JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jayme Lee, Hawaii's sophomore defensive specialist, is a true student-athlete. "Volleyball is important, don't get me wrong," she said. "But school is so much more important."
Lee finds balance between athletics, academics
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Work hard for the bad days because the good days come easy.
That's the adage Jayme Lee lives by.
Tenn. State (20-13) vs. Hawaii (26-5)
» Friday, 11 a.m. Hawaii time.
» Where: Louisville, Ky.
» Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
The sophomore defensive specialist for Hawaii has gone from a redshirt out of Hawaii Baptist in 2005 to the all-conference freshman team in 2006 to limited playing time this season.
It took a while for Lee to adjust to her role this season for the Rainbow Wahine. Hawaii opens its 26th NCAA tournament campaign Friday at Louisville with Lee hoping to play an important role against Tennessee State in the first round at the Kentucky International Convention Center.
Lee has made brief appearances in 93 of 109 games this season for No. 9 Hawaii (26-5) and has been dubbed the "Queen of the Dig-Kill." Five of her digs that have gone over the net have landed for points.
"Hitting 1.000 is kind of cool," Lee said.
Still, the season has been anything but perfect for the pre-med major. She has put the "student" in student-athlete, being late for practices about 60 percent of the time because of class and labs.
"Volleyball is important, don't get me wrong," she said, "but school is so much more important. I really want to be a doctor. I want to help people.
"I'm kind of a dork. I spend most of my free time in the library."
This semester's class load includes an upper-division physiology, biology, two labs, kinesiology and statistics. It's hard taking those 15 units in-season but Lee can handle it.
"Being part of this team is more than experience," she said. "It's a life-changing event."
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To explain Jayme Lee is to explain the difference between being 5-foot and seven-eighths, and being listed at 5-2 on the Hawaii volleyball roster.
Because Lee is all about honesty, even if it's an inch and an eighth. It's how she's reconciled going from a Western Athletic Conference all-freshman team pick last season to near obscurity this year for No. 9 Hawaii.
Lee was replaced as the starting libero by freshman Elizabeth Ka'aihue, the first libero to be given a scholarship out of high school in the Hawaii program's history. Lee dealt with the situation by trying to make her competition better.
"At the start of preseason, it was kind of rough because we were fighting for the position," Lee said. "I have to admit there were times in practice when I didn't want to be there, asked myself why I was doing this, but those were negative thoughts that were horrible.
"I realized this was a situation that would help me grow. All that self-pity was just wrong ... but so easy to do. What I want to do is take this experience, make it better and show myself I can come back from losing my starting spot to making an impact when I do get to play, even if it's just going in to serve."
Lee has been in a sporadic rotation as a back-row sub for junior hitter Jamie Houston. It all depends on how the rest of the Wahine offense is faring as to whether Houston stays in the back row for a potential 3-meter attack or whether Lee replaces her on the service line and remains for defense.
"She digs a lot of balls, balls I wouldn't get to," Houston said. "I just tell her to go in and do her thing.
"When she was sick and I had to play the whole way at Fresno State (Nov. 2) she told me not to miss 'her' serves and I told her I wouldn't.
"She brings a lot of excitement to the team and I like it when she goes in for me."
The substitution pattern hasn't favored Lee as Hawaii has needed Houston's offense out of the back row when struggling at the net. But Wahine coach Dave Shoji knows he can bring Lee in cold to play defense.
"Her role has lessened this year but if you watch how she played against LMU last week, she had the Jayme Lee-type game we've come to expect," Shoji said. "It's hard for her, not knowing when she's going to go in. There is no regular substitution pattern, she never knows when she's going to go in to play and sometimes the ball doesn't come her way to allow her to contribute.
Lightly recruited out of Hawaii Baptist (a school not known for volleyball) during her time with the Eagles, Lee was accepted to Duke. She was attracted by its medical school's reputation but "I didn't want to put a financial strain on my family to go away," she said. "It was so expensive. I thought about playing there, but I would have been a walk-on hoping for a scholarship and I didn't want to chance maybe getting the scholarship money.
"I decided to do my undergrad work here and give volleyball a shot. It was so great when Rayna (sophomore walk-on defensive specialist Kitaguchi) and I made this team. It was a really proud moment for us and I hope we made our (high) school proud, showed that anyone from anywhere can do it if they really want to."
Even if it means cheering from the sidelines.
"I just love her," Ka'aihue said. "She's only been supportive of me. We are always trying to make each other better, both looking out for what's best for the team.
"She comes in and gets us points, is a crucial role-player. And that dig-kill? I still have to learn that. She hasn't taught me how to do that."
Lee is 5-for-5 this season on digs that have landed on the other side of the net for kills. She also has 11 with 107 digs.
For Lee, it doesn't matter whether she plays or not this week.
"Last year was a dream come true and I at least got one season that a lot of girls would kill for," she said. "I'm on a Division I team that's in the top 10 in the nation. I cannot feel selfish about not being on the court when I look at my other teammates like Rayna, Raeceen (Woolford), Elise (Duggins) who haven't gotten the time that I have.
"I'm still learning to be happy and joyous when things don't go my way. This year I've learned so much about myself. It's easier to be happy when things are going your way but you learn about your character, your heart when things get hard.
"The real point of being part of a team is to be willing to do whatever it takes to be part of something great, even if it means you aren't on the court. One of the most rewarding things is when parents of young girls come up to me and tell me that I give their daughters hope that little girls can play for Hawaii."