Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Former Wahine Tita Ahuna, now the Hawaii Pacific coach,
greets the crowd at the Stan Sheriff Center before the game.

Tita makes it ’87 again

Hawaii too much for HPU in sweep

By Cindy Luis

There was a slight breeze circulating around the upper portions of the Stan Sheriff Center last night.

Air. Cool air.

What a concept.

The air, or rather lack of it, was a trademark of Klum Gym, where the Wahine volleyball faithful sweated along with the home team through many more wins than losses.

Just as she had 16 years ago -- to the day -- Alice Matsumoto was among the first through the doors last night to watch Hawaii take on Hawaii Pacific.

And, just as she had on Oct. 30, 1985, Matsumoto cheered for Tita Ahuna.

"Tita had such heart," said Matsumoto, a longtime booster. "She had the ability, too, but the heart is what you remember."

Hawaii coach Dave Shoji echoed the sentiment.

"We've had players with more talent," Shoji said, "but no one with more heart. I'd like to have another Tita."

Ahuna's team wore green last night, as well as Sea Warrior blue. They showed the same kind of heart as their sixth-year head coach, who still holds the Hawaii record for career digs and who led the 1985 team in kills, assists and digs.

HPU senior Roberta Robert dug the first shot that Wahine Kim Willoughby tried to put down and the Sea Warriors went up 1-0 early. But Willoughby and the Wahine prevailed 30-14, 30-20, 30-14.

Sixteen years ago, Hawaii won 15-5, 15-5, 16-14. Ahuna doesn't remember much about that victory during her sophomore year and, back then, didn't think the day would come when she'd be facing her former team and her former coach.

"It's a little weird but it was awesome,'' Ahuna said last night. "It's even weirder to see all the fans still here who were in Klum with us.

"It's good to see them. That's why we played ... for the fans."

Dozens of loyal boosters from the Klum Gym days watched last night, including Lenore Yagi.

"I remember Tita as a gutsy, tenacious player," said Yagi, a booster since the early 1980s. "I watched one game and I kept coming back. That's how I got hooked on the (UH) men."

The boosters weren't the only ones making the connection to the past. The coach of the HPU team in 1985 was Alan Rosehill, who took over the UH men's program in 1986.

Damien Hardy was on Rosehill's first team, and he has been Ahuna's top assistant during her entire tenure at HPU. Hardy is married to former Wahine player Mary Robins, a teammate of Ahuna's in 1986.

Ahuna's biggest fan was in the stands last night, as always. Reynette Ahuna has been at every home game and on every road trip since her daughter played for Hawaii.

"It is a little strange for me tonight," said Reynette Ahuna, who celebrated her 60th birthday last month during an HPU road trip to Montana State-Billings. "We passed Klum on the way in and I just had to look inside. Now that brought back memories."

The most obvious memory hangs from the Sheriff Center catwalk. It is the 1987 NCAA championship banner, won by the Hawaii team captained by Ahuna.

During warmups, Ahuna looked up at UH's four national championship banners, and when the Sea Warriors were done, their coach pointed to the one on the far right.

"That's me," she told her team.

The Sea Warriors nodded respectfully, then reminded their coach that they had won two Division II titles in the past three years.

Last night, the air current had the banners dancing. The most active was 1987, which waved above HPU's side of the court during Games 1 and 3.

Some 3,756 came through the turnstiles last night, nearly double what Klum Gym legally held. Quite a few brought lei for Ahuna.

Much has changed in 16 years, but some things remain the same. Hawaii won. And there is still plenty of warmth in the arena.

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