DIVISION II VOLLEYBALL
Seasiders' Peters thrives in 'new' North Shore setting
A former state champion at Kahuku, the hitter leads BYUH in both kills and digs per game
The last time the Brigham Young University-Hawaii women's volleyball team won the Division II national title, Tuli Peters was leading Kahuku to a statewide championship as a high school senior.
Both happened in 2002. Four years later, Peters finds herself back home in Laie to spark her new team, the Seasiders, to a return to postseason glory. Ninth-ranked BYUH is 19-0 this year, including a conference-clinching 14-0 mark in the PacWest.
Peters spent her first two years at Fresno State under coach Lindy Vivas, before Vivas was ousted in a highly-publicized situation in 2004. Since then, the change of scenery has been a welcome one for Peters.
"Before I left for college, I said I would play for Lindy Vivas or play in front of my family," Peters said. "When that thing happened with Lindy at Fresno State, I knew I would be coming home and I'm very happy to be here."
The redshirt junior has thrived in her "new" surroundings, due in part to the Laie community, the local atmosphere and a system she was familiar with from her Red Raider days.
Add in four other former Kahuku players on the roster, including two -- Lesina Funaki and setter LeeAnn Mapu -- who she played with during their title run, things were eerily reminiscent of days gone by.
"One of the first things I thought when I got back, I was like, 'Hmm, back in high school,' '' Peters said with a laugh.
She leads the team in both kills per game (5.83) -- good for fourth-highest in the nation -- and digs per game (4.15), highlighted by a 26-kill, 31-dig match against Hawaii-Hilo in September.
Seasiders coach Wilfred Navalta glows about the contributions of his new star.
"I think first of all she has excellent athletic talent," he said. "She can jump, she's quick, she has a nice arm swing. She has a good attitude -- she's humble
and tries to adjust to what we're asking.
"Her emotional-psychological-mental qualities and skills are just helping the other members to play on a higher level. She's definitely a great asset to the team."
Peters hit a setback this week when she severely strained a back muscle, which forced her to sit out consecutive games against Hawaii Pacific. But she said she hopes to be cleared to play by the regular-season finale against Chaminade on Nov. 3, and fully back in the swing of things for the Western Regionals.
She's sprung for 20 or more kills eight times this season. It's no coincidence that BYUH has been pushed to five games only once, in a home match against Grand Canyon.
Peters, who lists her favorite athletic accomplishment as her Kahuku team's state title, had to mull over what a collegiate title would mean.
"Compared to high school, man I dunno. I guess at the college level the reward would be much higher because we are at a higher level of play, and you're competing with teams from all around the nation, it'd be pretty awesome," she said.
Things have been pretty awesome for the Seasiders since Peters' arrival. With her offense at the left-side attacker position, one of the biggest tasks for Navalta this year has been keeping his high-flying team grounded. BYUH went 20-5 last year before getting bounced in the first round of the West Regionals by Cal State-San Bernardino.
"We can't worry about where we are, (we) have to worry about the next team and take care of business," said Navalta before his team clinched the PacWest title. "That's my challenge as a coach now. Play in the here and now in the present, and don't look back and don't look forward."
BYUH is not an especially elevated team, with 5-11 sophomore middle blocker Faylynn Merrick as its tallest player -- the 5-9 Peters describes the Seasiders as "vertically challenged" -- so they make up for it in other ways, with hustle on defense and accuracy on serves.
Peters knows that the competition may not be quite at the same level as her former opponents, but her coach has willed maximum effort out of her.
Navalta explained that Peters' Division-I experience is both a gift and a dilemma.
"Many times I've pulled her on the side and said, 'Tuli, you've got to step out and dominate on the outside. The way you're gonna do it, you've got to utilize your athletic ability. If you don't really put out with your jumps and attacks, you're going to be just like anybody else.'
"I think she kind of understands that, but I think that's her challenge, to push herself. We need the best ability to put forward and help our team. (And) that's what she's been doing."
In the meantime, though, Peters will enjoy the local support she never got on the mainland.
"I even got one guy" -- she laughs -- "to come up with the Fresno State picture of me to sign an autograph," she said. "That was pretty awkward. It's good to have that local spirit, that aloha spirit here. That's definitely something you can't get anywhere else."