CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rainbow Wahine backup setter decided to stay at Hawaii to complete her career despite getting stuck behind Kanoe Kamana'o. In this, their senior year, the two setters are co-captains. They play their last regular-season matches at home tonight against Louisiana Tech and Sunday against New Mexico State.
Hawaii’s Thurlby sees only the good in decision to stay
The Wahine's backup setter stuck it out and has enjoyed herself
There are a lot of sport-specific T-shirts out there.
"Life is Volleyball." "Life is Basketball." "Life is (fill in the blank)."
Louisiana Tech at No. 14 Hawaii
When: Today, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE (Ch. 5)
Radio: KKEA (1420-AM)
In Cayley Thurlby's mental closet, it reads:
"Life is Life."
That's the game the Hawaii senior chose to play for the past five seasons, a redshirt who became not just a role player but a role model. Someone who considers playing behind fellow co-captain Kanoe Kamana'o -- one of the greatest setters in Rainbow Wahine volleyball history -- not a matter of bad timing but of good fortune.
"Part of it is me being stubborn," said Thurlby, one of three UH seniors playing their final regular-season home matches tonight and Sunday. "I chose this path for myself. I knew I'd regret leaving here regardless of whether I'd be playing or not.
"My mind-set was that I was going to play because I love the sport, not because I wanted to play all the time. I know I could have played a lot of places and, I'm not going to lie, I had my dad look into a few options for me. But my heart was here. I couldn't imagine leaving my new family. I would have been depriving myself of this opportunity."
And Thurlby has taken advantage of every opportunity that has come her way, on and off the court. She is the team representative on the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, leading to her involvement with the campus Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
A co-captain, along with Kamana'o, the 22-year-old Thurlby has also become the team mom.
"She has a huge role on the team, even though she doesn't play much," junior middle Kari Gregory said of her housemate the past two years. "She's still the captain and runs everything, always reminding us of important dates, things we have to do.
"She's leaving a huge hole in this team. She's started to pack up the house, and it's starting to hit home that she's going to be gone in a month."
Thurlby is graduating with a double major in marketing and broadcast journalism. She hopes to be playing indoors in Europe in a few months, perhaps getting back to the beach tour in a few years.
She is leaving with no regrets and suitcases of respect.
"She's been a great teammate to work with, especially playing the same position," Kamana'o said. "Could I have done what she did? I don't think so.
"She's been very supportive, helping me with setting, helping me during games to see what I can't see. We've pushed each other in practice. She's a leader and there are no worries when she's setting. Maybe she hasn't gotten as many reps, but she set an awesome two matches this year."
When Kamana'o sat out the September matches against Fairfield and Northwestern to rest a hip injury, Thurlby showed off the skills that made her a Fab 50 selection and AAU All-American out of high school. Thurlby had a career-high 63 assists with five kills and 12 digs in the 3-1 win over Northwestern and 48 assists in the sweep of Fairfield.
In her 205 games, Thurlby has compiled 405 assists, including 167 this season. She has been used at setter, defensive specialist and right-side hitter.
Coach Dave Shoji has tried to use her whenever and wherever he could.
"I can't say enough about her," Shoji said. "Both she and Kanoe are everything you want in a daughter and a player -- solid individuals, team players.
"It's been tough for Cayley. We had no idea when we recruited her if we'd get Kanoe (a year later) or that Kanoe would be so good. I totally expected her to leave. Not that I wanted her to, but I would have totally understood. She could have played a lot of places, and places closer to home. She has made the most of the situation."
Associate coach Kari Anderson Ambrozich not only can sympathize but empathize. Ambrozich, originally from Minnesota, was Cheri Boyer's backup in 1991, set the team in 1992 but ended up playing behind All-American and Olympian Robyn Ah Mow for most of her last two seasons.
"I give her a lot of credit," Ambrozich said of Thurlby. "At least I got to play a year. She's hung in there and yet to show any attitude to this day.
"I'm sure she's probably cried about her predicament, but she's always come right back to who she is. It says something about her values, the loyalty. I think the fans and community understand how she's handled the situation with maturity and graces. She works really hard, really pushes people and can also be your supportive best friend."
As much as Thurlby has given, she knows it has come back tenfold. It goes beyond pushing herself out of her comfort zone and experiencing the many cultures Hawaii has to offer, more than acquiring a taste for poke and kim chee fried rice.
"I'm pretty spiritual, and I believe that I don't have much control over my life," she said. "I didn't have the career I thought I would have, but I guess God wanted me to become more of a well-rounded person.
"Of all the things I will miss, I'll miss the people most of all. Everyone who takes care of this volleyball ohana that we have. The best thing about living here are the people who want to take the time to get to know you personally, running into your "auntie" who isn't related to you but is family.
"And I've definitely learned a lot from Kanoe. Her family is so close and such a fun group to be around. The dynamics of our friendship evolved for the best. Had it been someone else, I might not still be here or be the person I've become."
Thurlby's family arrived from Illinois on Wednesday -- dad, mom, younger brother and sister. It's their first trip here in three years.
"My parents have had to grow up as much as I have," Thurlby said. "I think it was harder on them, being frustrated parents who didn't see their kid get in the game. It means the world to me that they're out here.
"But I am part of a family here, too. The biggest pleasure of being part of this program is making it something personal. It's something you take ownership in, whether you're on the court or not.
"I'm very thankful for all the relationships I've developed. It's time to say thank you and where do I start?"