Kalani Simpson


By Kalani Simpson

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Russian team
brought out best
from Wahine

TUESDAY night's volleyball exhibition between Hawaii and Samorodok was a rousing success in a number of ways. The most obvious, of course, was that the Russians were the kind of physical and emotional challenge that Hawaii will need to rise to if the Wahine are going to play the way they can.

And Tuesday night, they did.

But more than that, this was fun. This was what sports should be about. You could see it in the smiles of the Russian players during pregame introductions, the way they couldn't quite believe the applause or the crowd. And the way they played, and the way the Wahine matched them.

Most of all you saw it afterward, when the two teams came together for a group picture to celebrate the moment. We saw Lily Kahumoku hug Anna Pligounova, and the two of them talking, with the help of facial expressions and gestures in the international language of sport, of the memorable hits that thundered down from above and the impossible digs that were somehow made.

It was the kind of match that brought out the best in both teams, on the court and off.

And afterward, there were people in the stands with leis for the Russians, and both teams stayed on the floor, not wanting to let go. Shouts came down from the audience: "Russia! You guys are a great team! Aloha!"

Below, Julia Slabukhina perked up and turned around. She spoke a different language, in a land far away, but there was one word in there that she'd understood.

She burst into a smile, and waved. "Aloha!" she shouted back, and the teammates standing with her did the same.

The remaining crowd in the Stan Sheriff Center was delighted, and returned the gesture, filling the building with warm applause.

>> A classy move by St. Louis athletic director Cal Lee and Kahuku football coach Siuaki Livai in doing a radio public service announcement (which I heard while listening to Lee's new radio show) urging fans to remember to vote before attending Saturday's big games.

>> Glad to see Rainbow basketball coach Riley Wallace back in action. But no head-butting and no yelling? What's left?

>> A friend on the Oklahoma sideline during last week's 68-0 blowout said he could have played for UTEP. But throw out everything going into this one. This is a big game for Hawaii, and road trips like this have never come easy for UH. Don't forget that UTEP runs the option. And don't forget the recent history between the two schools. UH defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa certainly isn't.

"It's their turn," he said of blowouts traded between the two teams.

Hawaii isn't taking this one lightly, and shouldn't.

>> Watch UH safety Hyrum Peters this week. He served as a sturdy run-stuffer at corner last season, but June Jones said that the undersized Peters got knocked around in his new position against BYU. At UTEP this week, Peters' play against the run -- he'll be assigned to run free to the ball in several option situations -- will be a big key.

>> Hopefully they won't get lost in the shuffle with so much going on this Saturday, but the UH/Iolani cross country meets should be a sight to behold. Is there anything like the start of a cross country meet, all the bodies, all the colors surging forward at once?

>> I received a lot of responses to Sunday's column, but I should point out that it was intended to be about the past and present states of elite swimming in Hawaii, using the Natatorium to tell the story, rather than any particular political statement about the Natatorium itself.

Some want to see it restored for beach volleyball, and it might be nice to see it filled and alive again. But on the other hand it might be a better monument to Hawaii's swimming legacy just as it is.

I was down there the other day, and a little girl asked what the old thing was. "They used to race inside here," her father said.

And history lived for another day.

>> Of the many responses that swimming column generated, my favorite went somewhere along these lines: "That was really a nice story. But nice stories can wait for another time of year. This is football season!"

Thanks for snapping me out of it.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at

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