RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rainbow Wahine senior middle blocker Juliana Sanders saves her best performances for the matches that matter most.
Sanders a UH success story
The Castle High graduate went from walk-on to a force in the middle for the Rainbow Wahine
STORY SUMMARY »
Local girl makes good.
It's not an unusual story, but it is a satisfying one for Hawaii volleyball coach Dave Shoji. He promised Juliana Sanders a scholarship if she would walk on and develop during her redshirt season.
"She's one of the best local stories we've had," said Shoji, the Rainbow Wahine coach for 33 seasons. "She's unique for a local girl, being so tall (6-foot-2) and she was under the (recruiting) radar.
"She paid her own way that first year. I knew what kind of player she could become. She has fulfilled my expectations."
The senior continues to be a force in the middle, ranked in the top five of the Western Athletic Conference in hitting percentage and blocks. Sanders' numbers this year could result in All-American honors; she was honorable mention last year.
"I stayed home so I could play in front of my family and my friends," the Castle High product said. "I take so much pride in being part of this amazing program, the tradition of Wahine volleyball.
"I had other offers but when (Shoji) said he'd give me a scholarship, my competitive attitude kicked in. I was going to stick it out, there'd be no quitting, and he made good on his promise."
FULL STORY »
One day at a time.
It's how Juliana Sanders approaches life. Living in the moment and enjoying it for what it is: the journey, not the destination.
The only future the senior middle for Hawaii is looking at is tomorrow. That's when the No. 11 Rainbow Wahine (21-5) open Western Athletic Conference volleyball tournament play in Las Cruces, N.M., seeking a seventh WAC tournament title.
"I'm excited and I hope my team is just as excited as I am, to be in this amazing program that has the tradition of winning a lot of WAC tournaments," she said. "I'm not thinking about it being my last year. It will be over when it's over.
"I'm not trying to dwell on the end. I'm looking for the joy and being happy in the moment. This is probably something I'll never experience again."
It has been quite an experience for Sanders, a lightly recruited player out of Castle High. It's been five years of balancing the pride and pressure of being a part-Hawaiian wearing the Hawaii uniform.
"I want to be a good representative for my state," she said. "I like to set a standard. I take so much pride in being a part of this program and am truly grateful for everything the coaches, my teammates and the fans have done for me.
"There is no place else in the world where you can play volleyball and people know that you do. I love when we have camps and I can share my experience with the local kids. It's absolutely amazing to be a role model for someone else, get them into the work ethic of what it takes to be a Wahine."
Volleyball has suited her. The natural grace of her athleticism is much like a combination of the two styles of hula Sanders has danced, the fluid 'awana, the stronger kahiko.
The mixed plate of her background has also contributed to her unique style of play. A Pop Warner Football cheerleader, brown belt in kempo (karate), competitive in tennis and basketball and "a really good steersman," she said of her outrigger canoe experience.
And then there are her board stories, surf and skate. Ask her to choose one and she cannot.
"I love the ocean, all kinds of water sports," said Sanders, who grew up in Kaneohe. "But when you can't make it to the water, the road stuff is just as fun ... as long as (Coach) Shoji doesn't see you."
Her relationship with Shoji is not lost on her teammates.
"She gives Dave a harder time than I do," junior hitter Tara Hittle said. "Juliana has no mercy and she gets away with it. It's hilarious."
Sanders, however, is serious about her game. Blocking was her weakness when she came into the program, but it has become a strength.
She's been best in big matches. Last year, she tied a school record for block assists with 14 in the regional semifinal win over USC; her season-highs in kills (18) and blocks (9) came against New Mexico State.
"She's having an amazing senior year," senior reserve middle Kari Gregory said. "She has a complete game this year and is dominating."
Sanders gives credit to her grandparents, Alberta and James Sanders, for her success. The two have been fixtures in the Stan Sheriff Center stands, for practices and home matches.
"They raised me and my brothers and I can never thank them enough for what they've done," she said. "It's a pretty special relationship and they've supported me through everything I've done.
"I would never be here if it wasn't for them."
Sanders will graduate in May with a degree in sociology. She hopes for a career that will pay well and include traveling.
Playing professionally is a possibility.
"If I could still be playing for another couple of years, it would be amazing," she said. "I'd like to play in Japan. I don't speak the language but I wouldn't mind learning.
"But right now it's about senior year and it's been a great one so far. I'm relaxed and going with the flow. It's like waiting for that wave to come up behind you."
One wave. One ride.
One day at a time.