Ilustre can dig up fun on, off court
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
How else would you describe someone who flies around on defense and runs laps singing the theme song from "The Lion King" at the top of her lungs?
"The really scary part," teammate Lily Kahumoku says, "is she knew all the words."
At her first media day, Ilustre showed up with knee pads in her shirt. Her imitations are of Saturday Night Live-stature. She has an often-painful habit of forgetting her car window is up, and planting her face on it.
Ilustre's "handshake" with Nohea Tano consists of a full-out sprint cross-campus at each other, followed by a chest bump, several hand smacks and a bit of break dancing. All in front of a stunned student body.
"We just think it's funny, no one else does," Tano said. "We laugh. That's all that's important."
Ilustre snaps Kim Willoughby out of a funk by tap dancing during practice. "I've never tap danced in my life," says Ilustre, who makes up more dances than she'll ever know. "But if Kim's not smiling, I'll tap dance for her just to make her laugh. Now it's an inside joke."
Ilustre describes her personality as "energetic, sarcastic, goofy, random."
She could easily describe her play as fearless.
Teammates constantly fear they will have to peel her off the wall because she sees any airborne volleyball as a challenge even if it is out the door.
"One of the things I say in the locker room is let's see some bodies flying on defense," coach Dave Shoji says. "Hedder takes it literally.
"Most people worry about cushioning themselves when they dive or roll. She has no regard for her body. It's all out and somehow she comes up without hurting herself."
Best move she made
Ilustre came here without a scholarship, encouraged by her sister Heidi, who played for Hawai'i four years and now works for the Head Start program at Mililani High School. The sisters have lived together since Hedder made what appears to be an effortless move to Hawai'i last year.
"We just felt at home, like we belonged here," Heidi says. "My sister had that same sense of warmth and comfort."
Hedder had been MVP of the state tournament as a Bishop Montgomery (Calif.) senior, when her team won its second state championship. But she was a high school phenom locked in a 5-foot-7 body.
Hedder wanted a scholarship to ease the burden on her parents. She also wanted to play front row. The only Division I team that bit was Cal State-Northridge.
Defense was her specialty
She was sixth in the nation in digs as a freshman and had a 23-kill match. As a sophomore, she was Big Sky Defensive Specialist of the Year with six 20-plus dig matches.
She also "hated" volleyball in a place where players weren't getting along and she couldn't communicate with the coach. She started looking for a scholarship again and had an offer from Pepperdine. Then her sister called, with a promise from the coaches that she could play here if she would walk-on.
Hedder asked parents Erlinda and Harminio, whose son Harbell is into martial arts and designs PlayStation games, if they could handle it. They pushed her into the plane. A few weeks into practice, Shoji gave Ilustre a scholarship. Three months later she was the only defender on the all-WAC first team, despite being fourth on her team in digs.
Clearly coaches saw the magic in her defensive flights of fancy. With an ultra-graceful gift for diving Kahumoku compares her to a snake Ilustre looks more like an acrobat than an athlete. She goes flat-out above the ground on a semi-regular basis. And, like teammate Melissa Villaroman, Ilustre is so quick there are times "digs" are transformed into basic bumps.
Lately, her jump-float serve has made her a deceptively unimposing offensive threat. For her, serving is a way to see the floor more, usually up close and personal. Her teammates, even those she subs for, love to watch. And listen.
"Every time she steps on-court she adds a new dimension to our game," captain Margaret Vakasausau says. "And she never shuts up."
Ilustre sees those two aspects of the game as her most valuable contributions, particularly as one of three seniors. For her, chatter is the best way to stay intense, and make that intensity contagious.
Talking never stops
"She does bring a lot of energy to the court," Heidi says. "And fire. The extra fire a team needs. I see her out there and I feel proud. I'm in the stands cheering all the time."
Shoji calls Hedder relentlessly upbeat, never taking a break from her self-appointed role as team energizer. He didn't see that in high school, or he might have made Heidi and Hedder teammates in 1999.
Not surprisingly, Hedder is a speech major, pondering a radio career after she graduates next fall. "I love music," she explains, "and I talk so damn much."