RAINBOW WAHINE VOLLEYBALL
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
The No. 7 Rainbow Wahine opened practice yesterday at the Stan Sheriff Center with 21 players, 15 of them returning from last year's 27-7 squad.
CLICK FOR LARGE
Wahine get to work
Coach Dave Shoji opens his 32nd camp with plenty of options and a lot of enthusiasm
Perhaps being on a volleyball court for two 2-plus-hour sessions isn't how most would choose to spend their 21st birthday. But for Kanoe Kamana'o, it was the perfect present.
"It's nice to be doing something I love with friends," said Kamana'o, the senior All-America setter for the Hawaii women's volleyball team. "It's Day 1 of many to come and I think everyone is excited to get things rolling."
The seventh-ranked Rainbow Wahine officially opened fall camp yesterday at the Stan Sheriff Center with 21 players, a lot of enthusiasm and some intriguing options. Coach Dave Shoji, beginning his 32nd season, also has some decisions to make in terms of positions and roster spots.
Of the 21 players in camp, 15 were on the 27-7 team that was upset by Missouri in the regional semifinal. Two others are freshman scholarship players -- Amber Kaufman from San Jose, Calif., and Mid-Pacific product Dani Mafua.
There are also four transfers trying to make it as a libero-defensive specialist, two of whom are returning home: sophomore Spenser Rigg (Punahou), who played a season at Barry, and sophomore Makana Recca (Kamehameha), who was at San Francisco. The others are sophomore Elise Duggins, who is the sister of former Wahine All-American Lauren and spent one season at Long Beach State, and junior Maile Adolphson,
who played two years for Mesa College in her hometown of San Diego.
Shoji can only keep 18 on the roster.
"Passing will be a key," said Shoji, who begins the season three wins away from 900. "We have six, seven trying to be that first libero. Ask me in a week if anyone has stepped up."
Junior Raeceen Woolford has the most experience to replace graduated senior Ashley Watanabe, who holds the school single-season records for digs (481) and dig average (4.22). But the job will be won over the next two weeks of double-days ... or someone will at least have the job when the season opens against No. 19 Pepperdine on Aug. 25.
While senior backup setter Cayley Thurlby remains in the mix for the back-court spot, the experiment of using hitter Tara Hittle there is over. Hittle is penciled in as one of the starting outside hitters.
"I was so ready to start that I almost didn't go to (summer school) class today," the junior said. "There is a real high level of excitement. We all got here early, were in the training room probably 2 hours ahead of time.
"It's officially the first day of many days of practices. Needless to say, we have high goals and will do everything we can to accomplish them."
It's also officially the first day of Thurlby's last season. The fifth-year senior turns 22 today and "I've been looking forward to this season, but I'm trying not to rush things," she said. "It's really cool to see the excitement and enthusiasm out here.
"We had a team meeting after that loss (to Missouri) and we talked about what we were going to sacrifice to make this season better, how we realized we couldn't do that again (losing in the regional semifinal). We have to change something."
For Thurlby, it will mean changing positions throughout the season. The designed "utility player" again will see reps at setter, right-side hitter, libero and serving specialist.
"Same story, different day," Thurlby said. "I never know where I'll be playing, but I've got to be ready, adapt, play my game, practice hard. Do all the things I normally do plus more."
Although the majority of the players are returning, Shoji knows the chemistry and dynamics will be different this year. As it is every year.
"Every team has to have its own identity," he said. "We'll see how this team develops in personality and dynamics.
"We lost Victoria (Prince), Susie (Boogaard) and Ashley, but talent-wise we'll be fine. I think this is a very promising year, like most of them are. I'm excited."
Shoji was about 20 minutes later than the scheduled 3 p.m. start time yesterday. He was returning from New York, where he had been watching younger son Erik at the USA Boys Youth National Team tryouts.
"No, I'm not running laps because I'm late," he said. "I'm here right at the time I said I would be."
The joking aside, Shoji and his staff have some serious work to do to get the Wahine ready, not just for the season opener but also for the run at a national championship. Hawaii hasn't won a title since 1987 and last made it to the final four when Kamana'o and Thurlby were freshmen.
"For the seniors, this is their last chance and they've got to believe this is the year," Shoji said. "I think we have the ingredients to win, but a lot of things have to fall into place."
Note: Due to summer school, the Wahine will have rare late second practices (8-10 p.m.) through tomorrow. They'll return to normal morning-afternoon sessions Saturday.