LAS VEGAS - It felt like Klum Gym-East.
Rebel volleyball is
Cal and Cindy Puana setting up the last potluck of the season. Larry and Diane Little helping serve the rice, macaroni salad and teri chicken.
Only it was South Gym on the UNLV campus and it was after the last regular season match for the Lady Rebels. But down to the candy leis for the players, the shoyu on the table and the Hawaiian Sun drinks in the coolers, it was pure Hawaii.
"When people ask how starting a volleyball program went, I tell them the strangest thing was I had a booster club before I had any players," said UNLV coach Deitre Collins, a former Wahine All-American. "The other first-year coaches in the league asked how did I do it. I didn't. It was here, waiting to happen."
A number of Hawaii expatriates transplanted their love for volleyball to the desert. Two families sent their daughters to the islands to play the game, a Puana to Hawaii-Hilo and a Nihipali to the Wahine (redshirt freshman Rachel).
UNLV had a program for two years before folding it in 1985. Nevada high school product Dede Dunstone transfered from the Rebels to Hawaii and wound up playing on the Wahine NCAA runner-up team of 1988.
"It's been a long absence for us and we're glad to have a program again," said Cal Puana, president of the UNLV Volleyball Booster Club. "Deitre is an excellent coach and she's going to turn the program around."
Colins got some unexpected help from Larry Little, the former Rainbow men's basketball coach, who advised Collins on NCAA procedures. Little is a Realtor and a telemarketer in Las Vegas.
"It's not like we're missing the island experience with so many Hawaii people here,'' said Little, who was fired by UH in 1985. "I miss coaching, but Diane and I enjoy being spectators now. We enjoy it from an entirely different perspective now."
DIANE Little, a facilitator for special education at a vocational high school, says they try to get back to Hawaii at least once a year.
"It was tough the first couple of years we lived here but things are going well now,"she said.
Diane Little is the booster club secretary. Vice-president is Bill Olds. How local is it? The club sold huli huli-style chicken as fund-raiser, changing the name to "Hawaiian Chicken" to avoid a trademark problem.
Another familiar face was in the gym Sunday. Scott Robbs, son of longtime island broadcaster Don, is the P.A. announcer for Rebel sports. The younger Robbs is finishing his degree at UNLV, hoping to follow his father's footsteps into sportscasting.
"UNLV volleyball is rooted in Hawaii volleyball,'' Robbs said. "There are so many Hawaii people in Las Vegas. And with Deitre being coach, it's almost a natural that the people who support volleyball here are from Hawaii."
Robbs said he particularly enjoyed announcing the Oct. 18 match between Hawaii and UNLV, the first time the Lady Rebels sold out South Gym. The majority of the 1,251 fans were wearing UH green.
"It was fun,'' Robbs said. "It was the only time I could speak pidgin on the mainland and get away with it. Of course, the best part was everybody knew what I meant.''
Robbs understands the love affair between Hawaii and Las Vegas. He has suggested to UNLV officials that they try to get next year's Wahine volleyball match and Rainbow football game in Las Vegas to be played on the same weekend.
"Schedule the Wahine on Friday, in the Thomas and Mack Arena, and you'll get 18,000 fans," he said. "They could set a national attendance record and really draw attention to volleyball here."
Sounds like Robbs has a jackpot of an idea.
Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.