Sunahara shares home with his Bearcats
His life path brings him home every few years, sometimes with his volleyball team in tow.
» Cincinnati (4-1, 1-1) at No. 11 Hawaii (3-2, 2-0)
» Stan Sheriff Center, 5 p.m.
» Radio: ESPN 1420-AM
» TV: PPV
» Tickets: $3-$17
This week, Reed Sunahara had Cincinnati experiencing everything from a hike up Diamond Head to pineapple at the Dole Plantation to shave ice at Aoki's (Matsumoto's was closed). It's been a lot of bonding time for the Bearcats as they got to know each other as well as their Big Island-born coach, who couldn't wait to share the sun and surf at Waimea Bay.
There have been a few disappointments, however, during the "volley-cation." The team van was broken into Friday while at Waimea Bay, with several bags stolen, one including a player's wallet.
Another was the 25-17, 25-13, 25-20 loss to No. 12 Minnesota in just 71 minutes, a match that Hawaii's Dave Shoji thought Cincinnati would win. ("Shows how much I know," Shoji said).
"It was disappointing that we didn't come out better, make it more of a match," Sunahara said after his team's first loss of the year. "I thought we'd at least compete a little harder. Our mind-set has to be better, have the attitude not to let a ball drop.
"If we can have that mentality, I think we're going to be much better."
The first test comes today at 5 p.m. when the Bearcats (4-1, 1-1) try to regroup against No. 11 Hawaii (3-2, 2-0) in the Volleyball Challenge finale. Although the Rainbow Wahine have clinched the title, Shoji hopes his team continues to improve.
"Cincinnati is a good team with big outside hitters who swing hard," Shoji said. "They came out flat today, but they are a better team than they showed. I know Reed will have them ready to play us."
Shoji and Sunahara renew a friendship that dates back to when Shoji was recruiting the three-sport all-state Hilo High standout to play for the Hawaii men's team. Instead, Al Scates nabbed the original "Flyin' Hawaiian" to play at UCLA, where Sunahara was a two-time All-America outside hitter and a member of three NCAA championship teams.
Sunahara's playing path -- a lucrative pro career in Europe and anticipated spot on the 1988 Olympic team -- turned into a dead end after he fractured his leg in five places in a motorcycle accident. The volleyball door remained open, however, with Sunahara taking a job as an assistant at UCLA as the Bruins won three more titles.
"I guess it was God's way of telling me where I needed to be," Sunahara said of his accident. "It's been a good thing, being able to give back to volleyball."
For the past 12 years he's been with Cincinnati, the last nine as head coach. Last week, Sunahara (203-116) won his 200th match when the Bearcats defeated Wright State in the season opener.
"I'm very happy at Cincinnati," Sunahara said. "But it's always tough to leave Hawaii after being here. It brings back good memories of where I grew up."
Flying in from Hilo to watch the tournament was Sunahara's dad, Masamori, and other family members. Sunahara was able to spend time with relatives before taking his team to Arizona State for a tournament Friday and Saturday.
And what would lure him from Cincinnati?
"The dream jobs that everyone else wants," Sunahara said. "Hawaii and UCLA.
"I don't see Dave leaving any time soon, he still has the passion. He does a great job and he's been a good friend. He did recruit me, but if I had to do it all over, I would do the same thing. But you know, when I'm not cheering for UCLA, I'm cheering for Hawaii. My heart will always be here."