Wahine open practice without Kahumoku
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
In the latest episode of "As the Wahine Turn," All-American Lily Kahumoku reconsidered her decision to take this year off.
And yesterday, the University of Hawai'i opened volleyball practice with a coaching staff ecstatic to see a dozen players after an offseason of off-court turmoil.
Last week, Kahumoku told UH coaches she would red-shirt this season and stay in Alabama with her family "for personal reasons." It was a subject she first broached with them six months ago.
Monday, Kahumoku told associate coach Charlie Wade she might want to come back. Tuesday, she told head coach Dave Shoji "she had made her decision, and even though she had second thoughts about it, she intends to go through with her decision."
Shoji is leaving the door open for Kahumoku, in deference to her personal turmoil and her stature as one of the best players in the country. But now time and conditioning are part of the complicated equation, and distraction is a distinct possibility.
"I'm going forward assuming that she's not here," Shoji said. "I can't do anything else."
Shoji couldn't wait to get in the gym yesterday, and neither could his players.
Kahumoku's saga comes after the loss of all-conference middle Veronica Lima (returned to Brazil) and national high school player of the year Jennifer Saleaumua (not yet eligible academically). The dozen who did show up yesterday were adamant about rising above the confusion, and creating their own unique look.
"A lot of things happened," said sophomore Maja Gustin, the WAC's preseason player of the year. "We need to be strong enough to just focus on volleyball, no matter who is with us and who is not. Just focus on what we have here, because I think we have something huge."
Figuratively, not literally. Without Lima, Kahumoku and Jessica Sudduth, last year's senior captain, the Wahine have lost their Towering Inferno stature. This team is much quicker and capable as Gustin says "of more tricks."
It has to be.
"Obviously, we don't have the Heather Bowns or Lily Kahumokus," setter Margaret Vakasausau said. "We have a lot of great players who need to mold and mesh. It's going to force us to be a lot quicker. The offense is going to have to quicken up. We cannot afford to have the high ball, four-set anymore."
To run a quicker offense, Hawai'i will have to pass better despite losing its premier passers Sudduth and Lima. The Wahine diggers their one deep position will have to dig deeper because three intimidating blockers are gone.
Hawai'i's hitters will have to be capable of hitting low sets, on short notice, all across the net. Vakasausau and Jennifer Carey will have many more setting options, and much less time to choose them.
And the Wahine have to make it work before they open against defending NCAA champion Nebraska on Aug. 24.
No problem, according to Tanja Nikolic, Hawai'i's only senior.
"This year is going to be a little different," Nikolic said. "We have to show how we can put everything together. I actually think that was part of the problem before. We had too much stars and they didn't take us all the way. I think talent is like 5 percent of the game, everything else is hard work. I think we have a great crew."
But do they have a foreman? Gustin has a surprising answer
"Lily was a good leader, she was awesome," Gustin said. " In Slovenia, I was a leader. But I came here and different language, different land, different people, different habits, different mentality. It's hard to be a leader just like that.
"Sometimes we need to ask ourselves what is a leader. Is it someone who talks a lot? Actually we have different leaders. Maggie is good at talking and she works hard. Kim (Willoughby) is a good leader in her way, Tanja is a leader in hers. I can lead in mine. Every single player can bring something."
Everyone will have to.