Thursday, October 2, 2003


"I never imagined I'd have a chance to play in front of my family, be on the No.2 team in the country," Nohea Tano said.

A Date with Destiny

Hawaii's Nohea Tano
returned home to raise her child
and now she's living out a dream

Exactly how fine a line is there between chance and fate?

Between serendipity and destiny?

For those who believe that some things are meant to happen, there is a name for that fine line. It is Nohea Tano.

Had it not been for her pregnancy and the comfort of returning home to raise her son Koby, Tano would likely still be in Pullman, Wash., starting as a middle blocker for Washington State. Tonight, she'd be with the Cougars in Bohler Gym hosting UCLA instead of starting for the No. 2-ranked Hawaii volleyball team against Fresno State at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Sometimes, one can see how things are meant to be.

Tano was offered a scholarship to play for the Rainbow Wahine out of Kamehameha Schools, but chose to go away. She wanted to be somewhere she felt she could play right away and Washington State was the place for one season.

"Hawaii brings in studs every year and I wasn't one of those," said Tano, an all-league and all-state performer for the Warriors' three state title teams (1997-99). "I guess a part of little me didn't think I was good enough for a team that was a final four team every year.

Nohea Tano went to Washington State out of high school but moved back to Hawaii to raise her son, Koby.

"But now, this is a dream come true. It was such a blessing and I never imagined I'd have a chance to play in front of my family, be on the No. 2 team in the country. Everything just came together for me to come home."

It hasn't been easy for the 5-foot-11 converted middle blocker. Her all-around game and athleticism have allowed the coaches to swing her from the middle her sophomore year to right-side hitter the past two seasons.

Against Stanford last month, Tano had a career-high 13 kills, hitting .650 with no errors in 20 attempts. It may have been a turning point for Tano, whose humility exceeds even her value on the court.

"I think she realized how good she can be after the Stanford match," said Wahine assistant coach Charlie Wade, who coached Tano at the club level. "Against Stanford, they had to be thinking 'How is she doing this?'

"Last Sunday's match (at No. 16 Santa Clara) is a classic example. She led the match in digs (11) and didn't play all the way around. She makes all the off-plays, can hit a variety of sets and can set the ball in transition.

"She's pretty much fulfilled what I thought she'd do when I first coached her. Athletically, we knew she was a Division I player and could play for us."

"She has gotten better every year as a volleyball player," said Hawaii coach Dave Shoji. "She's improved in all her skills. She's very quick and athletic and stronger than she looks."

And she's only 21. Barely.

She celebrated her birthday Friday with another Wahine victory. Hawaii opened its Western Athletic Conference defense with a sweep at San Jose State.

Helping sing "Happy Birthday" was Tano's son. The 2 1/2-year-old Koby again made a road trip, along with Tano's parents, Ken and Candy.

"It was cute because he thought it was his birthday," said Tano, whose son turns 3 on March 5. "He actually carries a tune pretty well. But he wanted to know where his presents were.

"Sure, it's been hard with a baby, but my parents and family have been so supportive. They didn't want me to give up on my dream just because I had a child. Even though I was more scared than anything else (when finding out about the pregnancy), I knew what I was going to do and I knew my parents would welcome me back home.

"It's hard to juggle with school, but I can't complain. I feel very blessed. Koby is the most easy-going, happy, fun-loving baby. He's so good. He's smart. He's awesome."

Nohea and Koby live with Tano's parents in Kailua. The days are long and the nights can be longer.

"He's normal and sometimes doesn't want to sleep," Tano said. "We stay up watching Barney tapes. In the morning on days I don't have to go to school, we watch cartoons. He likes 'Bob the Builder' and he wants to be a Power Ranger, the yellow one."

Caring for Koby is a family affair. Tano's brother Kawika, a student at Chaminade, does some baby-sitting.

Candy Tano takes care of her 10th grandchild when Nohea, the youngest of seven children, is at school. In the mix is Nohea's father, her grandmother in Pauoa and neighbors.

Tano, a sociology major, has classes most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, leaving home around 8 a.m. and coming home around 7 p.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she spends most of the time at home with her son, often taking him down to Lanikai Beach.

"His middle name is 'Ikaika' and he's just like his name, very strong," said Tano. "He had to be to go through double-days with me (at Washington State). He's been through everything with me.

"He can't swim yet, but he thinks he can."

His determination apparently comes from his mother, said Wahine teammate Lily Kahumoku, who was on the 1997 and '98 state championship teams with Tano at Kamehameha.

"Nohea is the most athletic player on our team," said Kahumoku. "Kim (senior hitter Willoughby) is phenomenally gifted and can do so much, but Nohea is the consummate athlete. She runs a 4.5 40 (yard dash) and kills all of us in the agility drills.

"I've known her for seven years and seen her grow. She's having an awesome year."

Tano had not played much volleyball when she decided to try out for the intermediate team her first year at Kamehameha. As a seventh-grader she made the Blue team, considered the better team; as a freshman, she made the varsity.

"Soccer was supposed to be my sport, but for some reason I decided I wanted to try volleyball," said Tano, who has five older, athletic brothers. "When I went to tryouts -- volleyball and soccer are held at the same time -- my dad made me take my (soccer) cleats.

"I think I gave my parents a heart attack when I quit soccer. I didn't get to play much at first. I was the linesman the whole season in seventh grade and my freshman year. You learn a lot, being the linesman, but I was wondering, "When will it be my turn to play?'"

Tano has started 12 of Hawaii's 14 matches this season, but her stats, much like her presence, are often overlooked. It is hard to stand out in a lineup dominated by All-Americans.

But that is just fine with Tano.

"It is so awesome to be playing for the Wahine," she said. "Growing up, I was that little kid asking for the autographs. I never thought I'd be the person they'd be asking for autographs from."

From fan to front-row player, Tano has come full circle. Some things are just meant to be.


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