Gregory’s goals as a senior not fulfilled
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No. 10 Hawaii (20-4, 14-0 WAC) has already clinched its 12th conference title and looks to finish out the regular season undefeated when hosting San Jose State tonight and Utah State on Sunday.
San Jose State (13-13, 7-8 WAC) at Hawaii (20-4,14-0)
When: Today, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE Ch. 5
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
But the Rainbow Wahine's success has been bittersweet for senior middle Kari Gregory, who lost her starting spot earlier in the year to sophomore Amber Kaufman.
"It's hard to believe it's almost over," Gregory said. "Part of me is ready, part of me isn't.
"I wish the season would have gone differently for me senior-wise. But I have decided to look at it as three great years of playing. I would love to be playing more this year, loved to have been more of a force. It's been a reality check."
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The irony is not lost on Kari Gregory.
Her career goal is to be an event planner, making sure everything runs smoothly, on time with no glitches.
However, her senior season has been anything but smooth, and certainly not the way she planned her final year as a Rainbow Wahine would go. Gregory, the conference's top blocker this time last year, is back in a reserve role as the No. 3 middle on the Hawaii volleyball depth chart.
"It's been difficult, definitely difficult," said Gregory, a first-team All-WAC performer as a junior and preseason All-WAC choice this year. "It's like taking a step back, not getting as much playing time as I've been used to.
"It's been a big shot to my ego. Probably the hardest thing is when people ask what's wrong, ask if I'm hurt. All I can tell them is I wasn't connecting with Steph (setter Brandt) and I got taken out of the lineup."
Instead, it's been sophomore Amber Kaufman who's been counted on for offense. Kaufman's also become a better blocker this season, in part because of tips from the Wahine's "mother hen" -- Gregory.
"The choices were I could be selfish and not help her if she was struggling, or I could try to help her as much as I could," Gregory said. "I am a team player and want us to do the best we can. Amber's doing a great job."
It was a tough decision for Hawaii coach Dave Shoji to make.
"I can't say enough about Kari and what she's meant to the program for five years," Shoji said. "Her situation this year shouldn't define her value to the program.
"We needed offense out of that position and, unfortunately for her, it's evolved the way it has."
Gregory has often turned to associate coach Kari Anderson Ambrozich for advice and encouragement. Ambrozich knows firsthand what it's like to lose out to a younger player; as a senior captain, she watched a future All-American and Olympian run the team: sophomore Robyn Ah Mow.
"Obviously I was in the same situation," Ambrozich said. "But she is a valuable part of this team, contributes in many ways.
"There's really nothing you can do except to work as hard as you can to win the position back. And, even if you don't, as I tell Kari, when you are out on the court, make it count."
Gregory has, averaging 0.91 blocks per game, second-best on the team.
"There's nothing to lose anymore," Gregory said. "To tell the truth, I have had more fun practicing now than I have had in my career, probably playing better in practice than I ever have.
"I'm trying to prove to Dave that, when it gets down to crunch time, I'm ready to go in."
Hawaii will need Gregory's height and experience to advance in the postseason. And when it's all pau, there will be no regrets for the Las Vegas native who made an unofficial recruiting trip as a high school junior and found a home, albeit a more humid one than she was used to.
"I was a week away from committing to (UC) Santa Barbara," said Gregory, an all-state performer in volleyball and basketball at The Meadows High. "I never imagined that I'd move 3,000 miles away from my family.
"I never thought about leaving here. I'm sure it crosses everyone's mind when it gets tough, but I'm not a quitter. This has been home. There is nowhere like it."
She graduates in December with a degree in communications. Playing professionally in Europe is a possibility.
But the plan for the future events planner? Her brother's wedding is next August on Maui and Gregory's the maid of honor.
"I'm staying through then," she said. "I want to enjoy Hawaii and the life here."