The Miami- Dade area is well known for gang violence, especially within the juvenile community because of the youth’s vulnerability. However, the sport of Volleyball serves as more than entertainment for the community. It serves as a diversion from the harsh realities of Miami’s fast life and a special and safe place for Coach DePaula’s team.
Iraq veteran and Miami native, Mathieu DePaula, returned from war inspired to make a difference within his community and create positive opportunities for the youth. He began coaching in one of North Miami’s toughest areas in 2008 and has been dedicated to coaching inner-city volleyball since his return from the war in Iraq. When asked about what drives his passion he stated it’s for the love of the game and that he “wants to show people that great things and talent comes from the inner city”.
Coach Depaula has not only encouraged his team to be more physically fit, but he has also taught them valuable life lessons through the sport of volleyball, that they can carry with them throughout their colligate journey and adulthood.
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, girls who play sports do better at school, learn the importance of setting goals and strategizing and planning. Through volleyball, the girls have developed a variety of techniques, skills, and self-confidence.
His goal at the beginning of the season was to “ make it to state championships and get [the] girls a college offer”.
And he did just that. The North Miami Lady Pioneers rank second in the district and after their eight-game winning streak, the team continued their journey to the play offs which made them closer to winning this year’s championship game. Coach DePaula lead the team to a historic season. It was the first time in 25 years since the North Miami Pioneers made it to the championships.
This season started off rocky as the team dealt with issues on and off the court. The team lost their first two games to opponents South Dade of Homestead, Florida and Dr. Krop of Miami, Florida. There were even personal team issues that resulted in the removal of some team members. However, with hard work, team bonding experiences, and several pep talks, the team was able to make a complete turn around, Coach DePaula also continued to physically and mentally train the girls to their top peak performance, which lead them to the playoffs.
According to sophomore Raynn Daniel, this season has been a major success for all team members. Some received personal growth while others received college offers.
“This season has been fun but it has also been a learning experience for myself, I got a chance to understand myself more as an athlete and my position as an athlete. Especially getting moved up to the varsity team it definitely taught me that I’m not the best and there are people better than me. Getting moved up taught me to work harder and better to prove myself”, stated Daniel.
“Definitely, this season has not only opened my eyes even more to the world but it even opened up new doors. Receiving an offer from Javaris Christian College &Brevard College is one of the best things that has happened to me so far. I’m extremely proud of how far I have come and I am looking forward to receiving more offers. My mom always told me ‘don’t aspire to be the best on the team, aspire to be the best for the team’ and that quote will always stay with me because it means so much. As our season comes to an end, I have learned so much about myself on and off the court, It’s been a bumpy ride but a great one! And it’s exciting to know that the journey really just begun”, stated Pierre who is a Junior on the team.
So far 27 colleges have reached out to the team’s seniors. No one is happier about that than Senior, Adlene Jideofor, who is a middle/ outside hitter on the team. This season she was named All- Dade Honorable Mention and GMAC runner up of 2019. It has been her dream to play Collegiate volleyball since middle school. She has received an offer from SouthWestern College but has yet to make a decision.
“This season compared to last season was more cohesive, we were more together than we have ever been. This season overall went very well even though I was a little rocky, in the beginning, I still overcame and showed out. Coach Matt has always pushed me to be better. He has taught me different things that I have used to help me get to where I am now”.
She continued by saying, “Every moment I have spent with this team is my favorite memory. We had nothing but laughs and fun all year.”
To prepare for the week of playoffs, the team practiced three to four hours a day and reviewed previous game films to prepare for the upcoming playoff games. The team won their game against Miami Coral Park. Unfortunately, the varsity team lost to their opponent ‘Nova’ of Dave Florida by a score of 3-0 during their last play off match. They ended their season 14-5, which has been their best season yet. With the conclusion of this season, Coach Mathieu DePaula has decided to reenlist in the Army to serve his country during another tour.
Although everyone’s lives seem to be taking them in different positive directions, one thing for sure is that Coach DePaula will hold a special place in each player’s heart as a father figure and as a huge motivator on and off the court. Effective coaching runs deeper than the team’s stats, it also revolves around reaching each athlete on an individual level and Coach DePaula has definitely accomplished that.