RAINBOW WAHINE VOLLEYBALL
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
UH middle Kari Gregory had career highs in kills and blocks on consecutive nights against Pepperdine last month.
Gregory gives back
Kari Gregory's generous nature has made her a popular member of the UH volleyball team
She's long been considered a mother hen, the type who strives for harmony by making sure everyone is equally happy and taken care of.
The type who sees extra food in the refrigerator and decides to share it with an impromptu "Hey, come on over" barbecue.
NO. 23 CAL POLY AT NO. 12 HAWAII
When: Today and tomorrow, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Today, Oceanic 255 PPV ($25 Oahu, $15 neighbor island). Tomorrow, KFVE (Ch. 5)
Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
The type who is chosen captain of her high school volleyball team as a sophomore and keeps the job for two more years.
All that maturity finally caught up with Kari Gregory yesterday when she turned 22 and declared herself "officially old."
There was no cake for the 6-foot-2 junior middle blocker, but there were lots of presents in the form of hugs from her Hawaii volleyball teammates. For Gregory, considered very much a team player, there was no other way to celebrate than to be surrounded by friends doing what she loved ... playing volleyball.
"People ask why I came here to play," she said. "I had no intention of doing it. I had made my decision to go to (UC) Santa Barbara and I only came out (on recruiting visit) so there would be no doubt.
"But everything seemed to fit. It felt right. There was such a family-like atmosphere. I knew this is where I wanted to be."
It hasn't always been easy, particularly while redshirting in 2003 when making the transition from outside hitter to middle. The Las Vegas native came to Hawaii after leading The Meadows High to two consecutive state championships in volleyball and two state second-place finishes in basketball.
Gregory spent her freshman year sharing one middle spot with Juliana Sanders, another
redshirt freshman. The two complemented each other, with Hawaii coach Dave Shoji wishing he could blend Gregory's blocking ability with Sanders' offense to create one complete player.
Her sophomore year saw a knee problem that put her behind Sanders, who went on to earn all-conference honors. This season, Gregory has started all eight matches for the No. 12 Rainbow Wahine, including putting down a career-high 12 kills against Pepperdine on Aug. 25 and tying her career high with 11 blocks against the Waves the next night.
She leads Hawaii in blocks (1.63 bpg) and is third in hitting percentage (.341) while averaging 2.19 kills.
"Kari has the ability to play at a high level, but she needs to be more consistent ... as do all our players," Shoji said. "She has good attacking skills and blocking skills, and when she's on, she is very, very good.
"But more than anything, she is a total team player, a real giver, always concerned with other people. She is one of those players you want on a team."
Ask the Wahine about Gregory and the answers are the same: sweet, caring, unselfish ... and a great cook. Her specialties are chicken parmesan, pasta and barbecue.
If it were feasible, Gregory would have a cookout every Sunday, just as her family does back in Las Vegas. Her father, Kim, bought a gas grill for the house that Gregory shares with teammates Cayley Thurlby, Caroline Blood and Tara Hittle and they use it ... if they can get it lit.
"If not, we just give up," Thurlby said. "Kari loves to entertain, loves to have people over. She's probably the most giving person I know."
But on the court?
"She's very hard on herself but is also very determined to improve because she loves the game," Thurlby, a senior setter, said. "If she gets stuffed, she'll turn and say, 'Give me the ball.'
"What's most comforting is she'll make adjustments and won't roll over. She's very competitive."
That was almost a necessity for survival in the close-knit athletic Gregory household, where she still holds her own with brothers Matt and Adam. It was that competitiveness that led to her fracturing and dislocating her left ring finger days before returning to school.
While with her family at a hydroplane race in Madison, Ind. -- her father owns the unlimited Designer Glass and Shower -- Gregory was tossing a football with her brother Matt.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kari Gregory averages 2.19 kills per game for the Rainbow Wahine while hitting at a .341 clip.
"I was trying to outdo him and caught it the wrong way," she said. "It dislocated at the knuckle. I've joked that when I get married, my wedding ring will have to be like a clamp because it won't go over the knuckle."
Gregory has added extra tape on her hands, which hasn't allowed her to set the ball as cleanly as she's capable of doing. While in high school, she took reps as a setter. She never played the position during a match ... although she came close.
"I asked if I could set against the worst team in the league," she said. "My coach said yes, but the match was closer than he liked and he didn't want me running into someone and getting hurt.
"What I do miss here is getting to play defense. In high school and club I was in Tara's position (middle back) on defense. It's part of the game that I find challenging."
The challenge for Gregory is to keep getting better during her time in the front row.
"She has good blocking instincts," associate coach Mike Sealy said. "There's some technical things she needs to work on, but her instincts are good."
Just as her arm swing is unorthodox. Gregory has no muscle under her right shoulder blade, which affects the way she attacks the ball. She has to cock her arm instead of getting a full extension.
Of all her challenges, Gregory said it's her mental game that has needed the most work.
"I'm trying not to get down on myself," she said. "I'm trying not go into a hole if I get blocked in the face.
"I'm working on staying mentally in the game. I want to be a more mature player."
Old, in this case, is a good thing.
Note: Hawaii's match at Louisiana Tech has been rescheduled from Oct. 12 to Oct. 11 due to a conflict with a concert at the Thomas Assembly Center.