pacific Games we have been together for the last
two years since 2005. Apart from training we had picnics and barbeques
together and this really helped them bond together.''
"I not only coach the girls but I take them home and help them with
their studies whenever I can. My goal is for them not to only excel in
sports but also academically.''
"They are like my younger sisters and I want them all to be successful."
She said the team in 2001 failed to play as a team.
"The team had discipline but combination was our problem.
We never shared the bond that the girls have now. We never had that.
The team played in isolation. We played as a team but there were
certain players who were trying to do it individually. We never got to
blend as a team and our training was for a few months.''
"The highlight of the year for us has to be the silver medal win however we need build on this."
She said there are tentative plans for the team to tour Australia next June to play in the State league competition.
"We have contacted them and they are allowing us to play State teams in
one of the legs. We're thinking of joining them for the Brisbane leg.''
"All the State teams will be there. It will be for two weeks. An intensive tour all congested in two weeks,'' Vara said.
"Also the South Pacific challenge will be held in New Zealand next year
and Polynesian teams will be there like Tonga, Samoa and Cook Islands.
We also hope to play there but the real competition is in Australia.
I think it will be great for the girls to play against state teams.''
She said the tours would also be an ideal opportunity for players to attract attention of overseas scouts.
"That is what we're aiming for. We've had some interest. There is
always a possibility that State league teams will sign some players.''
Vara said earlier Suva captain and national team member Claire Delai
was attached to Sydney Lions and then moved to South Korea for another
"It was an attachment. She did not play professionally however there is always a chance for our girls to play at the top level."
"We have players that are being eyed by French coaches and clubs. It is
a matter of time when some will actually go over. Volleyball is played
professionally is France.''
"For us to have them play professionally, we have to take them over and expose them before the scouts.''
"That is our plan for the next four years. For us to get them to go and be exposed so they can be seen and signed.''
Vara has been coaching since she was in her 20's.
"I started with Crusaders club, I was also teaching most of the girls then and I moved to coach Suva.''
She is also president of Crusaders club and the club is perhaps the only in Fiji that has invested in shares.
"We have an investment in Unit Trust of Fiji. We have a dream to build
a clubhouse where the players and their families can interact and spend
time,'' she said.
Vara is teaching at Dudley High School. She attended Adi Cakobau School
(ACS) and has an `in progress masters' in Social Policy and
Administration. She is writing her masters thesis on the deposed
government's affirmative action programme.
"I partly owe what I am today to my mum and the prestigious high school
which was established for Fijian girls - ACS. I was raised in a very
independent environment. I went to boarding school and I learnt to be
competitive whether it is school work or on the field or sports.''
"My thesis is based on the analysis of two social welfare programmes
from the 29 affirmative action programmes in their 50/50 by 2020
`The government had 29 affirmative action programmes in its blueprint
and the social welfare program was not run properly. The programme
needs better monitoring and evaluation. My thesis is based on that. I'm
doing it on a part-time basis.''
"I'm hoping to complete it by 2009. We have to write 50,000 words. It is almost like writing a book."
In 1996 Vara graduated with a bachelor's degree in geography and
tourism and taught at Cathedral Secondary School. In 2004 she completed
her post graduate diploma in social policy and administration. She also
holds a counseling and secondary teaching certificate.
"I also taught at Rewa Secondary for one year."
"I teach geography, history and social science,'' she said. Apart from
classroom teaching I coach students in volleyball and netball.
Vara is married to former Fiji rugby rep Inoke Maraiwai who works as a
business analyst for Quest Ltd. They have two children Titilia, nine
and Jedidiah who is 19 months old.
Inoke is a member of the team that won the Rugby Sevens World Cup in 1997.
The Maraiwai's reside at Pacific Harbour.
"We live in Pacific Harbour. It's a good place to retire to after a
hectic work schedule. I drive to training and school everyday,'' she
"I drive a Honda Accord. Inoke, he drives a Toyota Camry. Honda is my favourite model.''
She said motherhood is special and a challenge.
"I'm fortunate to have a husband who is supporting me in sports. As a
sportsman he understands the commitments and goals I have for the
Vara first played for the national team in 1997, one year after graduating from university.
"I was in trials though but my mother was very strict. She didn't allow
me to participate at national level not until I had graduated from
"I had a mother who was very firm and she said when you make it to the
national team you will need money and a job to pay for your levies,
fares and what not.''
She won bronze medal with the national team on her debut at the
Pagopago Mini South Pacific Games and also played for Fiji at SPG in
Guam where the team finished fourth and called it quits after leading
the Fiji in the 2001 Oceania championships held in Suva.
Her favourite sports personalities are rugby legend Waisale Serevi and Jonny Wilkinson.
"He is a sports icon for most of us. I have always been impressed with
him because he has never taken the limelight away from God. I'm a
Christian too and for you to always openly declare your faith in that
way, it is something.''
"Even though you lose but your faith in God and your team does not
waiver. By still acknowledging god even after a loss, that shows the
passion that Serevi has for Christ," she said. Over the weekend the champion star- studded Suva women's team beat
archrivals Raiwai in the final to win the $500 Vulaca Cup for the third
time in four years.
Another blueprint for success for Vara and the Maraiwais.
Last Modified on 19/12/2007 17:05