Walk-ons hoping to hang on
The Rainbow Wahine coaches watch everything
They are -- and always have been -- the life blood of the program. Young women who have enough confidence, heart and guts to take a stab at walking on to Hawaii, one of the top volleyball programs in the country.
Yesterday was the second day for four newcomers, two others who were with Rainbow Wahine as non-roster players last season and another who is in her fourth season with the team. All seven are vying for a libero and/or a defensive specialist role.
It is a toss-up as to who has the tougher job: the players trying to impress Hawaii coach Dave Shoji, or Shoji who has to make the cuts.
"We've always had quality walk-ons and, this year, we've got some amazing quality," Shoji said yesterday. "You'd think out of the six to seven who are here, there'd be an obvious cut. But there's not.
"All these kids can play. The quality really is extraordinary."
The experience level ranges from junior Raeceen Woolford, who has seen court time for two seasons following a redshirt year, to freshmen Jayme Lee and Rayna Kitaguchi, redshirt practice players last year. There are also four transfers, two who were raised here -- sophomores Makana Recca (Kamehameha/San Francisco) and Spenser Rigg (Punahou/ Barry) -- and two from the mainland -- Elise Duggins (Long Beach State) and Maile Adolphson (Mesa College, San Diego).
Rigg comes from a long line of volleyball players -- three uncles and her father all won championships at Punahou and Pepperdine. She was the starting libero for Division II Barry last season, leading the Buccaneers with 4.12 digs per game.
"It's a different level than I'm used to, really intense," said Rigg, captain of two Buffanblu state championship teams under her father, Scott. "It's interesting to be around so many players who are this dedicated to the sport. I told my dad, you've got to really love volleyball to be spending your every waking moment here in the arena.
"Growing up and looking in from the outside, you have this idea of how it is. When you get a peek in, you realize these people have put a lot of time, a lot of their lives into this sport. That's an impressive thing."
Rigg has been doing informal workouts with the team since June. Duggins, whose older sister Lauren played for the Wahine from 2000-03, was here all spring semester.
"There is a lot of competition for the spot," said Elise Duggins, who played sparingly for the 49ers in 2004 and sat out last season. "It's been a very smooth transfer for me. It has helped that some of the players played with my sister and I've played against others.
"It's going well so far. I'm just going to work hard and show Dave (Shoji) I belong on the court and can help the team."
There are no promises nor guarantees that the hard work the next few weeks will pay off. But, for Recca, she's going to keep fighting.
"They've said they're looking for who can step it up," said Recca, a reserve for the Dons last season. "I have to make sure that my game is on every time. Competition is good for me, I like competing and fighting for a spot.
"I've always tried to perform at the highest level. Why not come home and play with the best?"
But what will it take to even make the practice squad? Lee willingly gives her competition advice.
"I tell them to keep their head up, no matter what happens, even if you think nobody's watching," Lee said. "They (the coaches) are watching everything, how loud you are, how energetic. You have to keep pushing, even when you're about to break down.
"I broke down a lot last year. There's so much pressure. I tell them to relax, have fun and enjoy what you love doing."
If Shoji is not familiar with a potential walk-on, he invites them to watch a practice first.
"A lot of them are scared away by that and wash themselves out," he said. "But these kids have all played at a high level."
Adolphson is the one unfamiliar face who has stuck around. The All-Pacific Coast Conference libero helped Mesa to a 12-0 league record, 19-3 overall last season, averaging 6.89 dpg.
"This is definitely more challenging," said Adolphson, whose only tie to Hawaii is that her sister recently moved here. "I know Hawaii is good. I've got to give it a shot."
"These are all good volleyball players and they'd be playing if they were in any other program," Shoji said. "If a young woman thinks enough of her game to ask to try out for this program, then they probably have something going for them."
Talent and determination, just to name two.
"I was really scared last year," Lee said. "You're thrown into a whole new world. When you walk on, you're really challenged, you're pushed.
"It takes a lot of perseverance and guts and heart."