Houston doesn’t need the hype
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All-America honors as a sophomore.
Idaho (3-6) at Hawaii (6-3)
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A top-10 national ranking in kills with the ability to tee off at any time for a 30-plus night.
Conference preseason player of the year this season.
As it is said, to whom much is given, much is expected.
It would be a heavy burden to carry if Jamie Houston cared about the hype or the accolades. But the junior outside hitter for No. 15 Hawaii doesn't.
"I don't feel any extra pressure because I don't think about those things," Houston said. "If I get them (honors), it's nice, but it doesn't matter. If it wasn't for my coaches and my teammates, I wouldn't be where I am."
Which is poised to help the Rainbow Wahine to a 12th consecutive Western Athletic Conference title. Hawaii (6-3) opens the WAC season tonight against Idaho (3-6) at the Stan Sheriff Center.
The Wahine are coming off three straight wins and the championship of the Waikiki Beach Marriott Challenge. Houston rebounded from a negative-hitting night against Eastern Washington to earn the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award; she had two of her five double-doubles this year in the victories over Wichita State and Santa Clara (a combined 53 kills and 21 digs).
"For us to be good, Jamie has to be good," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "For us to be great, she needs to be great."
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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Once upon a time, Hawaii's Jamie Houston thought volleyball was boring. Not any more.
BORING with a capital B. That was Jamie Houston's take on the sport of volleyball.
And no contact? What was that all about?
There was little about that "other game" that attracted the basketball-addicted Houston. That is, until she discovered she could be very good very quickly.
Volleyball suits her, much like her orange shoes. The junior left-side hitter for Hawaii wears them because they're fun and they're different ... two things that can also describe what it's like to watch Houston play.
There are very few players -- at any level of the sport -- who can elevate above the block. The 6-foot-2 Houston is one of them, with that "Touch? No touch!" capability of putting a ball down with authority.
How high? There's practice vertical (about 10 feet, 5 inches) and then there's game-time vertical, sometimes with a delay in hang time.
"I have no idea how high I jump in a game," she said. "Sometimes I'm a lot higher than I think I am.
"It's a lot of fun hitting over the block. I like it when they jump early. Sometimes even I don't know when I'm going to hit the ball."
Her favorite set is high with tempo. After two seasons with all-everything setter Kanoe Kamana'o, Houston has had to adjust to the current starter, sophomore Stephanie Brandt.
"I was intimidated by her when I first got here," said Brandt, who transferred from UC Santa Barbara. "When you hear she's (third-team) All-American who was hitting off Kanoe ... I thought, 'Oh, gosh, I hope she doesn't hate me.'
"But she works with you and, if the set isn't there, she takes part of the responsibility. She's a great player and easy in the sense that I can always set her high.
"It's fun to play with someone who can terminate the ball. I don't get many kills, so I have to live vicariously through her. Every time she has a kill, it's, 'Yes!' "
There were more "oh no"s in the beginning as the two learned to connect. At the beginning of the season, it seemed that as Houston went, so did Hawaii, with inconsistency plaguing both.
It happened again last Thursday against Eastern Washington. Houston struggled in Game 1, with five kills against eight errors.
"I told her that for us to be good, she has to be in there," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "I thought she responded well in Games 2 and 3."
Houston never got out of negative percentage (minus-.077) but finished with 10 kills, committing four errors the rest of the way. The next two nights she had double-doubles, with a combined 53 kills and 21 digs en route to being named the Waikiki Beach Marriott Challenge's most outstanding player.
"I think she's the one player on our team who can really create her kills," Shoji said. "She can go up and over (the block) when she's on. That's what separates her from the other players.
"She does have to be more consistent, choose her spots and cut down on the errors. It's always been an issue, that she tries to kill every ball. She needs to hit smart."
Houston has raised her volleyball IQ, thanks in part to a stint this past summer with the U.S. national A2 team. Her eyes have been further opened to the possibility of playing in the Olympics.
"I'm going for it," Houston said of the 2012 Games. "My goals are to play overseas and for the national team. And go to law school when I'm done."
The sociology major is well on her way to being a prosecutor with her cross-examinations ... of herself. When she knows she's struggling, Houston said she gives herself the "Jamie Talk."
"Sometimes my confidence level goes down," she said. "I know I can play a lot better, so I talk to myself."
The answers? Five double-doubles in nine matches, 162 kills, 83 digs and 26 blocks.
"I've seen her grow so much," junior captain Tara Hittle said. "She has so much ability and so much potential.
"When she first came in, she was an awesome athlete. She's become a volleyball player."
The conversion was slow. Her parents asked her to give up basketball in high school to concentrate on volleyball but Houston refused. Instead, she played both at Huntsville (Ala.) High and excelled in both, named as the state player of the year twice in volleyball and two-time all-state in basketball (scoring 1,000 points and nominated to the McDonald's All-American game).
"I don't even know why I started playing this game," Houston said. "I thought it was boring, there was no contact.
"But then I met my coach (former Olympian Rose Magers-Powell) and now I love it."
Forget about boring AND no contact. Houston has solved that by developing her favorite shot.
"Cross-court, right at the libero's face," she said.
Just ask Santa Clara libero Caroline Walters, who was knocked over by a Houston that-will-leave-a-mark missile last Saturday.
Houston has turned boring into boom. With a capital 'B.'