POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 3, 2011
Hawaii's 2011 Rainbow Wahine volleyball season doesn't start until Aug. 26, but the team begins to take shape in a month at summer school in Manoa.
New and returning players will be studying, in class, on the beach, in the gym and weight room.
One new face is already recognizable in volleyball's world. Jane Croson's smile was featured in "Faces in the Crowd" last fall in Sports Illustrated's NFL Preview issue. Her triple gold-medal summer exploits were detailed next to those of Maui golfer Cassy Isagawa, who had captured the Junior PGA Championship.
Croson, a freshman from Lakewood, Calif., won gold at the NORCECA Women's Junior Continental Championship and USA Volleyball Junior National Championships last summer. She was MVP at NORCECA, then made history with Summer Ross as the first U.S. team to win a FIVB Youth (19-under) Beach World Championship.
"I want to make it to the Olympics someday," Croson says. "I prefer outdoors, but volleyball is volleyball. It's fun."
This summer, Croson chose paradise over the bright gold lights of USA Volleyball.
She turned down another shot at international fame indoors at Peru and on the sand in Croatia to enroll in summer school at the request of UH coach Dave Shoji. She will be here, where her mother Lila has family, soon after Junior Olympics ends.
Croson is one of the most anticipated recruits in Hawaii's four-national-championship history. She is said to possess the game-changing skills of All-American hitters of Wahine teams past, such as Teee Williams, Kim Willoughby, Lily Kahumoku and Kanani Danielson, her teammate this year.
Asked what sets Croson apart, Shoji speaks in terms of decibels.
"She has a presence about herself," he says. "You first notice she just hits the ball way different than anybody else — the noise. You can hear the difference between how she hits the ball and someone else. A lot of times it's the way the ball hits the ground too. You can tell it's Jane."
Croson's club coach, Sports Shack founder Tim Jensen, also talks her up. The Pepperdine assistant will be sitting on the opposing bench when the Waves roll through the Stan Sheriff Center Sept. 16-17. His description starts with Croson's astonishing armspeed.
"It is that fast," he insists. "The velocity she creates with that armspeed …and she has this gift where there is not too much fear out there, if any. She can hit the ball so hard at such precise angles. It's all those things combined, along with the fact she is smart as heck when it comes to mixing up shots.
"I see her indoors and on the beach at the Olympics. Good Lord."
Jensen also believes Croson's defensive skills are underrated, but admits the transition to college's relentless demands will take time.
Croson was teammates with Wahine Emily Hartong at Los Alamitos High in 2009. It turned out to be the last high school season for both. Hartong graduated to become the 2010 Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year. Croson had that incredible summer, then missed her high school season because of a breach in "school rules."
She spent the time training with an all-star team that traveled to Samoa. Croson's focus since committing to Hawaii has been diverse. She says she has worked on her maturity and leadership, and passing and attacking. She is preparing for a gym full of new teammates and a much more soft-spoken style of coach. Her initial goal is rudimentary.
"I want to start, but I know I have to work really hard and earn the position," says Croson, a Volleyball Magazine All-American who had more than 1,000 kills in her abbreviated high school career and was the Long Beach Press-Telegram Player of the Year as a sophomore and junior. "It would really be nice to play."
Hartong has no doubt her former teammate, and club opponent, will make a "big impact," if not immediately then soon after.
Jensen is already tinkering with a new passing formation in his head, for when he sees Croson's heated jump serve in September.
"There's not a question she will start," says the man who has known Croson the past six years. "I know Dave's roster and I know what a great player Jane is and how badly she wants it. I gave them five days off practice last week and her tweets were, ‘I'm at the gym,' again and again."
Jensen sensed early that much of Hawaii's lure for Croson was its unique character.
"Jane will bring that ohana part with her," the coach says. "She has that in her soul. …People who don't get to play against Hawaii, or coach there, don't understand how important volleyball is to all of you out there. She does.
"I think Hawaii is perfect for what Jane needs at this stage of her life. They will embrace her. She loves to play volleyball and make people happy — fans, teammates, coaches. She will be proud to play in front of the Hawaii fans."
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