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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Louisiana first stop of Wahine's 8,800-mile journey

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Senior Tanja Nikolic offers an insider's perspective on the Wahine's 11-day, four-match road trip.

Advertiser library photo • Sept. 6, 2001

Over 11 days, the University of Hawai'i Wahine will play four volleyball matches in Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. They will travel more than 8,800 miles, but their first destination was most intriguing.

Ruston, home of Louisiana Tech, is located in northern Louisiana, four miles from Grambling State. Both are in Lincoln Parish, an area that has the lowest unemployment rate and one of the most highly educated populaces in the state.

Quality of life is the cornerstone of Ruston's appeal. It is the home of the Louisiana Peach Festival and lies deep in the heart of Sportsman's Paradise. Lakes and acres of tree-covered hills provide ample space for hunting, fishing, mountain biking, wake boarding and many more recreational pursuits — not including volleyball.

Louisiana Tech went 0-16 in the Sun Belt Conference last year, then dived into the far-flung Western Athletic Conference. When the Techsters played No. 12 Hawai'i Saturday, it was the highest ranked opponent they had ever played.

The Wahine, in contrast, dropped a slot in the Top 25 this week, after sweeping Tech. Tonight, their trip continues with a non-conference match at Houston. It ends with WAC matches tomorrow at Rice and Saturday at Tulsa. All will be broadcast live on 1420 AM.

Hawai'i is back in the big city, but its first impression of Ruston remains vivid. Here, in the words of senior Tanja Nikolic — who grew up on the beach in Croatia — is a look at the first few days of a road trip only a WAC team could love.

Friday, Sept. 28

We arrived in Los Angeles early in the morning and all looked like zombies. I couldn't sleep much, so on the three-hour flight to Dallas I was sleeping the whole time. When we arrived at the gates, it was so empty and lonely. Our flights were half empty and security checks very detailed. From Dallas, we flew into Shreveport, but this was not the end. We had to ride 1 hours in four cars, and arrived at Ruston's Ramada Inn Hotel at 4:30 p.m.

We relaxed for an hour and headed to practice. Our coaches don't believe in resting. We were tired, but had enough energy for a fun 1-hour practice. From what we saw of Ruston so far, there is nothing much different or special about it. The campus is very green and nice. After practice, we got dinner from the grocery store. Maja (Gustin) and I bought peaches, apples, pears, grapes, plums and tangerines. I had to eat something light because one fan made us three big boxes of brownies and I was eating them the whole way over.

Saturday, Sept. 29

Wake-up call at 9:30. We relaxed, did some homework and watched TV until 12:45, then left for pre-game practice. After an hour of serving and passing, we met in the coaches' room and Charlie (Wade) passed around a Louisiana Tech scouting report. We talked about their personnel, weaknesses and strengths a short time. At 2:30, the hotel restaurant prepared the food we ordered earlier in the day. Some players ate in their rooms. Ody (Melody Eckmier), Margaret (Vakasausau), Maja and I ate outside on the terrace by the lobby. It was a beautiful day.

All afternoon, Kim's (Willoughby) friends and family were coming to the hotel. We met her mom, the rest of the family and friends. There were more than 30 of them. I wish we played close to my home! Kim changed her way of speech as soon as she got around locals and her family. We were laughing at her.

We arrived at the gym about 6, did our prayer and, of course, danced to "elevate" ourselves. We had great energy. It was very funny when the announcer pronounced our names totally wrong.

We played very well and never let the opponent dictate any of our games. I think it was our shortest match of the year. Afterwards, the announcer apologized to us.

For dinner, we went to the Dawghouse. The locals called it the best sports bar/restaurant. Most of us ordered sandwiches and quesadillas, but Hedder (Ilustre) ordered the gumbo. I tasted it and it was very good. Margaret and I finished first and went to play darts. I won — showed her how Croatians play. Soon, everyone came to us and was trying to shoot darts. One guy told us to "stick to volleyball."

Sunday, Sept. 30

We got up at 11:30. Lazy morning! About 1, Kari (Anderson), Renae (Shigemura), Margaret, Jen (Carey), (Nohea) Tano and I went shopping. On the way back from Monroe, we went for a ride through "downtown" Ruston. All you have is one road and houses, and small stores close to the road. It is very small, in the middle of nowhere.

About 6, we had a team dinner. We all got "The Sunday Special" — all you can eat for $6. My God, we couldn't walk after dinner. We stuffed ourselves with all kinds of food.

We leave tomorrow for Houston. This is going to be a long trip, but fun. It is a great experience to be around this amazing group of people. We are especially excited about (Tuesday) because Dave is taking us to a baseball game (Giants and I forget who else). Barry Bonds might break the home run record. We are super excited to see it. Louisiana was fun, but we are happy that we will be back in the city, and civilization, tomorrow.