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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 7, 2002

No player sets a better example than Vakasausau

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

When Margaret Vakasausau came to Rainbow Wahine volleyball, she didn't just break the mold. It shattered into a zillion pieces and she willed it back together between workouts. A little like what she did with the Hawai'i team last season.

"Everything she touches seems to turn out great," UH volleyball coach Dave Shoji says of Margaret Vakasausau.

Photos by EUGENE TANNER, Illustration by Martha Hernandez • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Margaret has always had a really different outlook on life," coach Dave Shoji says. "When we recruited her, the whole coaching staff felt like she had a special quality about her and we hoped she would funnel that into what she is today. Fortunately, she did.''

Back then, the coaches couldn't even define "special." They still can't, but her impact is obvious. "Everything she touches," Shoji says, "seems to turn out great."

For the past four years, what she has touched most dramatically is her team. Along with Jennifer Carey and Hedder Ilustre, Vakasausau's final regular-season homestand is this weekend against Nevada, Boise State and fourth-ranked Stanford.

Even for a program with a history of success with small players, Vakasausau has exceeded expectations. She was the wild card of the 1999 recruiting class. Vakasausau possessed athleticism and drive, but she was a 5-foot-8 hitter at University High School. There is rarely a Division I future in that.

Vakasausau, armed with her unique demeanor and a sense of Hawai'i volleyball history, turned out to be remarkably rare.

She was an integral part of the team her first two years because of her back-row skills. Last season, she blossomed into a starting setter. It became apparent that Hawai'i thrived in her on-court presence.

She knew when to relax a too-tense teammate with a joke and how to create confidence in a hitter. If players felt bad after being chastised, she could console them. If the team got too quiet, Vakasausau would just jabber. Sometimes all she was saying was, "If you want me to shut up, tell me to shut up."

Maja Gustin cherishes Vakasausau's "willingness to play" and unconditional trust. Lily Kahumoku calls her "the backbone" of the team, far beyond a mere leader.

Vakasausau just shrugs: "I think my energy and my mouth just run," she says. "That's what does it for me. Not too much my playing. It's average. But my ability to keep talking and not stop ... that provides the energy."

Vakasausau is particularly adept at balancing coaches' bluntness. Associate coach Charlie Wade remembers the Rainbows wobbling during the brutal six-match, nine-day, three-city, mid-term stretch three weeks ago. As players began to walk out the door of a meeting, Vakasausau called them back and immediately brought herself to tears as she blurted out how proud she was of the way they had grown.

"She brought the whole team together," Wade said. "They couldn't take their eyes off her."

Vakasausau worked hard just to see the court, which gives her credibility. But it is her innate gift for dealing with people — and bringing out the best in them — that brought her into the spotlight of what has become an unbeaten, top-ranked team in a volleyball-mad fish bowl.

She is "overwhelmed" by it, and loves it. Her teammates turn to their two-year captain without exception.

"The team rallies around Margaret's leadership style," assistant coach Kari Anderson says. "She's vocal and a leader by example. She's not a dictator. She's very democratic in the way she leads. This group needs that. It has some very strong personalities.

"Kim (Willoughby) and Lily (Kahumoku) have leadership styles and Margaret is very good at complementing those styles. She's calming, a steady rock. She's very positive with her teammates and they respond."

The response was instantaneous last season and has never ebbed. Vakasausau has a way about her.

"Playing on this team in this program means more to her than anyone I've seen," Wade says. "She's demonstrated that it means more by her work ethic, and all of that provides her with a great deal of credibility in her teammates' eyes. There is just something about her that you know it fills every fiber of her being to get better and make this team the best that it can be."

"Growing up here and planning to live here the rest of her life, I think she recognizes the importance the program has to the community," Wade continued. "It's really important to her to be a successful, contributing part of it. She's talked to me before about leaving a legacy. She knows the history, knows the players and great teams. It is so important to her to be able to leave the fans with a legacy of what she's done here and bring home another championship. That's a big part of who she is."

Vakasausau does not deny it. Especially now, this close to the dream she's had since she shook setter Robyn Ah Mow's hand a decade ago. Everyone else wanted an autograph. Vakasausau wanted to know what it felt like to have such an impact. Now she wants to make that type of impact.

"I hope people remember that I promised a national championship and I helped bring it home," Vakasausau says. "That's what I want more than anything.

"People remember the team that won in 1987. They remember winners. They deserve it, the people that support us. It's been 15 years. We're such spoiled little volleyball players. Everything has been wonderful. It's time for us to give something back."

QUICK SETS: Karin Lundqvist's MRI Tuesday showed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She could still play some front row if the surgery is done after the season. ... Angie Santiago of Hawai'i won the grand prize in this year's Western Athletic Conference volleyball contest. Santiago will receive a trip for two to the 2002 WAC Volleyball Tournament in Reno, Nev. The trip includes airfare, hotel and two prime all-session tickets to the tournament.