DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sarah Mason will go from putting away spikes to putting her own line of clothing down the runway after she finishes her UH career. CLICK FOR LARGE
Pattern of success
Hawaii's Sara Mason is a cut above when it comes to volleyball and fashion design
SHE'S LONG been making a statement.
Whether it was how she was stylin' when cutting up waves as a youngster on the Hawaii Amateur Surfing Association circuit or styling an outfit when cutting up material as a fashion design major.
A gangly blonde tomboy growing up in Hilo, Sarah Mason figured that as long as she was standing out, she might as well as stand out. From showing no fear in the surf to being unafraid as the only girl -- and one of the best players -- on the Christian Liberty boys varsity team as a sophomore.
What: WAC Tournament
Where: Lawlor Events Center, Reno, Nev.
When: Nov. 22-24
No. 1 Hawaii
No. 2 New Mexico State
No. 3 Idaho
No. 4 Nevada
No. 5 San Jose State
No. 6 Utah State
No. 7 Boise State
No. 8 Fresno State
No. 9 Louisiana Tech
Hawaii will play: Tomorrow, 5:30 p.m. HST, against the winner between No 8. Fresno State and No. 9 Louisiana Tech.
TV: KFVE (Ch. 5) will broadcast the quarterfinal match and the semifinal match, if UH advances.
Radio: 1420-AM will broadcast all the UH matches live. Matches can also be heard over the Internet on www.sportsradio 1420.com.
In a few more weeks -- "more" being the operative word in Hawaii volleyball land -- Sarah Mason will trade her impressive shots down the line to concentrate on putting a clothing line down the runway. But until that aloha ball goes down on her Rainbow Wahine career, the 6-foot-3 senior left-side hitter will continue to put her label on a most unexpected season.
Mason had planned to be Hawaii's starting right-side hitter at this week's Western Athletic Conference tournament in Reno, Nev. Actually, Mason had been planning to be on the right side since training there last spring, as much to give her well-used hitting shoulder a break as it was to help fill the void left by departed senior Susie Boogaard.
But the medical gods had other plans for Mason and Hawaii. Early season-ending injuries to middle Nickie Thomas and left-side hitter Tara Hittle had Mason back on the left ... where she has started for 23 matches ... and been dominating of late.
In her past three matches, Mason has had a combined 62 kills, hitting .457 against then-No. 20 New Mexico and .489 at Boise State. She also added nine aces to her team-leading 53.
"Mason was pretty much unstoppable against Boise," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "She kept hitting right over the heads of the blockers. She's really seeing the block well as well as being a smart hitter.
"Hitting for that high of a percentage is not easy on the left. Ask (sophomore left-side) Jamie Houston. Left-side hitters are always getting the ball in the worst possible cases, when there is no other option. Mason has carried us. I just wish we had her all four years."
But it was not to be. Shoji had one scholarship left for the 2003 class and it came down to Mason and one of her best friends from childhood, Hilo-born Alicia Arnott. Shoji gave the scholarship to Arnott, who led the team in kills as a sophomore and is redshirting this season.
"We knew Mason was going to be a really good player but we didn't have the scholarship for her," Shoji said. "We thought Arnott was the more advanced player. That's what it came down to."
Mason didn't want to be a financial burden on her family and decided to take the scholarship offer to Oregon. She was a very good player -- two-time All-Pac-10 -- on a very poor Duck (1-35) squad.
"I wish I could have come here right out of high school but going to the Pac-10 made me a way better player than I probably would have been coming straight here," Mason said. "I probably would have redshirted my first year. We had (All-American left-side hitters) Kim (Willoughby) and Lily (Kahumoku). Plus I don't think people thought I could play.
"I learned so much right away because I had to play right away. I have no regrets going away. Even though it was tough losing all the time, you learn a lot from losing. It shows you a lot about yourself."
This season has been another learning experience. Hawaii has struggled, losing four of its first nine when injuries dictated lineup changes.
"I'm pretty sure no one expected the whole 2004 class going out," Mason said of Thomas, Hittle and Jessica Keefe being sidelined. "But things happen and this is what we have to deal with. I prepared all spring, all preseason on the right side and then I'm not there.
"I was hoping I could make it through the season without taking as many swings but you've just got to suck it up. If they need you, they need you. We've overcome so much this season and it's only made us stronger. I see this as one of those unexpected seasons. People think we're not going to do that well and then we're going to take everyone by surprise and win the national championship."
The bold statement doesn't surprise her parents, who have seen the determination to excel from an early age. As well as seen her grow physically -- 8 inches in high school, another inch as a college freshman -- and into All-American consideration.
"Sarah has a very fierce competitive spirit," her mother, Marcia, said. "She's always been fearless. She'd jump off the cliffs to go out and catch the big waves with dad when she was pretty young."
"I remember her being this little kid in the third grade, not handling the ball very well and then all of a sudden it all started to connect," her father, Bill, said. "There was this revelation. And now this."
"This" is a dream realized for Mason.
"It's probably the most amazing experience I'll ever have in my life," she said. "It's something you can't relive. I hope people have seen me as someone who loves the game."
And loves creating, whether it's crocheting beanies for her Wahine teammates, designing bathing suits or sewing shirts. Mason received an "A" on a project earlier this semester, a turquoise and white aloha shirt she gave to boyfriend, UH basketball player Bobby Nash.
Mason, taught by her mother to sew at age 10, hasn't decided on a name for her clothing line.
"It will be one of those spontaneous things," she said.