GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Victoria Prince was the MVP of last year's WAC tournament after hitting .653 in Hawaii's three matches.
Prince after another crown
RENO, Nev. » Few things have ever intimidated Victoria Prince.
» Never touched a volleyball before trying out in high school. Did it to stay in shape for basketball season.
» One of the smallest middle blockers in Division I, generously listed at 6 feet (1 1/2 inches more than she measured in fall). Usually spots the opposition 2-3 inches at her position.
Sets Hawaii blocking records as a junior, currently ranks 10th nationally.
» No guarantee of a scholarship or any playing time when coming out on a recruiting visit. Looking to transfer from Washington State after sitting out a year rehabbing (broken foot, nerve damage).
Starts all 31 matches last season, named an All-American, looking good to repeat when the honors are announced next month.
All-WAC Volleyball Teams
Player of the Year: Kanoe Kamana'o, Hawaii
Coach of the Year: Dave Shoji, Hawaii, and Mike Jordan, New Mexico State
Freshman of the Year: Amber Simpson, New Mexico State
Zuzana Cernianska, Sr., OH, Utah State; Jackie Choi, Jr., S, New Mexico State; Cameron Flunder, Jr. , MB, Boise State; Kanoe Kamana'o, Jr. , S, Hawaii; Sarah Mason, Jr. , OH , Hawaii; Kim Oguh, So., OH, New Mexico State; Victoria Prince, Sr., MB, Hawaii; Ingrid Roth, Sr., MB, Utah State; Salaia Salave'a, Sr., MB, Nevada; Juliana Sanders, So., MB, Hawaii; Jennifer Senftleben, So., MB, San Jose State; Ashley Watanabe, Sr., L, Hawaii
Susie Boogaard, Sr., OH, Hawaii; Alice Borden, Jr., OH, New Mexico State; Jordan Bostic, So., L, New Mexico State; Teal Ericson, So., OH, Nevada; Erin Graybill, Sr., MB, Utah State; Tara Hittle, So., OH, Hawaii; Jamie Houston, Fr., OH, Hawaii; Haley Larsen, Fr., OH, Idaho; Alison Pitton, Jr., OH, Fresno State; Jessie Shull, Jr., L, San Jose State; Karly Sipherd, So., OH, Nevada; Amber Simpson, Fr., MB, New Mexico State
Colleen Burke, MB, San Jose State; Brittany Collett, S, San Jose State; Jamie Houston, OH, Hawaii; Haley Larsen, OH, Idaho; Sarah Loney, MB, Idaho; Amber Simpson, MB, New Mexico State; Kasie Spencer, MB, Fresno State
There was one thing, however, that rattled the normally unflappable Prince. It was when Rainbow Wahine coach Dave Shoji told her to pack a bathing suit because beach volleyball was on the itinerary for her visit in early March.
"Holy cow," Prince said. "I didn't even have a swimsuit in Pullman (Wash.). It's not like you're going hot-tubbing when it's freezing outside. I had to drive to Moscow (Idaho) to find something.
"Plus, I had never played beach volleyball. I was really nervous."
So much for the jitters.
Prince made herself at home from Day 1, falling in love with Hawaii -- and its volleyball program -- the moment she stepped off the plane. In two short years, she has redefined the middle-blocker position, and has turned the step-out move into an art.
If graceful had a uniform number, it would be "16."
Today, Prince begins the final leg of her Western Athletic Conference Farewell Tour when the top-seeded Wahine go after their sixth league tournament crown. No. 8 Hawaii (22-6, 16-0) hasn't lost in this event since being swept by Brigham Young in the 1997 final.
Counting the conference tournament, the Wahine have gone 125-1 in WAC play since then, including winning 122 straight. Hawaii puts it all on the line in today's quarterfinal against the winner of this morning's play-in game between Louisiana Tech (15-17, 2-14) and Boise State (3-13, 7-17).
Prince comes in as the defending tournament MVP, having put up incredible numbers a year ago here, a performance she categorized as "a lot of fun." She hit .653, averaging 4.45 kills and 1.73 blocks in three matches, including setting the tourney's single-match record for hitting percentage (.867 after putting down 13 kills with no errors in 15 swings against SMU).
Her value hasn't diminished as a senior -- she leads the team in kills, aces and points. There are nights when Prince doesn't get a huge number of sets, but the threat of her going off for a double-digit night is enough that opponents have geared their block to track her every move.
And if her quick armswing has been hard to figure out, forget trying to decipher her serve. Shoji calls her possibly the best jump-server in the country -- Prince has 38 aces this year -- while keeping her risky launches in play about 90 percent of the time.
"We weren't really sure what she could do," Shoji said. "Based on her numbers (at Washington State), she was a better blocker than a hitter. She comes here and the opposite is true."
A number of Wahine have been very effective on the step-out through the years, players such as Angelica Ljungquist, Heather Bown and Lauren Duggins. But no one has come close to touching Prince, who's touching 10 feet, 2 inches when contacting the ball.
The connection between Prince and junior setter Kanoe Kamana'o has been magical most nights. It showcases the ability of the team's two returning All-Americans.
"I never ran a lot of slides before Victoria arrived," Kamana'o said. "That's her play. The rotation has us in the front row together and, if that's what it takes to put the ball down, that's what we're going to do."
Prince surprised herself by making the move away from her close-knit family in Washington. She had an offer to play at UW, although with the Pac-10 transfer rule, she would have been eligible to play for the Huskies for this season only.
Her only other offer was from Long Beach State, where Prince would have gone had Hawaii not offered a scholarship. Coincidentally, the UH men's volleyball team played the 49ers during her visit.
"I couldn't believe the crowd," Prince said of the two matches that drew an average of 4,500. "I kept getting told that the Wahine drew even more. I'm like, 'Yeah, right. No way. You're kidding.' "
Prince came to believe. She was also finally able to share the experience with her entire immediate family on "Senior Night" last Friday. Prince used to thumb through her mother's yearbook when growing up -- Brenda Prince graduated from Leilehua in 1968 -- and "I always thought Hawaii looked like it would be so fun," Victoria said. "I never thought I'd be here, but then everything fell into place."
So far, things have fallen into place with school -- the communications major was one of 40 recently accepted into a two-year UH journalism program.
"Life is good right now," Prince said. "I don't know what I'll be doing after volleyball is over, but I know I'll end up being where I'm supposed to be."