DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Amber Kaufman said one of the reasons she chose Hawaii over other schools was the chance to play two sports.
Flying under control
Kaufman strives to hit new heights
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Raising the bar.
It's Amber Kaufman's goal, not just as a high jumper for the Hawaii track team but also as a member of the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team.
The sophomore has been elevating her game this season, moving into a starting spot at middle blocker for five of the past six matches. Kaufman didn't start Sept. 22 at New Mexico State but came off the bench for career-highs of 13 kills and a .632 hitting percentage.
"Some people say it's a good thing, to be able to come off the bench," Kaufman said. "But I like starting.
"I'd rather get into the groove of the game, get a good feel from the start."
No. 12 Hawaii (11-3, 5-0 WAC) has won its last eight, taking that streak into tonight's Western Athletic Conference match against Nevada (7-6, 4-2) at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Kaufman is ready to face the Wolf Pack and add to the Wahine's 103 consecutive conference home victories.
"The start of the season was really tough," she said, "And I thought if that was how it was going to keep going that it would be a really long year. But we've kept growing as we've kept going. We're a young team that has continued growing together."
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Don't get mad. Get even.
It's not exactly what Amber Kaufman has in mind when finding out she's not starting.
It's more like: Don't get mad. Get even better.
It happened nearly two weeks ago when Kaufman didn't get the start against then-No. 25 New Mexico State in a key Western Athletic Conference volleyball match. The sophomore middle for Hawaii came off the bench in Game 1, replacing senior Kari Gregory, and ended up with a career night: 13 kills with 1 error in 19 swings (.632).
"Not getting to start always fires me up," Kaufman said. "He (coach Dave Shoji) had told me in pregame that I wasn't starting and I wanted to prove him wrong.
"Everyone says I'm better when I come off the bench, but I'd rather start, get in the groove and get a good feel for the game."
Kaufman, undersized for a middle at 6-feet, is one of the most athletic and least understood of the Rainbow Wahine players.
There are urban myths about her temper while in high school, including an alleged chair-throwing incident.
"I'm not Bobby Knight," she said, alluding to the former Indiana basketball coach tossing a chair during a Big Ten game against Purdue. "I didn't throw a chair. I kicked it. I was mad at myself.
"But that's how I am. I get frustrated when I don't do something right."
Some of the frustration stems from being moved to middle -- her position at Branham High in San Jose, Calif. -- to right-side and then back to middle.
Kaufman doesn't care where she plays as long as she plays. But she also wants to be successful when she is in the match.
"Most of the frustration is about blocking," she said. "That was my strength in high school. And now I'm having a hard time with it. It's all about closing (on the block). It's more that I think I'm there but I'm not.
"I'm starting to get comfortable, but it's one of the things I want to work on."
There is no disputing her athleticism. She admits to being a better high jumper -- Kaufman placed fourth at the WAC championships last spring -- than a volleyball player. Part of the reason she chose Manoa over other schools was the opportunity to compete in two sports.
"I am better at track than volleyball," said Kaufman, ranked sixth nationally as a senior with a jump of 5 feet, 10 1/4 inches. "I don't think I'm one of the best in volleyball.
"Everyone compares me to Victoria Prince. I'm honored to be compared to her and can only hope to make a name for myself."
Kaufman's quickness on the step-out move has many comparing her to many former Wahine. Hawaii has a strong history of agile middles who made the slide their signature play, from Angelica Ljungquist to Heather Bown to Lauren Duggins to Prince.
"It's really fun to set Amber," sophomore setter Stephanie Brandt said. "She has such a huge window (to hit a set). You can set her low or high, she can hit it anywhere because of her hang time."
Shoji has seen the value of adding Kaufman to the lineup.
"She's given us the offense we need out of that position," he said. "Now we need to get a little more blocking and defense out of her."
Kaufman touches close to 10 feet ... but she does so off of one foot. It's part high-jump technique and part Kaufman being Kaufman.
"Every (track) coach I've had has told me how I have no technique," she said. "It's definitely unorthodox. In volleyball, I don't think about technique. I just do it."
Kaufman has mellowed since arriving here. Gone is the tongue ring, there are no additional tattoos and the hair is a natural color.
"Everyone has a perception of me, that I'm hard or something, and it may seem that way," Kaufman said. "But I'm a nice person. That other stuff doesn't say who I am in my daily life or in volleyball."
Kaufman prefers to let her athletic ability do the talking on the court.
"Some guy came up to me and said I was going to be an All-American this year," Kaufman said. "I told him thanks, but I don't know about that ... this year. But I'd like to be good enough to be one before I finish here."