Friday, November 30, 2001
Nohea Tano returnsPULLMAN, Wash. >> It's cold here. The air nips at your cheeks. You can see your breath in front of you as mini-puffs of air escape each time you open your mouth. With almost a half-foot of snow on Wednesday and the temperatures typically at a daytime high of 35, it's enough to make the blood of anybody born and raised in Hawaii freeze.
with mixed emotions
The Wahine middle who played
for Washington State has missed
her former teammates but
not the cold weather
By Grace Wen
And the cold weather is definitely something that sophomore Nohea Tano doesn't miss. The 5-foot-11 middle blocker for the Hawaii volleyball team competed for one season at Washington State last year, but lasted only a semester in Pullman. It wasn't the cold weather that sent her home, but the birth of her now 8-month-old son, Koby.
Due to a coincidental twist in NCAA seeding, Tano is back in the chill of Pullman as 11th-ranked Hawaii plays Washington State in the first round of the tournament today at 6 p.m. Hawaii time.
"Of all the places we could have gone, we go to Washington State," Tano said. "It's so weird. "I'm excited to see (my old teammates) and I'm hoping they're excited to see me, too. We didn't have any grudges or anything. They understood."
Her teammates may be compassionate, but she is worried that she'll be booed on the court today.
A year ago when she left, she barely had time to say good-bye. Tano practiced and played the whole season without telling Washington State coach Cindy Fredrick that she was pregnant. She finished the semester, took her finals and returned home. Tano wrote a letter to her teammates and called Fredrick to tell her that she wouldn't be back.
Tano gave birth in March and was determined to get back to volleyball. Playing at UH seemed ideal given its proximity to home and having the support of her family, but she had to endure a lengthy process of getting her release from WSU and having the NCAA restore her eligibility. A student who doesn't finish a year and breaks the contract of the national letter of intent loses a year of eligibility. And she had to make up units in the classroom over the summer at community college.
"I'm sure Washington State players and coaches are wondering about Nohea," UH head coach Dave Shoji said. "She was strictly a back-up last year and now she's starting for our team. I think she's fortunate.
"She's the right person, in the right place at the right time for us. We really needed her even before she assumed the starting position. We needed depth and she gave us that. I'm sure she's been much more valuable for us than she was for them."
Tano played sparingly for the Cougars last season, seeing time in just 12 games and totaling 4 kills, 15 digs and three blocks.
It has been an unusual season for the Wahine, with major lineup changes and players sitting out a season or not coming at all; all of which seemed to make room for Tano to fit in.
But it was the fact that Shoji didn't know where she could fit into the program that kept him from offering anything more than an invitation to walk on when she was a three-time all-state player for Kamehameha.
"One of the reasons she didn't come here in the first place was that we weren't sure exactly where she could contribute for us," Shoji said. "She's undersized, so to recruit her as a middle is unrealistic. ... I knew she would eventually become a good player.
"I didn't know where she belonged or where she could contribute the most. She became so valuable to us as the summer progressed that I think we're really fortunate to have her. We were really fortunate she became available."
She solidified a starting role in September and, though not a dominant force, she has been at least an effective one.
"I was fortunate that I am able to play," Tano said. "When I first came here I didn't really have a position because I was just playing everyone's positions. I would just fill in for wherever he needed me to go so when he finally gave me a position I could just work on the middle."
Against a bigger block at the Bankers Classic, the undersized middle had two of her better performances last weekend. She posted eight kills, nine digs and seven blocks and almost had a triple-double against Utah. Against Pacific, she tallied 10 kills, hit .667 and dug 12 balls.
But having success in a challenging situation is nothing new. She juggles a packed schedule that includes waking each day at 6 a.m. to prepare the baby, then her morning classes, and practice in the afternoon. She knows she has a full plate, but she feels fortunate to be able to balance the demands of her life. She knows she's lucky to have supportive parents who raised her and her six siblings (five brothers, one sister) and who help out with her baby.
And she's grateful to have almost year-round sunshine again.