If good things come in small packages, then the transfer of Kyra Hanawahine from Oregon has been one of the biggest gifts for Hawaii this volleyball season.
At 5-foot-2, she is about 3 inches shorter than the graduating Rika Okino, next year’s goal being to don the contrasting libero jersey Okino now wears. But “now” is the optimum word, and Hanawahine is focused on what she can do to extend the Rainbow Wahine’s season beyond this week’s NCAA tournament play at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Her role as defensive/serving specialist often has been brief, staying in the back court sometimes for only as long as she holds serve. That’s the reality and she’s owned it, just like her signature headband worn only when on the court.
“It is a new role for me to adjust to, coming in and out, but I try to do my best in as much time on the court that I have,” the two-time All-State player at Kamehameha said. “I think there’s a style of play that players from Hawaii grow up with, where a lot of girls are smaller, and you play with a chip on your shoulder.
“Everyone tries to score on you when you’re the libero, so the attitude is to let nothing hit the floor. There’s a grind mind-set, get tough and get dirty. It’s my job.”
She’s been efficient and effective, with her “nice little flat serve,” as Hawaii coach Robyn Ah Mow calls it, resulting in 12 aces. Hanawahine also had every back-row specialist’s dream against UC Irvine on Oct. 4: a dig-kill.
“She’s very energetic, works hard and goes all out in practice,” Ah Mow said. “Her defense is ridiculous, her passing has gotten way better since spring. The changes she’s made from spring to now are big.”
Hanawahine is one of three players who transferred from an Oregon team that made it to the elite eight last season. She and junior hitter Jolie Rasmussen came in for spring semester and were joined by junior hitter Brooke Van Sickle during the summer.
Although the three were roommates at Oregon, they made their decisions to play for Hawaii independently.
“It was super crazy, the fact that we would all end up in the same spot” said Hanawahine, who had a combined 12 digs when Oregon defeated Hawaii twice last season. “I feel like everything is meant to be, and now we get to make more memories together.
“For me, it was the choice to come home and play in front of family and friends. This season is exactly what I was expecting. The way we were prepping in spring, the new players coming in and working hard … everyone felt it was going to be a great season. The hard work is paying off.”
It has added up to No. 18 Hawaii being seeded 12th in the NCAA tournament and hosting the opening two rounds for the first time since 2013. The Wahine also have something in common with that 2013 team — experiencing a sold-out arena.
Tickets sales remained brisk through Thursday with some 3,000 two-day packages remaining. Single-session tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. today.
“That would be awesome if we had another sellout,” Hanawahine said. “The support we get is so amazing, so helpful for us. It was a great experience going away, but I’m so happy that I’m part of this team that is bringing the culture of Hawaii volleyball back.
“Being able to represent Hawaii in the sport I love is super special. I’m representing something bigger than myself.”
Junior middle Sky Williams said of Hanawahine, “I think it’s awesome how she goes out there and produces when we need her. It’s crazy because the coaches don’t tell her she’s going to play. All of a sudden they’ll say, ‘Kyra, you’re in’ and she’ll go out and (serve) an ace. How do you do that?
“She’s such a bundle of energy, is so uplifting.”
Van Sickle added, “She adds such a big presence to our team. She’s just one of those players who comes in every day and gives it her all.”
Or as Hanawahine says, playing as if there is no tomorrow. It’s the reality in the one-loss-and-done NCAA tournament.
“We can’t take anyone lightly,” Hanawahine said as Hawaii prepared for today’s opponent, Northern Colorado. “It’s like we’re playing in the championship game every night from here on out.”
Rasmussen, out since spraining her ankle against West Virginia on Sept. 12, continues to be cleared to participate in practice on a limited basis. Whether she is cleared to fully participate this week is a day-to-day decision. She’s missed the past 20 matches but has the team’s highest kill average (3.43 per set).
NCAA WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL
At Stan Sheriff Center
>> Today — first round No. 20 San Diego (24-5) vs. No. 23 Washington State (23-9), 4:30 p.m. Northern Colorado (26-7) at No. 18 Hawaii (24-3), 7 p.m.
>> Saturday — second round Friday’s winners, 7 p.m.
>> TV: Spectrum Sports (Hawaii matches only)
>> Radio: 1420-AM/92.7-FM (Hawaii matches only)
>> Online stream: BigWest.tv (All matches)
>> Single-session tickets: On sale today, 9 a.m.