[ WAHINE VOLLEYBALL ]
SB FILE / MARCH 2005
Reserve middle blocker Kari Gregory could see big minutes for the Wahine against Utah State tonight if starter Victoria Prince is too ill to play.
Wahine always have something in reserve
Kari Gregory has become the team's secret weapon
Today: Utah State (13-8, 5-2) at No. 11 Hawaii (13-6, 7-0), 7 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center
Radio: KKEA (1420-AM)
TV: KFVE (Ch. 5)
She is the relief pitcher called upon to get the final out of the inning, the short-yardage running back who appears when those tough couple of yards are needed for a crucial first down.
Baseball has its fireman, football its workhorse. But volleyball has no comparable term for what Kari Gregory does for Hawaii.
The sophomore middle blocker comes in off the sidelines cold when the No. 11 Rainbow Wahine need a block, the offense needs a different look or simply as a reward for working hard in practice. It's usually late in a match, often when the outcome is pretty much decided.
It hasn't been easy this season for the 6-foot-2 converted outside hitter from Las Vegas, whose left knee problem (torn meniscus) has held her back from competing on an equal footing with sophomore Juliana Sanders. Last year, Gregory and Sanders were interchangeable, their hitting numbers very close -- Gregory with 124 kills to Sanders' 110; Gregory decisively won the blocking game 101-49.
This season, Sanders has become a force in the middle, nearly doubling her per-game kill average (2.52 from 1.72) and already surpassing her block total from last year with 57. Gregory, on the other hand, has seen action in just 28 of the team's 65 games, with her productivity reflecting her limited playing time.
"It is frustrating, but it's hard to get mad when Juliana is playing so well and doing such a great job," Gregory said. "I am frustrated because I did expect to play more than last year, but it is a good feeling, knowing the coaches have the confidence in me at those crucial times. Even if it's to get that one kill, make that one block, that's my job, that's what I have to do.
"It's not hard to come in cold. I feel such an adrenaline rush. You want to prove yourself and play as hard as you can. Good things happen when you do that."
It happened last November in Logan, Utah, when the then-No. 1 ranked Wahine survived a five-set match with Utah State, their opponent tonight at the Stan Sheriff Center. Gregory entered toward the end of Game 2 and, although Hawaii lost 30-26 to trail 0-2, she helped change the momentum.
Gregory was in on a career-high 11 block assists as the Wahine pulled it out in five.
"It was kind of one of those games where you play as hard as you can and hope for the best," she said. "We had a real heart-to-heart talk after Game 2. We had to turn it around.
"It was a fun game for me."
Gregory knows she has to be ready to go in at all times. It could happen tonight if senior middle Victoria Prince is unable to play due to a stomach virus that has sidelined her this week.
"I'm confident that if Victoria can't go, Kari will do the job," Wahine coach Dave Shoji said. "She's come a long way as a player. She wasn't a middle when she got here; we asked her to move positions. We felt she had the size and the arm swing better suited for the middle.
"The torn meniscus has set her back. She and Juliana were almost even last year and Juli has been getting better. Kari has got really good blocking skills. When Victoria leaves (after this season) it opens up another spot. Kari's paid her dues and will have the opportunity to win that spot."
Sanders will welcome it.
"Kari is awesome, just the sweetest person," Sanders said. "We don't let anything affect our friendship. She's always helping me out, telling me when I come off the court what she saw, helping me get better.
"She's behind me 100 percent."
The situation is very similar to that of Hawaii's two junior setters: starter Kanoe Kamana'o and reserve Cayley Thurlby. Thurlby shares a house with Gregory and there are plenty of opportunities to talk off the court.
"I tell her the truth," Thurlby said. "That it's not always easy, that you have different roles and it's not always the role you choose. It's the role you've acquired.
"Our saying is to 'reframe' things. Acquire the identity of that role and have reasonable expectations. I tell her to find her own way."
The path to playing for Hawaii wasn't part of Gregory's original plan. She wanted to stay close to her family, looking seriously at UC Santa Barbara and Loyola Marymount.
She was also being courted by Oregon, where the Ducks' final scholarship was going to go to either Gregory or a player from Hilo named Sarah Mason. Mason committed first; she played two seasons for Oregon before transferring to Hawaii.
"We were connected before we ended up being teammates," Gregory said.
Gregory had other Hawaii connections before committing to the Wahine. While here on vacation as a high school freshman, she bought a green and white volleyball with the Wahine logo on it from Longs.
"I gave it to one of my club teammates who was a huge Wahine fan," she said. "I made my recruiting visit, thinking it would make up my mind not to come here. Instead, I fell in love with the place.
"I liked the feeling of the community, the family feeling with the team, the fan support. Now I can't imagine not playing here."
Although she verbally committed early to UH as a high school junior, she still made a recruiting trip to her hometown college: UNLV, then coached by former Wahine All-American Deitre Collins.
"She knew I was going to Hawaii," Gregory said. "She asked if I had any questions about UNLV. When I said no, she asked if I had any questions about Hawaii.
"We talked about her experience, talked about everything that we love about it."
Gregory, who redshirted in 2003, said she feels she has gone from being "just a tall girl" to having become a better volleyball player as well as a better team player.
Tonight, Gregory may see more time, depending on Prince's situation. She may not get in at all.
"But I'll be ready to go when they need me," she said.
Note: When Nebraska remained No. 1 in this week's poll, it was the 48th time the Huskers topped the rankings, moving them into a tie with Hawaii for second place. UCLA has been ranked No. 1 51 times.