Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Rainbow Wahine's fresh faces

The Hawaii volleyball team has seven freshmen taking summer classes and preparing for the season

By Ann Miller


When Rainbow Wahine volleyball officially begins in two weeks, Hawaii could field a freshman team, including a libero or four. Seven new faces are now taking summer classes at the University of Hawaii.

It is safe to say all are distracted. Huge changes are going on in their lives, particularly the four recruits who recently arrived on Oahu. A routine day now consists of weight training at 6:30 a.m., two classes, lunch, two hours of study hall, sprints and wondering what they got themselves into.

Where they fit in is now a compelling question, along with why it rains so much in Manoa and how they can best contribute physically and emotionally this year. They also broach topics such as newfound independence, responsibility and homesickness.

Southern Californians Jane Croson and Monica Stauber are trying to deal with the slower pace of Hawaii's laid-back lifestyle. Molokai's Kalei Adolpho and Makawao's Ginger Long face a more immediate challenge.

"For me it's just the opposite," Adolpho pipes up. "They all say it's so much slower here, but Molokai is super slow."

These Wahine are diverse, by almost any definition.

The four recent arrivals share some 15 nationalities and all have Hawaiian, German and Japanese blood — and family on Oahu. Walk-ons Lizzie Blake (Kahuku) and Kayla Kawamura (Hawaii Baptist), like Adolpho and Long, have loaded up on All-State honors here. Croson, one of this year's premier recruits nationally, and Stauber come from great club programs.

Jade Vorster, a high school salutatorian from Florida, is 6 feet 4 and has been enrolled at UH since January. She can at least tell her new teammates how huge the transition will be.

UH coach Dave Shoji won't even hazard a guess.

"I really don't know where they are emotionally right now," he says. "Summer is a difficult time for them. They're trying to adjust to Hawaii, adjust to school. They've never worked out as hard as they've been working out on our strength program. I ask them every day how they are and they seem to be OK, but I really don't know what's going on inside."

Initial answers will come at the first practice Aug. 9.

"Players can stay the same over the summer or get better," he says. "If they backslide it hurts their chances to contribute right away."

All five recruits have a gift, from Vorster's big block to the athleticism that gives the relatively small Long a chance to help while she works on her strength.

Stauber's sweet hands have Shoji contemplating a 6-2 offense that would utilize his wealth of hitters and rotate first-year starters at setter. Sophomore Mita Uiato is Dani Mafua's heir apparent, but Stauber and Blake — whose mother Bonnie Lelepali was an All-American setter for Brigham Young-Hawaii — are right there.

Blake, Kawamura, Stauber — a libero with her club team — and Long are also part of a mob charged with improving ballhandling and replacing graduated libero Elizabeth Ka‘aihue.

Adolpho and Croson are featured in the front row. Adolpho is on a basketball scholarship and Croson is the first American to win a junior international beach volleyball championship and has been MVP of pretty much every team she ever played on. But Shoji has an interesting take on how the two might contribute.

"Kalei Adolpho is the most advanced physically of all the people coming in," he says. "Her athleticism is phenomenal. She's very raw so that could hold her back, but she is the most athletic of the whole bunch, no question. She can do some amazing things. She really doesn't know what she's doing yet, but when she figures it out she will be huge."

There will likely be redshirts, though Shoji leaves the final decision to players, after "painting a picture."

Shoji hopes to have a temporary replacement for associate coach Kari Ambrozich the first day of practice. He also needs a team manager, a position paid by tuition waiver. Ambrozich announced her resignation Friday to become an academic advisor at UH. She has been with Shoji for 14 of his 36 years, not counting four as a player.

"I understand exactly what she is trying to do," Shoji said. "She was concerned that when I leave she won't have job security, which is true. But I told her I will and would have strongly recommended to a new coach that they hire Kari and make the transition a lot easier. Whoever is coach. She's a really good coach and administrator and I think she could help any kind of coach."

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