by ACAC Sports Writer Curtis J. Phillips
It was only a few years ago that Tyler Latu'ila was sizing people up on a daily basis.
His goal was... If the shoe fits, wear it.
A salesman and with an offer for partnership in a Sydney, Australia retail shoe store with possible future ownership; Latu'ila recalls, "It was actually a good job and I worked with people I liked and I enjoyed myself. I was making good money but I was drifting away from my dream of playing high-calibre volleyball in North America."
Latu'ila had already been in the intentional volleyball spotlight, having been involved for two years with New Zealand's National Junior and Youth teams.
"There was no funding for us to get together on a regular basis as we were from all over New Zealand," said Latu'ila, who was born in Australia but moved to New Zealand when he was nine years-old. "So our team just got together before tournaments and practiced a few times."
The two trips that stick out for Latu'ila are one to Australia and the other to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
"We played Australia in three matches and they stanked us the first two 3-0. In the last match we won 3-4 and that was awesome. The Australians have a fulltime program and they are big boys and have way more experience. It was a big win.
"We were in (Republic of the Union of Myanmar) for the Southeast Asian Championships and we were treated like celebrities as we were the only non Asian team there. We didn't do well but it was an experience and it was amazing as we were playing in front of a couple of thousand people every game."
For his first year of international competition, Latu'ila played middle, which at 6-foot-2, "made me probably the shortest middle in international volleyball", before switching over to left side hitter.
His passion for volleyball followed him to Australia during his shoes salesman days.
"I was playing some beach volleyball and indoor volleyball for a state team playing in the Australian Volleyball League. One day I was talking with a friend and I told her of my dream of playing in North America. She said, "Why not do it now? You are only young for so long and you can get a job later in life."
"She planted the seed back in my head."
Before you could say, "Excuse me Sir? Do you have that shoe in white?" Latu'ila was on a plane bound for Calgary to become a student/athlete with the SAIT Trojans.
Four years later, he can now say that he has played on an Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) championship team, the Trojans winning the men's volleyball title in 2017-2018, while also maturing on-and-off the court.
"I've grown a lot as person in general," admits Latu'ila, 25, who is enrolled in Bachelor of Business Administration. "Meeting so many people and learning so many different things. I have also become a lot more patient playing volleyball, although I am still an intense player. But I have learned to slow it down a bit and control my emotions."
"It's been character building. Every year I have taken five classes each semester while working two jobs to get through. Plus games and practices, you would think it would stress me out but I don't have the time to stress."
With a vertical touch of 10-feet-11 inches, Latu'ila, said that following graduation he would, "Like to go play in Europe and give that a try for a year or two., I am obsessed with volleyball and I love the sport so much, that I will always want to be part of it. I am also considering doing a Masters in coaching or even with my business background, something associated with volleyball."
After paying his rookie dues by riding the pine in 2015-2016, Latu'ila appeared in 84 sets in 2016-2017 with 189 kills, 108 digs, 23 blocks and 16 service aces.
Last year due to injuries, he managed to get into only 40 sets for 88 kills.
"Last season in the home opener I landed on a ball during warm-ups and broke my right foot and had to sit out the first semester," recalls Latu'ila, who at the halfway mark of the 2018-2019 ACAC regular season is second on the Trojans in kills with 130 and first in service aces with 21.
"Then during the second last game of the season, I shattered my left pinky (fifth digit) on a block. The doctors wanted to put a pin in it but I thought I was smarter than the doctors and did not get surgery, so I still played at (ACAC and Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association) championships.
"I can't bend it full now but I got a provincial title out of it, so I am not complaining."
Latu'ila by the way wears size 14 shoes.