BYUH teams up for success
By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
It may not have been the kind of frenzied homecoming the national champion University of Hawai'i men's volleyball team received last week at the airport.
But the Brigham Young University-Hawai'i tennis teams fully appreciated all 15 people who showed up Tuesday afternoon, with armfuls of lei and a huge banner that read, "Congratulations BYUH Tennis Teams!"
What they achieved becoming the first NCAA II school to boast national championships in men's and women's tennis in the same year was reward enough.
"This is something they will look back on their entire life and smile," said BYUH head coach David Porter.
The players didn't have to wait to look back fondly and smile. As soon as they entered baggage claim, their excitement was obvious and contagious.
"I'm so happy, this is such a good feeling," said top-ranked singles player Jan Krejci from Prague, smiling more than usual. "It's like we won a war."
Indeed, the Seasider men battled their way toward the national title, rallying against both Hawai'i Pacific in the quarterfinals and second-ranked Drury, 5-4, in the championship.
It was a title game for the books. Down 2-1 after doubles play, BYUH had to overcome an unexpected deficit. And it came down to the last match between the No. 5 singles players. With all eyes focused on the final match, BYUH's Daouda Ndiaye fended off Akos Tajta in heroic fashion, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.
"I knew it was up to me," said the junior from Senegal, who documented the entire tournament on his camcorder. "But I was confident I would prevail. There was never a doubt."
Teammate Hung Soon Park was still playing his match, and Ndiaye kept asking assistant coach Wei-Yu Su how Park was doing. "He kept saying, 'He's fine. Just concentrate on your game.' "
Ndiaye still replays that final point in his mind:
Serving to his backhand, Ndiaye caught Tajta off-guard: 15-0.
After a tough first serve, Ndiaye rushed the net for a textbook volley point: 30-0.
Same plan, except Ndiaye missed an easy volley: 30-15.
Tajta called a groundstroke out, but officials overruled him: 40-15.
Ndiaye served a slice to Tajta's backhand. He returned it. Ndiaye volleyed crosscourt. Tajta returned that. Ndiaye read it perfectly and put the ball away.
Game. Set. Match. Championship.
Both men's and women's teams rushed the court, screaming and jumping around. Park, who was watching Ndiaye's match from another court, was so excited, he hugged Porter hard enough to bend his glasses.
"This was a great birthday present," said Porter, who turned 50 Tuesday.
He said the loss to HPU in April was a "wake-up call."
"They learned what it's like to be vulnerable and how to fight back," Porter said.
And the women's second-place finish in the championship last year was their motivation to take the title convincingly. The undefeated Seasiders bulldozed through the tournament, beating second-ranked Armstrong Atlantic State, 5-1, for their third title in four years.
"They refused to get senioritis," Porter said. "They maintained a high level of intensity in practice all year."
The team will lose four players to graduation this year, including NCAA II National Senior Player of the Year Petra Gaspar.
The win was so emotional for the Budapest native, she wept on the court for the first time in the four years she's been playing for BYUH.
"I couldn't believe it, I was so happy," said Gaspar, who couldn't stop smiling. "I wanted to win so much for the team, for myself. There was huge pressure. But I knew we had the capability to win."
Despite having to play a match of their own, the men watched the women clinch the national title. And when the men played their matches, the women were in attendance, cheering them on.
"We spend a lot of time together off the court," Gaspar said. "We really like each other. We were so happy both teams could win this. It's unbelievable."
That camaraderie built team-focused players, who care more about the team effort than individual awards.
"I would rather win (the national title) than the individual awards," said Krejci, who took home National and West Region Rookie of the Year honors. "This is something the whole team won together."
That attitude, Porter said, is what makes his teams winners.
"My feeling is if a player becomes more concerned with individual awards, he's not a team player," he said. "What this says is that they were unified from the beginning of the season, working toward a common goal ... this is a great feeling."
Basketball guard Scott Prather and softball pitcher Kristine Kahoali'i were named University of Hawai'i-Hilo Athletes of the Year yesterday.
Prather, a senior from Kula, Maui, earned Pacific West Conference first-team honors after finishing second in the conference in scoring (16.6 points per game), fifth in assists (3.9) and first in steals (2.04).
Kahoali'i, a junior from Fremont, Calif., was a first-team all-PacWest selection. She finished the season 18-8 with a conference-leading nine shutouts.
Prather and tennis player Lara Hornbuckle also won Academic Athlete of the Year honors. Basketball and softball earned the Ramon Goya Teams of the Year awards.
Kaliko Oligo was named baseball's Most Valuable Player. The center fielder from Kekaha, Kaua'i, was the team's leadoff batter with a team-high .335 batting average and a .406 on-base percentage.
Other baseball honors: Keola Park won the Coaches Award, Shaun Suzuki the Scholar/Athlete Award, Sean Tamura Rookie of the Year and Jason Castro the Golden Glove Award.