TOM KIMMELL / USA VOLLEYBALL
Kim Willoughby was a three-time All-American and WAC player of the year at Hawaii.
Willoughby embraces ‘highest honor’
FOURTH IN A SERIES
The combination of timing and mentality was finally right.
It was no longer a clash or a conflict. The collision of Kim Willoughby's talent and her desire to play for the U.S. women's national volleyball team resulted in the former Hawaii All-American being named to the squad some four months after showing up at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
"Oh, my gosh, it's such a mix of feelings, I can't even describe it," Willoughby said. "Everyone wants to make the team. It's the most highest honor for anyone to achieve.
"It hasn't sunk in yet. I had an opportunity in 2004 (Athens Olympics) but I didn't take advantage of it. I knew that by making the team it would make myself feel complete. I have a lot of people who believe in me. That's partially why I came (to the training center)."
» Full name: Kim Marie Willoughby
» Birthdate: Nov. 7, 1980
» College: Hawaii (2000-03)
» Hometown: Napoleonville, La.
» Position: Outside hitter
» Olympics: First.
» Competition dates: Aug. 9-23
» Career highlights: Three-time All-American and WAC Player of the Year at UH (2001-03), National Player of the Year (2003) ... holds six UH career records including kills (2,598), aces (194) and digs (1,440) ... owns two NCAA single-season records (2001, kills and kills per game) ... was all-state in three sports (volleyball, basketball, track & field) at Assumption High.
» Fun facts: Willoughby, whose hometown has a population of 800, makes her Olympic debut in Beijing less than four months after first joining the national team ... Cousin Danielle Scott-Arruda (Long Beach State) is on her fourth Olympic volleyball team.
» Tomorrow: Heather Bown, volleyball.
For the past few years, Willoughby had been hearing it from all corners of her world that she needed to play for the national team. Rainbow Wahine coach Dave Shoji had been one of the loudest, as was her cousin Danielle Scott-Arruda, the former Long Beach State All-American who is competing in her fourth Olympics.
Willoughby's biggest push perhaps came from another Wahine All-American. Setter Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, competing in her third Olympics, wanted Hawaii's all-time kill leader on the team.
Willoughby had been in contact last year with the national team but, with the squad traveling to various international competitions, she was waiting for the right time to go to the OTC in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
"Robyn said, 'What are you doing? Just come out,'" Willoughby said. "She kept saying, 'You deserve to be out here. We need players like you. You can help us.'
"It wasn't that I didn't think I could do it. I know I'm capable. I don't know why I didn't go before. I can't change that but I can make it right from now on."
TOM KIMMELL/USA VOLLEYBALL
Former Hawaii volleyball player Kim Willoughby regrets not being part of Team USA in the 2004 Athens Olympics, but plans to make good on her talent in Beijing.
The athletic outside hitter made an impact from the beginning. In her national team debut, Willoughby put down 10 kills and added four aces in a June 11 exhibition against Brazil.
A freak accident sidelined her a few weeks later. Willoughby slipped off a table prior to the July 6 FIVB Grand Prix match with Italy in Taipei, landing on her tailbone, which triggered muscle spasms in her back.
"I was really disappointed because I knew most of the players on the Italian team," said Willoughby, who played for Familia Chieri in the Italian Serie A League this past season. "Then I wasn't sure if I would be sent back (to the U.S.) but they decided to keep me with the team and I rehabbed. I'm feeling good, no problems.
"The team has really gelled. We have great players and we did well at the Grand Prix (fourth). I think we have a great chance of medaling. If we show up, stay together, work as one ... we're the only ones that will stop us."
Willoughby, the AVCA National Player of the Year in 2003, has enjoyed being part of the Hawaii connection on the Olympic team. She joins past UH All-Americans Ah Mow-Santos and Heather Bown, Punahou graduate Lindsey Berg and Stanford great Logan Tom, who is part-Hawaiian and the daughter of the late Mel Tom, a former NFL player.
"We took pictures the other day of the 'Hawaii Group,'" Willoughby said. "First it was me, Heather and Robyn. Then Lindsey was part of it, then Logan. It finally registered. Wow, UH and Hawaii have to be proud.
"And I know Dave (Shoji) and Charlie (former UH associate head coach Wade) have to be proud. Dave's impact on me was so huge, the things he taught me in Hawaii I carry with me."
Willoughby also carries a little superstition. When she tapes her fingers, she writes a letter on each; it spells out A-L-O-H-A.
"It's a reminder of what Charlie always told me," she said. "'You bring one of two things to every game, either aloha or anthrax. It's either good or bad.' I want to bring aloha."
She says her future plans include the 2012 London Games - "That should be everyone's plan," she said - but the immediate focus is on Beijing. Willoughby said she's especially looking forward to participating in the opening ceremony.
"I am so happy to be representing the U.S. and Hawaii," she said. "And my hometown, little Napoleonville (La.). We're small, just 800 people, but people know we're there. We had (New York Giant) Brandon Jacobs in the Super Bowl.
"My high school coach called. She was so excited, so proud. I realize I have a lot of people who believe in me. Even more now that I'm wearing this uniform."