Seniors Gabriella Matautia and Elyse Burkert have a combined total of 2,026 kills during the past three-and-a-half seasons, a number that will be tough for another duo to surpass.
Mautatia, a native of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, and Burkert, from Richardson, Texas, come from different backgrounds – but, the two players have a great relationship on and off the court that started during their freshman year in 2010.
“Even from freshman year we always talked about the future of the program,” Matautia said. “We always were able to understand each other really well.”
“Freshman year was a whole different vibe and atmosphere,” Burkert said. “I definitely enjoyed having [Matautia] with me because she understood the challenges of being on the court as a freshman.”
In addition to the aforementioned number of kills, Burkert and Matautia have compiled 1,542 digs. Last season, Matautia was named to the Atlantic 10 Conference first team and Burkert won conference player of the week twice. They each averaged around four kills per set last season and Matautia led the conference in aces with 41.
Matautia and Burkert have also excelled off the court. Both have earned Temple Directors Honor Roll in each of their first three seasons.
“We enjoy our time on the court, but we both get along well because we are very academically driven,” Matautia said.
“They are where they are in their life and their volleyball career because of their exceptional work ethic,” coach Bakeer Ganes said. “They have obtained leadership skills throughout their time at Temple. Both of them are hardworking and it doesn’t just reflect on the volleyball court but also in their academics. They are outstanding students.”
Through the years, Matautia and Burkert have many memories together, but there are a few that stick out to them.
“This one time at Rhode Island, we were listening to some kind of dubstep music and everyone else was just sitting there quietly, and me and [Burkert] were just going crazy,” Matautia said. “We just want to enjoy our time.”
“A memory that sticks out to me is a bad one, actually,” Burkert said. “It’s when I gave [Matautia] a concussion freshman year in our first game that was on TV. We just collided. I felt terrible.”
The team has gone through many changes while Matautia and Burkert have been playing at Temple. From a new coach, to a new conference, to a constant stream of new players, things are always changing for them.
“The team has become more of a unit,” Matautia said. “From freshman year, we have really progressed to one big group and not little groups. I think that has really helped with our team chemistry. We have no drama issues, which is key.”
“I think we have a better attitude and we are more mature through the years,” Burkert said. “Just simply how we think about volleyball allows us to perform at a higher level. We are so determined it pushes us to want to do good.”
“While they have been here, we have gone through a drastic change in the setup of the team, the progression we have made in the last three years is exceptional,” Ganes said. “For me as the coach, it has been a big change and to have [Matautia] and [Burkert] on the roster makes those progressions so much easier.”
Matautia and Burkert are two of only three seniors on this year’s roster, so their role has changed this year to being leaders.
“I think all upperclassmen have to take a leadership role,” Matautia said. “We have the new girls coming in and you want them to continue to have this as such a great program. You want them to get the hang of it and know how things work.”
Matautia and Burkert have left a mark at Temple both on and off the court. Ganes said when the time comes, it will be tough to say goodbye but he is appreciative of the individuals they have become.
“It’s been really fun to see how they have evolved as players, but even more as a person on and off the court,” Ganes said. “It’s the most important thing to see them come in more or less as a teenager and then leave the program as a young adult with a better skill set to survive in life.”
“I am going to miss them more as people then as volleyball players,” Ganes added. “Players, just like coaches, are replaceable, but what sticks with you are the people, the person and the character that they represent. It will be tough to see them go.”
Separated by an ocean, Matautia and Burkert will still aim to remain close.
“I’m trying to visit [Matautia] in Hawaii sometime this summer,” Burkert said. “I see us being lifelong friends. Volleyball is just one part of it, we are really close. It’s been so much fun because there’s a lot more than just volleyball for us.”
“We were talking about the things we wanted to do career-wise,” Mautatia said. “She wants to be a dentist and I want to be a physical therapist. I was like, ‘Hey, you can clean my teeth if I can help you rehab.’ Even though we aren’t from the same area, we will always have this experience and we will always remain friends.”
Rich Fogel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@RBFogel26.