A difference maker, a complete player, one of the best setters the program has ever seen – those are just some of the comments one hears when the name Candace Saleaumua comes up among Grizzly Volleyball fans.
A last-minute addition to the 2004 Grizzly squad, the 5-foot, 8-inch standout from National City, Calif., who had led her Bonita Vista High School team to a state championship and a perfect 40-0 season during her four-year career there, made an immediate impact on the Grizzly Volleyball program and continued the tradition of excellence firmly established by those who came before her.
"Candace was a true difference maker," former Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Trish Kissiar-Knight said. "She was a great athlete who knew the game. She did so much for our program."
Knight found Saleaumua at the junior national volleyball championships in July of 2004. "She was playing at the first court I walked up to," Knight recalled. "I found out she was still available, and I watched every match she played. She was phenomenal." Knight quickly brought Saleaumua in for a visit following the tournament, and the rest, as they say, is history.
"It didn't take long watching her to see that she was something special as a player," said current Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann, who was the team's assistant coach at the time. "Her ability to run an offense set her apart from a lot of setters, especially her ability to run the middle. If the pass was anywhere within 10 feet of the net, she could make the middle an option anywhere along the net. She made our hitters better because they were forced to be an option even when it seemed like they weren't."
Saleaumua quickly made her presence known as a freshman. She helped lead the Grizzlies to a first place finish in the Salt Lake Community College Invitational at Salt Lake City, Utah, the team's first outing of the season, and earned all-tournament team honors. Shortly after, the team earned its first ever No. 1 ranking from the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).
That first tournament is special to Saleaumua. "This moment stands out to me because my father was there to watch me play and win my first college tournament," she said.
Her all-tournament team honor in Salt Lake City was the first of many she earned during her two seasons as a Grizzly. She helped guide the team to a combined 84-16 record in 2004-05, win two NJCAA Region 16 Championships and place seventh and third, respectively, in the 2004 and 2005 NJCAA Division I Women's National Volleyball Championship Tournaments.
Individually, she earned first-team All-Region 16 team honors both seasons, second-team NJCAA All-American honors in 2004, first-team NJCAA All-American honors in 2005, and first-team American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-American honors in 2004 and 2005. She also was an all-tournament honoree at the 2005 NJCAA national tournament.
"Candace was so versatile," Wiedemann said. "She not only was a great setter, she was a fantastic defensive player. Her freshman year, she was third on the team with 586 digs, and that team was one of the best defensive teams we have ever had in the 20-year history of Grizzly Volleyball.
"From her freshman to sophomore year, she improved on her efficiency as an offensive player, which made her and the team more effective," Wiedemann added. "She gave us so much balance offensively that it was hard to key on anyone specifically. Candace set an offense in which you had to honor every attacker because you never knew where the ball was going."
By the time Saleaumua left the Grizzlies, she was ranked second in career assists with 3,326; fifth in career attacking percentage among outside/right side attackers at .310; sixth in career service aces with 98; ninth in career attacking percentage among all attackers at .310; ninth in career digs with 895; and ninth in points earned with 736. She remains second in career assists, sixth in career services aces, and ninth in career attacking percentage among outside/right side attackers.
"Candace was a huge part of our continued success," Wiedemann said. "She was the type of player who made you stop and watch because she was that good. Her talent wasn't only being a good player, but making others on her team better. She was a big part of us getting back to the final four at nationals, and when you look at where you want to be as a team at the beginning of the year, that's toward the top of the list. She gave us the ability to get there.
"She also played with an attitude that her teammates loved and her opponents hated," Wiedemann continued. "She was such a deceptive setter, great defensive player and efficient offensive player that she made everything look easy!"
Saleaumua transferred to Tennessee State University in Nashville where she helped lead the Tigers to an Ohio Valley Conference championship in 2007 and its first appearance at the NCAA tournament. In 2008, she was named team MVP and first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference. She graduated in summer 2009 with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and is currently living in San Diego, Calif., where she is coaching the girls' and boys' volleyball teams at Mater Dei Catholic High School. She also is coaching coordinator for the Insanity Volleyball Club team and head coach of its 16 and under girls team.
Saleaumua has very fond memories of her time as a Grizzly. "Playing in West Plains' own civic center for the NJCAA national tournament were the best times and most memorable matches I played as a Lady Grizzly," Saleaumua said. "The Grizzly fans are what I miss the most about playing at Missouri State-West Plains. We had, by far, the best fan support in junior college volleyball. Regardless if we won or lost, they were always there to cheer us on, so I would like to say thank you to the past and present Grizzly fans for their love, support and dedication to the Grizzly athletes. I am a fan of the Grizzly fans!"