Kaufman captures imagination
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Rainbow Wahine volleyball mania is found in the most unexpected of places. But the Top Hat Bar in Wahiawa?
Had 11 aces in a win over No. 9 Washington last week
Few driving past the neighborhood fixture on Kamehameha Highway would suspect that, come Hawaii match time, the karaoke machine is turned off and all six televisions are tuned to watch the Wahine. And one Wahine in particular: Amber Kaufman.
Kaufman's cousin is Jack Eiting, owner of the Top Hat. He and wife Lois have turned their diverse clientele into fans.
"We're really proud of her," Jack Eiting said. "Oh, my gosh, she's awesome. It's like holding a clinic in here (when matches are on)."
Kaufman put on a serving clinic last Saturday when dropping in a school-record 11 aces to help beat No. 9 Washington.
"That was very exciting," Lois Eiting said. "We're loyal fans. We even bought the (pay-per-view) package.
"I don't care if our customers are fans or not. It takes priority over karaoke or any other program."
No. 7 Hawaii (7-2) opens Western Athletic Conference play tonight against Idaho (7-4) at the Stan Sheriff Center. Guaranteed that six TVs in Wahiawa will be tuned to the same channel.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Setter Dani Mafua, not pictured, says of Amber Kaufman, "She jumps out of the ceiling."
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Failure is not an option.
Not when playing Mario Kart on the Wii game system.
Certainly not when serving at a crucial point in a volleyball match.
That fear of failure went through Amber Kaufman's mind last Saturday night when serving with Hawaii down 13-12 in Set 5 against No. 9 Washington. Her record-setting 10th ace capped a 25-14 win in Set 4, forcing the deciding fifth.
"I was thinking that it would be so absolutely terrible if I missed my serve," the Rainbow Wahine junior middle said. "It would have made it (match point at) 14-12. It would have erased everything I did.
"I was really glad when it went over."
Not only did it go over - it died in front of Washington's Megan McAfee, adding to her UH record, and tying it at 13-13. The Huskies called a timeout, but the Wahine closed it out with a 3-1 run.
Kaufman called it fluke, telling the boosters at the post-match potluck not to expect it again. Her performance was one of the rarest double-doubles in the sport: 11 aces to go with 10 kills.
Perhaps it was a fluke, but it was no accident. Kaufman, very much the perfectionist, had been unhappy how she had been serving the previous two matches of the Chevron Invitational: no aces, two errors against St. Mary's and one ace, two errors against Pacific.
Twice on Saturday, she held her own serving practice. Something clicked in the second one where she took a basket of about 30 balls and jump-floated all but one in.
That confidence carried over to the match, where her only service error tied Set 4 at 1-1. Kaufman more than made up for the error as her kill jump-started a 6-0 run that included three of her aces and closed out the set.
Those who know Kaufman say her confidence took off beginning last spring when she was asked by Wahine track coach Carmyn James to come along to the Western Athletic Conference championships. Hawaii had missed out on the WAC indoor title by two points and James hoped that Kaufman's high jump performance could literally lift the team to the outdoor championship.
While the Wahine finished 100 points out of first place, Kaufman - who had placed fourth at the WAC championship as a freshman - won the event with a UH-record 6 feet, 1/2 inch. Nationally ranked in the high jump at Branham High, the San Jose, Calif., native continued to jump for the next seven weeks, finishing sixth at the regionals, fifth at the NCAA Championship and 12th at the Olympic Trials.
"She's such an amazing athlete," Wahine setter Dani Mafua said. "She jumps out of the ceiling. It doesn't surprise me how high she jumps.
"I see the difference in the way she's playing. She's more confident and present on the court."
Some of it has come with maturity.
"She's still her own worst critic," UH associate coach Mike Sealy said of the 20-year-old. "But you always hear that about elite athletes, that they're hard on themselves.
"Amber's maturing nicely. She just needs to have a realistic view of what she can do. If she doesn't hit 1.000, she's bummed."
That super competitiveness was apparent at an early age.
"She's always been hard on herself," Kaufman's mother, Stacy Farmer, said. "She expected so much of herself, even as a 5-year-old in soccer.
"Hawaii was the perfect place for her. She had so many schools interested in her, but she was surprised and humbled when they showed interest. She committed the moment she could. It's a perfect fit."
Farmer was at the Sheriff Center on Saturday watching her daughter's record-setting night.
"It was magical," she said. "Man, was that good volleyball? It was pretty surreal."
The 6-foot Kaufman puts her jump-float up against Idaho in the WAC opener for both teams tonight. As much as she wants to keep her serve in, what matters is that the Wahine win.
"I want to go undefeated in the WAC," she said. "We haven't done that since I got here. I want to get that tradition back."
That's the immediate goal. That and winning the next time at Mario Kart. Because, as Kaufman will tell you, she hates to lose.