Co-captains on soul patrol
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By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
Setting is the center of the Rainbow Wahine volleyball universe this season.
Yesterday it celebrated its 21st birthday as Kanoe Kamana'o, the program's career assists leader, became "legal" on the first practice day of her senior season. Today, it celebrates its 22nd as Cayley Thurlby continues to find some way — any way, every way — to contribute to a team where she might never start.
All the returning players and maybe a few recruits and walk-ons will collaborate on Hawai'i's 2006 fate. But without Kamana'o's amazing ability to make everyone better — one coach claimed her sets "practically hit themselves" — and Thurlby's remarkable willingness to work and make the best of a very difficult situation, the 'Bows lack soul.
Without their senior co-captains, who gets them the ball? Who gets in their face? Who is more competitive? Who watches over them?
Kamana'o is sometimes called "auntie." She might be the best setter in the country, or simply the best player. She is a three-time All-American, two-time WAC Player of the Year and the 2003 national freshman of the year, yet does not have an ounce of arrogance.
"She's probably the most humble individual I've ever met," Thurlby said. "She's bigger than life here and she has never once let it get to her head. That has made the situation I'm in that much easier."
In her now-legal life, Kamana'o has sat on the bench once — last summer with the national team, behind Olympic setter Robyn Ah Mow-Santos.
NO BETTER ROLE MODELS
Ah Mow, a former Rainbow All-American, is Kamana'o's role model. She is the player that initially "caught my eye" as a child with her "flowing game" and shockingly good split-second decisions. Ah Mow's thriving career held her rapt attention during Kamana'o's time at Iolani and six years of toweling off the Stan Sheriff Center floor during Hawai'i matches.
Ironically, now Thurlby also serves as inspiration.
"She is such a hard worker," Kamana'o said. "There is nothing more I could ask of a second setter. She motivates me. Setting-wise, if something is wrong I look at her. She pushes me a lot, she helps me out."
A CAREER TO REMEMBER
Thurlby, a red-shirt senior and resident "mother hen," has played behind Kamana'o three years. On her Chicago club team, she was behind former Penn State All-American Sam Tortorello, now with Team USA.
Thurlby might be the best hard-luck setter in the country, or maybe the most compelling story of a student-athlete who is creating a memorable college career against all athletic odds.
She is active in student affairs and community work, exceptional academically and tireless in pursuit of Rainbow Wahine success. And she plays a mean opposing setter on the scout team.
"She always supports Kanoe, never grumbles, is motivated to go hard in practice," says associate coach Kari Ambrozich, who was in a similar position behind Ah Mow her final two years. "It would be natural to think 'This is just pointless, I'm not going to win the position, I'm not going to do it.' She might feel down but she never shows it. I think I showed it a little more. It's hard. Cayley has shown a lot of grace."
Creativity too. Thurlby played right side, defensive specialist and designated blocker last year while still focused on finding the level-headed consistency that allows Kamana'o to dominate a match without anyone noticing — until they realize every Hawai'i hitter was involved in the offense.
DESERVING A CHANCE
When head coach Dave Shoji looked at this season the day after last season ended — for the second straight year at an NCAA regional — he was adamant about finding a place for Thurlby, possibly at libero. He knew he needed her energy and spirit on the court, and she "worked too hard" not to be there. This year she is on the depth chart at setter and right-side hitter.
"I think he's going to look at all options to get me in the game and I'm going to do everything I can to get in the starting lineup," Thurlby said. "I love all the different positions. I love being a setter, but if it means getting in the game I'll do whatever it takes.
"When I was a freshman I had all these goals, but when you realize you're not going to see the court as much as you wish you could, you just ... re-frame. I just made adjustments to my attitude and realized there was a bigger picture."
The Rainbow Wahine open at home Aug. 25 and 26 against 19th-ranked Pepperdine.
Former UH All-Americans Lauren Duggins and Victoria Prince make their pro beach tour debut as a team today in the qualifier of the AVP Manhattan Beach Open in California. Hedder Ilustre, another former 'Bow, is also in the qualifier.
Reach Ann Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.