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Press Box

Grace Wen

Sunday, July 29, 2001

Thoughts and stomach
knots from the rookie

FOR a week, I had the opportunity to see what life was like for a University of Hawaii volleyball player on the floor of the Stan Sheriff Center.

Well, sort of.

The players were there, the coach was there, but instead of my usual seat on press row, I was the one on the court.

Granted, there weren't thousands of people watching my every pass, serve and hit, but I certainly felt the eyes of the other 11 campers on me.

For the first time, I understood how hard it was to keep a ball from hitting the ground under awfully bright lights.

Day 1: Midway through a passing demonstration by Eyal Zimet and Vernon Podlewski, coach Mike Wilton explains that volleyball is all about geometry at funny angles. Passing, he says, is about angling your arms toward the target.


Did I mention that I couldn't tell you what the sine, cosine or tangent of a 72-degree angle was if my life depended on it?

Day 2: Podlewski starts with instructions about the proper defensive stance. "You want to be comfortable, stay low to the ground and bend your knees," says Podlewski, a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation first-team libero.

Comfortable, staying low -- what's that?

Oops, another ball whizzes by my head.

Besides the elite level of instruction broken down into simple enough terms for volleyball lay-people to understand, the interaction with players of varying skill levels reminds me that this sport can bring together people from all aspects of life.

Raymond, a 23-year-old medical student this fall at UH, was trying the sport (actually, any sport) for the first time. While his future may consist more of saving lives than saving broken plays, he seemed to enjoy it.

Ann Marie, one of three women at the camp, is a graduate student at UH and an occupational therapist. She's dying to do more drills. "I wish this camp was two weeks long," she said.

Dr. Tom, a professor from Harvard, planned his vacation just to attend camp. Originally from Hawaii, he would love to come back and teach at the university if it ever opened a dental school.

And while it's unlikely that Ann Marie, Dr. Tom and Raymond will come out of "nowhere" to play in college -- like former libero Russell Lockwood -- these adults have already won in the game of life.

TO CAP OFF my week, I was thrust on the hot seat at the Weekend Warrior radio show co-hosted by Scott Culbertson and Brooks Baehr.

Minutes before I was supposed to go on, I gestured frantically to Culbertson to skip me. No such luck. He laughed me off and told me not to worry.

Despite talking like the guy from the Micro Machines commercials, I wasn't a complete disaster, but only because Culbertson and Baehr were veterans at deciphering my three minutes of garbled speech.

I thought I'd been through some challenging experiences when I moved out here from California four months ago. Guess I was wrong.

The knots in my stomach are still there and now I can sympathize with any rookies who have to go through any of these experiences for the first time.

Be patient, it's my first season, too.

Grace Wen can be reached at

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