ILLUSTRATION BY BRYANT FUKUTOMI
Head coach Dave Shoji, top left, associate coach Kari Anderson Ambrozich and assistant coach Mike Sealy have the background to help Rainbow Wahine All-America setter Kanoe Kamana'o.
Meet the setters
The Wahine coaching staff is uniquely qualified to work with All-American Kamana'o
There's so much to being a setter on a high-profile college volleyball team. It's a combination of mental and physical strength, of running with the game plan and running on the fly. Of being able to take most of the blame and share all of the credit.
No. 19 Pepperdine at no. 7 Hawaii
When: Today and tomorrow, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE, Ch. 5
Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
The brain trust for the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine volleyball team has decades of experience, three coaches who were successful setters in college: head coach Dave Shoji (UC Santa Barbara), associate coach Kari Anderson Ambrozich (Hawaii) and assistant coach Mike Sealy (UCLA).
The Rainbow Wahine have a legacy of strong defense and of stronger setters. Of Hawaii's 29 All-Americans (55 awards), six have been setters; three other setters earned all-league honors.
It starts at the top with Shoji and continues through Kanoe Kamana'o, the starting senior setter tonight against No. 19 Pepperdine. Kamana'o, who already holds the school assist record (4,897), is on track to become just the second four-time AVCA All-American in the Wahine program.
That all three coaches are former setters wasn't planned, but given the requirements of the position -- particularly a strong understanding of the game -- it is hardly a surprise.
Ambrozich is in her 10th season on the bench, after a four-year UH career (1991-94). The two-time Wahine captain still ranks among the UH career leaders in assists and assist average.
Sealy was hired in March after four years with his alma mater as an assistant to the men's program and one with the women's program. The three-time All-American ranks fourth on the Bruin assist list and was the national player of the year in 1993 after leading UCLA to the NCAA title.
"I hadn't really thought about it when I interviewed Mike, that he was a setter," Shoji said. "It wasn't his selling point. I was impressed with his knowledge of the game. It was only after I hired him that I thought about the three of us all having been setters."
Knowing the game is a prerequisite for a coach and a setter. It's something Shoji looks at when he's recruiting.
"I think there's a lot of things you want in a setter," he said. "One is technique, although you can teach technique. Mentally, they have to be a strong person, someone who isn't afraid to take charge. You don't always get it, but you love to have it.
"They don't have to necessarily be vocal, but they have to be able to run an offense, call the right play in the right situation. There's a lot of information you have to digest and a setter needs to understand the game."
All-American Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, considered one of the finest setters to ever wear a Wahine uniform, was not a vocal leader. But her talent speaks for itself -- so much so that she is a two-time Olympian, continues to set for the national team and has a pro career in Switzerland.
Ask her what a setter needs and her answer is simple: "Hands.
"And I look for how fast she can move, run down balls," she said while watching yesterday's Wahine practice. "She needs to be smart, have court awareness and know what's going on on the other side of the net, not just your side.
"You have to be able to take criticism. You're the quarterback. You have to know how to set a bunch of hitters who all like different sets."
"She's good," Ah Mow-Santos said.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Former Wahine setter Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, left, watched current setter Kanoe Kamana'o at practice this week.
Ambrozich's job is to work with the setters -- Kamana'o, senior backup Cayley Thurlby and freshman Dani Mafua, who'll be redshirting this season.
"There's a definite mind-set to being a setter," Ambrozich said. "You need to have leadership, and I think Kanoe and Cayley have that, and Dani is developing that. You're involved in every single play and obviously you have to make the right choices.
"If I were playing now, I'd be thinking about how to get every one of my hitters in a good comfort zone. Teams make adjustments on you and you have to make adjustments back."
Sealy, she says, has brought a new perspective to the gym.
"Mike brings the men's perspective, being physical at the net," Ambrozich said.
But setting is still about the basics, according to Sealy.
"First and foremost you want to give your hitters a hittable ball. Then you have to look at the matchups across the net.
"I think Kanoe is great at those things. We don't have that superstar, a gun like a Kim (Willoughby) or Lily (Kahumoku). Kanoe does a great job with creating situations for all her hitters."
The casual fan might not appreciate all that a setter does -- "Are there casual fans in Hawaii?" Sealy joked -- but the Wahine coaching staff knows from personal experience what a tough job it is.
"It is a hard position," Kamana'o said. "But it's rewarding, too. You get to be part of every play and, when my hitters put the ball down, I know I helped."
Dave Shoji has decided to redshirt senior hitter Alicia Arnott, a decision made by mutual agreement yesterday. "I think it's better for her and will allow her to get back to speed and contribute," Shoji said. "It's been something we've been thinking about and we finally came to a decision."
The 6-foot Arnott led the team in kills (4.09 kpg) as a sophomore en route to first-team All-Western Athletic Conference and honorable mention all-region honors. The left-side hitter played sparingly last season, averaging 1.51 kpg.
Shoji is still deciding whether to redshirt 6-foot freshman middle/hitter Amber Kaufman.
"We're waiting to see what develops," Shoji said. "She's been holding her own in the middle and is learning the right side. She's done well in preseason and is way ahead of where we thought she was going to be."
Shoji said he planned to start junior Kari Gregory and sophomore Nickie Thomas in the middle tonight along with sophomore Jamie Houston and junior Tara Hittle as left-side hitters. Sophomore Jessica Keefe will be at opposite, junior Raeceen Woolford at libero and senior Kanoe Kamana'o at setter.
Senior right-side hitter Sarah Mason is continuing to rehab her sprained left ankle.
"She'll be available," Shoji said. "She could come in and block some, but she's not ready to hit or play defense."