Hawaii Grown: College Athletics
COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF UTAH
Kailua graduate Malakai Mokofisi starts at linebacker for Utah, and has recorded 20 tackles this season.
Hawaii connection at Utah
SALT LAKE CITY » Even at a home away from home, a Hawaii-born player can feel lost.
On the Utah Utes football team, the eight island boys help find each other.
"The Hawaii boys, there's always the older guys, they take everybody under their wing and kind of make them feel more comfortable or at home, to help them ease into it," third-year sophomore linebacker Kepa Gaison said after a team practice. "This year, Nai Fotu was a kid from Hawaii, and as soon as he came, it made the transition a lot easier because you have people to relate to."
Fotu, a true freshman defensive end out of Kahuku, has impressed of late. He got in for two tackles for loss and a sack last week in the Utes' 23-7 win against San Diego State, and also has a forced fumble this season.
But Gaison, a 2005 Kamehameha graduate out of Kaneohe, had trouble adapting to life in Salt Lake City his first season as a walk-on punter. After that rough patch, he's embraced his Rocky Mountain surroundings since, through a change of heart (and position).
It was harder for former Iolani running back Ray Stowers.
Stowers, a junior, was tabbed as the Utes' starting back going into this season. But he was coming off a lifetime's worth of injury trouble: Nagging shoulder injuries dating back to his sophomore season for the Raiders led to four surgeries and little playing time.
COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF UTAH
Projected as Utah's starting runing back entering the season, junior Ray Stowers, a former Iolani standout, has been slowed by several nagging injuries.
Stowers has kept his chin up.
º"It's a miracle I'm still playing and stuff," he said. "I just learned that no matter what, if you really want to do something you can do it. I'm still living the dream and I'm healthy right now, so I thank God."
Stowers went for 23 yards and a touchdown on five rushes last season while easing his way back. This season, he's second on the team in rushing with 92 yards, behind Darrell Mack. He hasn't been stopped for a loss yet, and is thankful for the support of his fellow Hawaii players during his prolonged inactivity.
"We all get along. We know that we come from somewhere special and that's the thing we got in common," he said. "The L&L (Drive Inn) we got down the road, I always see someone I know there, another local. It's just a good feeling to have."
Like Stowers, redshirt freshman Daniel Bukarau (Kailua) has also missed the last three years of his football career -- although for an entirely different reason.
The offensive lineman just returned after last season from a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission to Costa Rica.
"That was probably the best experience of my life, to meet the people and everything," Bukarau said. "You really can't compare the experience to anything else. It really helps you to grow up, move on to the adult level."
The only thing he lamented was not being able to lift weights or run around -- something that his classmate from Kailua, Malakai Mokofisi (now a senior) ribs him about.
"I think it'll come to him," said Mokofisi, a starting linebacker with 20 tackles this season. "There's a few other players who came off of missions, and they worked into it, getting in shape and stuff. He'll get back to his original form when he first came."
It's been a season of highs and lows for 5-3 Utah. The Utes handed a 44-6 spanking to UCLA, then followed it up with a 27-0 loss to UNLV, but rallied to win four straight, including a 44-35 victory at Louisville and last night's 27-20 win over TCU.
Through it all, though, the Hawaii natives have relied on each other.
"It's like another home out here," Mokofisi said. "You got all the local boys you know you grew up with back home."
Senior linebacker Loma Olevao (Kahuku), junior offensive lineman Tyler Williams (Kamehameha) and redshirt freshman linebacker Vilisoni Kotobalavu (Kahuku) round out the local talent on the team.
Koa Misi, of California, is fifth on the team in tackles with 35. He's the son of former Hawaii player Sione Misi.
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Pac-10 has its share of Hawaii players
Football isn't the only sport in the Pac-10 that has had its share of local players making big-time contributions.
Five Pac-10 programs are ranked in the top nine in the CSTV/AVCA Women's Volleyball Top 25 poll released on Monday.
At the head of the list is No. 3 Stanford, which dropped its first match of the season last weekend to No. 5 Washington, which has a pair of Hawaii players.
Huskies sophomore Tamari Miyashiro (Kalani '05) had 37 digs in the five-game thriller.
Senior defensive specialist Ashley Aratani (Iolani '04) also played in all five games and celebrated the victory with a trip to the Cheesecake Factory.
The Huskies lost their first match of the season two days earlier to No. 9 California.
Yesterday, Washington won its second match in a row, beating seventh-ranked UCLA. The Bruins dropped three spots in the latest poll after being upset by Oregon State.
Sophomore setter Camilla Ah-Hoy (Kahuku '06) earned her first start of the season for the Beavers and had 38 assists and a career-high 17 digs.
"Camilla Ah-Hoy did a good job in her first start of the season," Oregon State coach Taras Liskevych said after the game. "She really went the distance."
» Senior setter Anela Iseke (Kamehameha '04) was named the Northwest Conference volleyball player of the week after leading Pacific (Ore.) to victories over Whitman and Whitworth. She had 50 assists and 12 digs in a four-game victory over the Pirates and followed it with 39 assists and 12 digs against the Missionaries. Iseke is second in the conference with 11.65 assists per game and has helped the Boxers exceed last season's win total already.
» Hofstra senior Shellane Ogoshi (Roosevelt '04) earned her second Colonial Athletic Association player of the week award of the season. In 11 games played over the weekend, she averaged 14 assists and 5.5 digs and put down 14 kills while hitting .419. Her assault on the Pride record books continues, as she is now just 24 digs and 301 assists shy of becoming the school's all-time leader in both categories.
» Nevada freshman Kylie Harrington (St. Francis '07) ended a three-game sweep of Utah State with her career-high 14th kill of the match. The Utes got seven kills, eight digs and five assisted blocks from Monarisa Ale (Kahuku '04).
» Pepperdine senior Lecca Roberts (Seabury Hall '04) had 23 kills and 10 assisted blocks for the Waves, who split two matches over the weekend.
» Sophomore Leigh Sumida (Iolani '06) and sister Kris Sumida (Iolani '07) combined for 11 digs for Puget Sound in a five-game loss to conference leader Pacific Lutheran.
» Junior libero Pohai Nu'uhiwa (Punahou '05) combined for 33 digs and nine assists in Winthrop victories over Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina.
» Starting junior safety Al Afalava
(Kahuku '05) had nine tackles, including one for a loss, to help Oregon State upset then-second-ranked California 31-28. Junior Tavita Thompson
(Saint Louis '04) started on the offensive line for the Beavers. Junior defensive tackle Mika Kane
(Kamehameha '05) and defensive end Tyson Alualu
(Saint Louis '05) had six and five tackles, respectively, for the Bears.
» Colorado's Jordon Dizon (Waimea '04) is one of 10 semifinalists for the Dick Butkus Award, presented annually to the nation's top linebacker. Dizon remains the top tackler in the country with 89 total tackles and a 12.71 tackles-per-game average. He had 11 stops for the Buffs in a 47-20 loss to Kansas State and is fifth in school history in tackles.
» Freshman defensive end Nai Fotu (Kahuku '07) and senior linebacker Malakai Mokofisi (Kailua '03) had three tackles apiece in Utah's 23-7 victory over San Diego State.
» Ashley Kanda
(Castle '06) is one of two Pacific soccer players with multiple goals this season. Cory Arashiro
(Kauai '06), Cheryl Yasumoto
(Pearl City '06) and Kelli Ganiko
(King Kekaulike '05) have also scored for the Boxers, who are looking to end a four-game losing streak.
» St. Mary's (Calif.) junior Justin Kim
(Mililani '04) made four of the Gaels' 10 shots in a 2-0 loss to No. 5 Santa Clara. Kim leads the team with 21 shots this season but hasn't scored. He also has a team-leading four assists.