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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, August 16, 2003

Hooked on Hawai'i volleyball

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

It is the incredible shrinking volleyball roster.

Second-ranked Hawai'i opened practice a week ago with a record 25 players. Coach Dave Shoji slashed it to the final 18 yesterday, a week before the Rainbow Wahine's opener against 15th-ranked Kansas State.

Where did all those non-scholarship players come from and why?

California and all over the islands. And why not?

"If you have the drive and motivation to try out, I don't understand why you wouldn't," said Katy Carlson, who came to UH from Los Alamitos, Calif. "And I don't understand how you couldn't have the motivation here. It's been such a good experience."

Every player that showed at that first practice had a history with the coaches, who had seen her in high school, at club tournaments or their camp. They were good enough to be encouraged to try out for a team all but intact from last year's final four.

"I think it was a combination of those kids seeing that we use either local and/or small players and have always used them, and all of them being good players and wanting to be involved and play at a high level," Shoji said. "They see some hope in players like Melissa (Villaroman), Hedder (Ilustre) and Ashley (Watanabe)."

For those that did make it — Carlson, Castle graduate Juliana Sanders, former Hawai'i Pacific hitter Teisa Fotu and Iolani's Raeceen Woolford — playing this year is a remote possibility. Walk-ons can only hope to impress the coaches enough with their commitment and talent that they will be remembered next year, after the Rainbow Wahine lose seven seniors.

Shoji is also asking those who didn't make the cut to come back in the spring, when he can better evaluate their skills. With 25 in the gym, repetitions were tough to come by, even with 100-plus volleyballs flying at every two-a-day practice.

Carlson and Woolford, an all-state teammate of Rainbow Wahine Kanoe Kamana'o, are both under-sized (5 feet 6 and 5-7) "invited walk-ons," asked by coaches to try out as defensive specialists.

The coaches found Carlson at their camp. They watched Woolford while recruiting Kamana'o.

"I felt like, athletically, Rae was the kind of libero we want," Shoji said. "She could have gone D-I as a hitter. She has tremendous athletic ability, but she's not the most skilled passer or defender. We feel she just needs to be trained more."

Carlson and Woolford came with no promise of financial aid and the understanding that, if they stuck, their time this year would probably be spent on the bench.

There were more lucrative opportunities at Division I schools where they could immediately contribute. Those were turned down. All they asked of Hawai'i was to play — or at least practice — and be part of a program both followed faithfully many years.

"The feeling of being home and playing volleyball at home ... it was music to my ears," Woolford said. "My family loves Wahine volleyball. I remember Joslyn (Robins) and Robyn (Ah Mow), those years. They kind of inspired me. I was just starting volleyball seriously."

Carlson came via the camp, after watching the Rainbow Wahine from long distance for years. She was hooked on Hawai'i volleyball after watching a UH-Long Beach State match in sixth grade.

"They were so pretty, so good," Carlson said. "I was in awe of all of them. Since then, I've always wanted to come here."

Carlson's father dipped into her college fund to send her to Rainbow Wahine summer camps the last three years. After the first, Carlson knew "there was no other place I wanted to go."

She played with Elise Duggins, sister of UH senior Lauren, on her club team, which took second at nationals. By answering the Carlsons' questions about UH, the Duggins family essentially sealed Katy's UH commitment.

SHORT SETS: Shoji says he might red-shirt as many as six players. That could include Kari Gregory, a middle blocker out of Las Vegas who is on scholarship, but behind four upperclassmen.

Carlson, Woolford, Sanders and Fotu will probably also red-shirt. UH coaches first saw Sanders at their camp last year. Shoji says her progress is to a point where she can "definitely play in our future." Fotu was second in kills for HPU last season. Shoji feels she has potential on the right side next year.