JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Now that she's not coaching, Tita Ahuna has more time for the things she enjoys, such as playing with her band, "Kaikea."
Ahuna stopping to smell the ginger
The legendary Wahine volleyball player is taking time away after her departure from HPU
It's a strange feeling for Reydan "Tita" Ahuna.
It's August and, for the first time in more than 30 years, her time at this time of year is actually her own.
No practice to attend.
The grass of her Papakolea home gets watered regularly.
No worries about facilities, officials, scheduling.
There's time to smell the awapuhi, the white ginger, growing in her yard and play with her puppy, Puka, a pug that will be 1 next month.
No scouting reports to look over, tapes to watch.
She can relax on the second-story lanai, enjoy the breeze that rides above Kanaha Stream and bounces off the lower slope of Tantalus. Aunty Genoa Keawe lives perhaps a little too far down the road to catch the sound of that legendary, distinctive, sweet falsetto voice ... but the potential is there.
And that's how the 39-year-old Ahuna sees her future. She might not be able to see or hear what's coming around the corner, but there is a promise of something good.
Ahuna has stayed busy since June 14, the day she resigned as the Hawaii Pacific volleyball coach. It was hard to walk away after 10 seasons, two NCAA Division II national championships and five conference titles.
Two months later, it's still hard for Ahuna to talk about her decision. She cited "personal reasons" for her departure then and doesn't want to publicly discuss it now.
During her tenure, which included Ahuna being the senior woman administrator, HPU went through four athletic directors. During that time, she went 207-58 and, in 2000, had the first perfect season in Division II women's volleyball history (28-0).
"It wasn't a hasty decision," Ahuna said. "And I was hesitant because of the athletes I left behind. But I know they'll be OK. I left an All-American (Barbara Martin) and four returnees who should start. I wouldn't leave without leaving a good foundation.
"I hope I made an impact there. We had great success, great athletes. I'm happy with my decision. It's a different happy than before and it feels like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I'm not worrying all the time about what needs to get done."
Instead, she's doing what she needs to do when she wants to do it. Being able to be with family when her uncle died and her aunt had a heart attack. Saying no when Hawaii-Hilo called to ask if she'd interview for the Vulcans' volleyball vacancy. Saying yes to volleyball clinics on neighbor islands.
And playing the bass with her band, "Kaikea," named for one of her nephews. She bought the instrument six years ago as a stress reliever.
"I needed an outlet," she said. "I couldn't always get out to the beach, go surf. I didn't have much of a social life. My friends told me if I bought a bass, they'd teach me to play.
"I love it. We play Hawaiian, Jawaiian, all kinds of music. The girls in the band are all very talented and keep me in check. Me? I don't think I'm going to be playing at the Waikiki Shell."
IT'S AUGUST AND it's odd that she's not hearing a whistle. Ahuna smiles, thinking about her days as the first girl to play football for the Tantalus Athletic Club. She quarterbacked the youth team that included future Hawaii all-conference lineman Joe Onosai, a team where none of the boys wanted to be the center, bending over to hike the ball to a girl.
Then there's all those practices in the gyms and on the fields at Kamehameha Schools, where Ahuna earned 13 varsity letters. She led the Warriors to state girls volleyball championships as a player in 1982 and 1983, as well as coached the Warrior boys to state titles in 1991 and 1993.
It is widely accepted that Ahuna is the only person in volleyball history to win state high school and college championships as both a player and a coach. In 1987, the 21-year-old All-American captained the Rainbow Wahine to their last national title, a team that included three other players who came into the program the same time Ahuna did -- and on the heels of consecutive NCAA championships in 1982-83: Suzanne Eagye, Mahina Eleneki and Diana Jessie.
"Dave (UH coach Shoji) lost so much hair with our group," Ahuna said. "We weren't one of the top recruiting classes. I was probably the only one who went on a recruiting trip (to Pacific).
"It's been almost 20 years since that title, but I know from experience it's not easy. For Dave, there's a lot of expectations. I didn't know what he was going through until I was in his position as a head coach. People expect it from you, but how many other teams are trying to win it, too?"
Many in the volleyball community figured Ahuna would be a logical choice to replace Shoji when he retires. The 59-year-old, beginning his 32nd season, has said he'd like to stay another five years.
"I think she'd be a very viable candidate for the job," Shoji said. "But I don't think you can be inactive for too long. She's too good a coach not to be in the business."
"Dave's job is so high-profile," Ahuna said. "Is that the job for me? Whatever I do, I want to give it my best, and if the University of Hawaii job was made available and I was fortunate to get the position, of course I'd love to be there.
"I said it when I was a freshman (at UH), 'Who wouldn't want to be at the University of Hawaii? Who wouldn't want to be a Rainbow Wahine?' "
IT'S AUGUST AND Reynette Ahuna's closet is full of paper goods she bought earlier this year, preparing for yet another season of potlucks for her only daughter's team. She has been her daughter's best friend and biggest fan since Tita picked up a baseball glove at age 5 and officially started her athletic career.
"I've got all the plates, I'm all set up," said Reynette Ahuna, who shares the Papakolea home with her daughter. "It is strange that she's not involved with a team and I have no potlucks to set up. I'm going to miss it, but I know she has some things going on."
"I think Mom is missing it more than I do," Tita Ahuna said. "She did the cooking, washed the towels for so many years. I'm just getting used to the idea and I'm having a lot of fun. And, right now, my grass is not dead."
Ahuna knows she has a lot of options and a life outside of volleyball. She has a master's degree in secondary education -- earned while she was a middle school vice principal -- and also coaching. She has a professional certificate in special education, which she taught for 10 years.
There are thoughts of her going for her Ph.D. -- "I've got the time," she said with a laugh -- but she is concentrating on starting a business. Not surprisingly, it's called P.L.A.Y.: "Positive Learning Activities for Youth."
"My main purpose is to promote different sports for all ages," she said. "I think the 5-10 age group is missing a lot. If I can get a facility, get the younger kids, the home school kids, to come and do P.E. and activities, that's what I want to do.
"I want to do something positive for the community, give Hawaii's youth alternatives to drugs, alcohol, gangs and illegal activities. It's almost too late by ninth grade."
Her forte is volleyball and she has been giving clinics, with more to come. She's already turned down jobs in the private sector.
"I do believe that when one door closes, another opens," Ahuna said. "And I have a lot of doors open. The future holds whatever I choose to make it.
"Right now I can sit back, relax a bit and think about it."
She has the perfect spot. A koa pune'e in her open-air living room with a view beyond a rare, quiet August.