POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 5, 2010
Rainbow Wahine volleyball has never seen anyone quite like Sista Palakiko-Beazley since she played on the 1982 and '83 national championship teams. That didn't stop the NCAA from cloning her position.
Don't look for Palakiko in tonight's alumnae game, which will be followed by a 7 p.m. hometown clash between fourth-ranked Hawaii and Division II Hawaii Pacific. She showed up at the alumnae practice Wednesday night and ... "Big mistake," said Palakiko, who woke yesterday with a very sore right knee.
The 1979 Waianae High graduate covered a lot of court with relatively little pain 30 years ago. Before the word libero became a familiar volleyball term it was Palakiko, a 5-foot-7 middle blocker in high school, who came in for All-American Deitre Collins in the back row. Palakiko was incredibly quick and could pass pretty much anything, earning a scholarship immediately after her redshirt season (1979).
"My husband always tells me, 'Look what you started,'" Palakiko says. "Now you've got a position and can make first team. I never really thought of it. He said 'It opens doors for all these little short girls. You don't have to be 6 feet to play for the No. 1 team and you started all that.' I said, 'Yeah, you are right.'"
WAHINE VOLLEYBALLNo. 4 Hawaii (22-1) vs. Hawaii Pacific (17-5)
» When: 7 tonight
She came to Manoa on the College Opportunities Program, designed to get isle freshmen who might not otherwise qualify into UH. She vaguely remembers a tryout in front of UH coach Dave Shoji and then-assistant Alan Kang. Shoji vaguely remembers that he knew her brother was former Rainbow football player Nate Fletcher, and could see the athleticism that ran rampant in the family.
"She had lots of athletic ability, a really fast-twitch kind of athlete," Shoji recalls. "She would have been under-sized at outside hitter, but she was perfect for the back row."
Palakiko matured into one of the seven spectacular seniors -- Collins, Kris and Kori Pulaski, Joyce Ka'apuni, Missy Yomes and Marcie Wurts were the others -- who would leave the Wahine with back-to-back titles. During her redshirt year, the Wahine won their first national title. Palakiko's husband, former Rainbow football player Michael Beazley, insists his wife is actually a three-time national champion.
The two started dating when he was a sophomore and she was a junior at Waianae. She won every trophy at her senior awards banquet, including outstanding athlete. She brought all that and a certain swagger to UH. Shoji will forever be grateful.
"She blended in really well, kind of gave the team the local flavor," he said. "Coming from Waianae, it was just great for the team, having her around. She took the mainland girls under her wing. She was really good for the team. She had been around ... that was good for us."
Palakiko had, and still has, a rare charm that is part tita and always engaging. It has served her well professionally. She rose to become athletic director for the Boys & Girls Club in Waianae, worked as a recreational specialist at Halawa Correctional Center and then became a social worker. She has been a parole officer the past decade.
"She has a way about her that people like her," Shoji says. "She's in a perfect line of work. She's got to deal with people and I can't think of anybody who doesn't like her. She's got a little attitude, but it's a good thing. She doesn't take any lip from anybody, but she does it in a friendly way."
That core group from 1982 and '83, which was inducted into the UH Sports Circle of Honor in 1997, remains close though they rarely see each other. Palakiko sees Lee Ann (Pestana) Satele most. She and Collins, now the San Diego State coach, were inseparable here and are still in constant touch.
A few years ago the team got together for a weekend in Waikiki. The memories are always remarkable for a group who shared immense respect.
"It was an awesome time back then ... just hard work together, no balls hit the floor," Palakiko says. "We had such a strong team and worked hard together. You need teamwork and we were so determined."
Every Christmas her COP class, who graduated from all different Hawaii high schools, gets together. So do the only two former Wahine players from Waianae -- Sista and sister Thia, who spent a year at Manoa before transferring to UH-Hilo and winning a D-II national title.
The Wahine won their fourth, and last, title in 1987. Palakiko, who still watches most matches, is waiting, not so patiently.
"To me, every year they seem to be a good team when they are in the WAC," she says. "When they play bigger schools they have a harder time. I hope this year they pull through. Come on, we're due for another banner ... '87, that's awhile."
» Players who have committed to show up for tonight's alumnae game include Mary Robins, Terry Malterre, Beth McLachlin, Jayme Lee, Raeceen Woolford, Heidi and Hedder Ilustre, Toni Nishida-Chock and Diana McInerny McKibbin.
» For the second straight year, Wahine All-American Kanani Danielson is on the Academic All-District 8 second team. The reigning WAC player of the year ranks 12th nationally in kills (4.53 a set). To be eligible for the all-academic team, players must be starters or "important reserves" with a cumulative GPA of 3.30 or better.