Upon first glance of Robyn Ah Mow-Santos at work in her new role, one word comes to mind quickly.
"How about that? A three-time Olympian shagging balls," says University of Hawaii sports media relations director Derek Inouchi.
Ironic, but not shocking. UH has had other big-time athletes work as student assistants. Two-time Super Bowl champion Kurt Gouveia and first-round NFL Draft pick Ashley Lelie did it with the football team.
When Gouveia helped out June Jones’ Warriors a few years ago, technically he was a student manager. So it just looked like the 13-year NFL linebacker was working with Pisa Tinoisamoa on technique. He was actually adjusting his shoulder pads for him. Right?
Recent NCAA legislation addressed some of the absurdity, however, and athletes who return to school to complete their first degree at the institution where they played are allowed to actually coach.
Since Gouveia went to BYU out of Waianae, the rule wouldn’t have changed his status. But it enabled Lelie to tutor UH’s receivers last fall, and it means Ah Mow-Santos will do a lot more than chase down balls this spring with the UH men’s volleyball team.
"Her job title is student coach," says coach Charlie Wade, who was a Wahine assistant when Ah Mow-Santos was an All-American setter at Manoa 15 years ago.
Wade says her presence is a great opportunity for the Warriors, who begin their season tomorrow night, hosting Ball State.
"Robyn brings an incredible level of credibility and professionalism. They get to be around one of the best setters in the history of the sport. She’s never been in-your-face, but when she says something everybody listens. Unlike many coaches, she can quickly get to the crux of what matters … she’ll say that other stuff doesn’t matter, here’s what does."
AH MOW-SANTOS says she was "trying to find a way to finish school," when Wade got in touch with her the day before classes started last fall. Now the McKinley High graduate has just one credit to go for a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
She’s still absorbing nuances of the men’s game, but for the most part volleyball is volleyball. "The fundamentals are the same, but some concepts are different," Ah Mow-Santos says.
Wade says setting strategy is often different in the men’s game; for example, more offense comes from the back row. But, "Tactically what you’re trying to do is the same, get a 1-on-1, isolate."
Ah Mow-Santos, 35, hasn’t retired as a player yet. But the wife and mother of two says she isn’t sure if she’ll audition for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.
HERE’S ANOTHER good rule change by the NCAA: As in women’s volleyball, the first four sets will go to 25 points instead of 30 (the fifth will be to 15).
I’d still rather see all five sets the same. But this is a move in the right direction, as shorter matches lead to better and more focused play.
"It puts a premium on skill development and execution," Wade says. "We want to be even more efficient. One of the worst things you can do is shrink the game for the other team. There’s less make-up time. It gets urgent sooner.
"Also better for the fans," Wade adds. "When it’s 30 points you can hit a lull emotionally."
This is truly a case of less being more. Wade already injected some life into Warriors volleyball in his first season as head coach last year, and things are looking good with the return of four starters from a team that went 19-10. Now, with the promise of exciting matches ending at a decent hour, more families will attend.
The possibility of an autograph from a Wahine legend and Olympian doesn’t hurt, either.