Ginger Long’s devotion to volleyball may draw some quizzical looks from her peers.
"I love everything about it. It’s fun," said Long. "People think I’m crazy for always volleyball, volleyball. That’s my life. It keeps me busy, it keeps me in shape."
Her unwavering devotion to the sport has cast her in a pursuit to learn and improve, far and away from her Kamehameha Schools-Maui campus. Being chosen last year as the Maui Interscholastic League Division I Player of the Year was a recognition to her talent and wonder as an outside hitter. Already at the peak of her league, the 5-foot-10 senior is back this season, with an improved game and confidence.
Coach Bala Spencer said her game elevates his team’s level of play. Long hopes to lead the Warriors to a state title. That would be a phenomenal finish to conclude her high school career and a great prelude to her future at the University of Hawaii.
"Her confidence has gotten much better; her shot, control, off-speed shot, passing has gotten much better," Spencer said. "She just worked a lot harder in the offseason to improve her entire game. It wasn’t just working hard on one part of her game. She’s made huge, huge improvements, and she was already pretty good before. So it’s impressive that she knows that she has to keep working hard."
Long spent her summer playing volleyball on the road, whether it was at UH’s camp or in Wisconsin training with the U.S. Junior Continental Team that later competed in the USA Volleyball High Performance Championships. Her travels taught her to "find the little things to make my playing better."
"It was really good. I met a lot of girls up there (Wisconsin)," Long said. "The competition was very high. These were top-notch players. It was great to compete against them."
Long helped the Warriors finish seventh in the 16-team Ann Kang Invitational two weeks ago at ‘Iolani. Kamehameha-Maui finished the three-day tournament with a 4-4 record, facing some of the toughest competition it will see all season. Fellow MIL team Molokai, with future UH basketball and volleyball player Kalei Adolpho, won the silver bracket to finish fifth, the highest of any local team. Molokai competes in MIL Division II and will not face Kamehameha-Maui during the regular season.
"Our last matches against Los Alamitos and Newport Harbor, our middles never seen plays like that, so it’s good for them to see it because they’ll want to run it themselves," Spencer said of playing against those California teams. "We’ll never see that on Maui. Everybody makes mistakes, but it helps us understand how to adjust. If we can keep playing with these teams like Newport, we’ll be able to adjust a lot easier as the season progresses."
There’s more to Long than being the go-to outside hitter on the team. Spencer said the play of Long and senior setter Kaulana Ane elevates the entire team.
"She knows that one of her roles is not just to be a great player and leave. She knows deep in her heart she needs to be a great player by leading by example, by leading the other girls to making them better, helping them out," Spencer said. "So when she does leave, our strong team still continues."
By playing at UH next season, Long has in a sense reached a full circle in her volleyball career. She grew up playing soccer before watching UH volleyball matches on TV. Her fascination has become devotion.
"I was big into soccer growing up," Long said. "In Hawaii you always watch UH sports. Volleyball was the thing that was always on at home. We’d always watch volleyball and I was like, ‘Wow, Mom, I really want to try this. It looks fun.’ It started in sixth, seventh grade and it just hasn’t stopped there. I realized volleyball was my gateway into college."