Friday, September 24, 1999
Bown has grown
into Wahines intimidator
Coach Dave Shoji says shePlaybook: Wahine vs. Loyola Marymount
hits the ball harder than any UH
women's volleyball player ever
By Cindy Luis
A swimmer by choice, a volleyball player by chance.
Fate ran into destiny some seven years ago when Heather Bown strolled through the lobby of Magnum Volleyball Club in Anaheim, Calif. The high school sophomore was on her way to pick up a friend when she was spotted by then Magnum coach Charlie Wade.
"I was sitting behind my desk and I saw this big, tall girl walk through,'' said Wade, now in his third year as an assistant to University of Hawaii volleyball coach Dave Shoji "I asked if she was a volleyball player. She said, 'No, I'm a swimmer.' ''
Wade thought he had died and gone to nearby Disneyland.
In seven years, the 6-foot-3 Bown has gone from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland. From riding the bench her senior season in high school to being a candidate for NCAA Player of the Year and an Olympic team hopeful.
"I'm always thinking, 'How did I get so lucky?' " the 20-year-old Wahine senior said. "It's like gifts falling from the sky, being on good teams with great players.
"I wasn't sure what this year would be like, wasn't sure what the chemistry would be. But it's so much fun every day. It's very special for me to be able to say I had a really good time my last year in college.''
Bown and the Wahine are having a ball. No. 3 Hawaii takes a 9-0 record into tonight's match with No. 23 Loyola Marymount at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Bown, named national Player of the Week Monday, brings in the best block average in the country (2.44), two triple-double performances and a .388 hitting percentage.
She brings major heat as well. When Bown takes off on her trademark step-out move, she's touching 10-6 and few are going to touch that.
"I remember my recruiting trip and watching her in warm-ups,'' said Wahine freshman setter Jennifer Carey. "I was thinking that if I was ever on the opposite side, I would just run off the court. I don't want to see that ball, I'll get killed.
"During practice, if I am on the other side, I'm really nervous. She puts a lot of heat on the ball and I think anyone in their right mind should be a little nervous.''
"Heather hits a very heavy ball,'' said Shoji. "She's hits the ball harder than anyone we've had in the program.
"I don't know where we'd be without her. I'm glad we don't have to find out.''
The All-American is intimidating. The day the Wahine were doing jump testing was also the day some of the Rainbow football players were being measured.
"There was a line of football players behind her,'' said Wade. "By the time she had touched 10-6, the line had dispersed. None of the guys wanted to go after her.
"She's the most dominating player I've ever seen. Her numbers are better than even Angelica's (Ljungquist, the 1996 NCAA Player of the Year). She wasn't a great blocker last year but she has really figured it out. Her progress has been pretty remarkable, considering she really didn't play in high school. She is physically gifted and has taken full advantage of those gifts.''
Growing up in Orange County, Bown was a competitive swimmer. She took up volleyball after talking with Wade, playing on the Esperanza High junior varsity as a junior and sitting the bench as a senior.
"My coach told me I would never be a Division I player,'' said Bown. "That kind of drives me every day.
"Volleyball is better than swimming because I get to talk during practice. That's hard to do with your face in the water.''
Bown felt like she was sinking during the beginning of her college career. She had signed with UC Santa Barbara out of high school but wasn't happy.
Gaucho coach Kathy Gregory released Bown and her second recruiting process began. Penn State and Florida were high on the list, Hawaii wasn't.
"I have no regrets, though, about coming here,'' Bown said. "I'm very content. The social life isn't what I'd like but the coaches are great and my teammates are great.
"The attention (from the fans) is more than I expected. I feel like I'm living my life in a bubble, that I don't get to be a kid like I'd want to be. I'm just a 20-year-old college student. There's a lot of pressure.''
However, she sees that pressure as a plus for her intended profession: sports psychology.
"After playing here, I'll be able to relate to what pro athletes are going through,'' she said.
She also has playing plans of her own. The goal is to play in the Olympics, either next year in Australia or 2004 in Greece.
Last spring, Bown commuted several times to train with the U.S. national team in Colorado. Over the summer, she was a member of the U.S. World University Games team.
"I want to play overseas professionally but I also want to finish school,'' she said. "As I told my parents, I don't know what the cards hold.''
Bown's parents have been very supportive of their daughter's athletic ambitions. Skip and Rosemary Bown returned to California last Sunday after spending 17 days here, watching the Wahine's first eight home matches; they'll be back for Senior Night Nov. 23 as well as the Final Four (Dec. 16-18).
Will the Wahine be at home, trying to win their fifth national title?
"At the beginning, I wasn't sure what kind of team we would have,'' said Bown. "It's still early, there's a lot of big games left, but I'm very optimistic.
"We seem to be getting better every game, improving as a team every game. That's one of things that I like about volleyball as compared to swimming. There's so much comraderie, it's a cooperative effort.''
It's like fate meeting destiny.