TOM KIMMELL / USA VOLLEYBALL
U.S. Olympian Robyn Ah Mow-Santos misses her best friend -- and mother -- Lovina Ah Mow, who died earlier this year.
Ah Mow-Santos is US’s sweetest thing
For a batter, it's a sweet swing.
For a setter, it's soft hands.
Tenth in a series by staff writer Cindy Luis profiling the Islands' athletes competing in the Summer Olympics from Aug. 6-24
There are few in the volleyball world whose hands are softer than those belonging to Robyn Ah Mow-Santos.
Matching the hands are her off-court voice and heart; the two-time Hawaii All-American is most often described as soft-spoken and compassionate.
The only hard things about her are how hard she trains and how hard she takes losing. If this is to be the final Olympics for the 32-year-old, not bringing home a medal would be very disappointing.
» Name: Robyn Ah Mow-Santos
» Birthdate: Sept. 15, 1975
» High school: McKinley (1993)
» College: Hawaii (1993-96)
» Hometown: Honolulu
» Position: Setter
» Olympics: Third (2000, '04)
» Competition dates: Aug. 9-23
» Career highlights: Starting setter at Sydney Games, team finished fourth, and at Athens Games, team finished tied for fifth. ... U.S. captain for 2007 World Cup, team placed third, qualifying for '08 Olympics. ... Was the 2008 Player of the Year in the Swiss National League when she lead VBC Volero Zurich to its second straight championship. ... Named "Best Setter" of 2006 Pan-American Cup. ... With the U.S. national team since 1999. ... Two-time All-American at Hawaii, team was 66-4 her last two seasons (1995 and '96).
» Fun facts: Seven months after giving birth to son, Jordan, in 2003, she led the U.S. to the NORCECA Zone Championship and was named best setter.
» Tomorrow: Other Olympic teams with Hawaii connections.
The year's been hard enough already.
Weeks before leading VBC Volero Zurich to a second straight Swiss National League championship, Ah Mow-Santos lost her best friend and mother. Lovina Ah Mow had been in Zurich in February, bringing Ah Mow-Santos' 5-year-old son Jordan for a visit.
Ah Mow caught a cold that turned into pneumonia. After suffering kidney failure, she was put into a medical coma but never regained consciousness.
"She was my best friend," Ah Mow-Santos said. "She helped to make my volleyball dreams come true, no matter what it cost."
Lovina and Talmadge Ah Mow, both avid volleyball players, invested in their daughter's passion at an early age. Pretty much a "gym rat," Ah Mow-Santos began formal competition in fifth grade, which included club fees and annual mainland travel.
At the 1996 AVCA All-America Banquet in Cleveland, Lovina Ah Mow said all the sacrifices made had been worth it.
"You couldn't buy a day like today," she said.
All the years of hard work and dedication has paid off. Ah Mow-Santos is expected to start for the U.S., ranked fourth in the world, which opens Saturday against Japan.
It is her third Olympics. She shares that distinction with Rainbow Wahine All-American Heather Bown and Stanford All-American Logan Tom, daughter of the late Mel Tom of the Big Island.
"Robyn is our team captain, not only technically but with her leadership," Team USA coach Lang Ping said. "She provides a lot of energy, a lot of positive direction for our younger players."
Ah Mow-Santos has influenced a generation of setters in Hawaii, including four-time All-American Kanoe Kamana'o, the Wahine's all-time assists leader. (Ah Mow-Santos ranks third, setting full-time for 2 1/2 seasons).
"She's a role model to so many younger players and an inspiration being from Hawaii," Kamana'o said. "I know I modeled myself after her.
"She's just a naturally talented setter and has worked so hard. She has that competitiveness inside, that fight you need out there on the court."
Just as happened during the roster-selection process the past few months, Ah Mow-Santos expects to share setting duties with another Hawaii product: Lindsey Berg (Punahou '98).
"Robyn has so much experience, she deserves to start," Berg said. "I think we're very interchangeable. We've been doing a lot of double subs (where she and Ah Mow-Santos switch so the setter never rotates to the front row).
"If we have a weakness, it's at the net (Berg is listed at 5-foot-8, Ah Mow-Santos a generous 5-9). We need the bigger block up there."
Olympic team rookie Kim Willoughby, another UH All-American, said she was thrilled to finally be on the court with Ah Mow-Santos.
"She's been so supportive of me," said Willoughby, who joined the national team only four months ago. "She's the one who told me I needed to be on the team, that there was no doubt in anyone's mind that I belonged here, that everyone believed in me and to keep working hard.
"For someone like her to say that ... it was so great to hear."
Sweet words. Sweet hands.
The only thing sweeter would be an Olympic medal.