THIS is just too much fun.
the heart of champions
The greatest joy I have in watching or playing sports comes from seeing teammates grow to a point where they know they can do no wrong and trust each other unconditionally.
The feeling is like no other. You don't have to be a great player to get that almost indescribable buzz that comes with looking into the eyes of your teammates - into their souls - and knowing exactly what those people think and what their actions will be on the court or on the field. It creates an air of confidence that is unshakable.
Guaranteed, Angelica Ljungquist has that feeling about Robyn Ah Mow and Joselyn Robins and Therese Crawford and Chastity Nobriga and Cia Goods and Nalani Yamashita. And vice versa.
They must. The Wahine completely dismantled a very good Florida team, 15-11, 15-8, 15-9, yesterday in the NCAA women's volleyball semifinals. This was a Florida team that had won 37 straight matches since opening the season with a close loss to Hawaii back in August.
And it was a Florida team that rushed to a 4-0 lead in Game 1 yesterday. The Wahine know a thing or two about riding a wave of emotion to an early lead only to see a big game slowly slip away. It broke their hearts last season when they took the first two games from Michigan State in the NCAA regional final only to lose in five games. It happened back in November when they crushed Stanford in the opening game and then were thoroughly outplayed in the following three.
It happened again to a lesser degree a couple weeks ago at the Western Athletic Conference tournament. Hawaii disposed of Brigham Young in the first game, dropped the next two and looked to be skidding into oblivion in Game 4.
But something happened in that game that may or may not have turned this season from one that was going to be very good into one of ultimate success. Just as they were about to be fitted for toe tags, the Wahine fogged the mirror. Even though they eventually lost the match, they showed they had the heart of a champion.
THE struggle continued against Colorado in the NCAA Tournament when Hawaii fell behind in each of the three games, but fought back to win them all.
This is a team that will not go softly into any night. They were tested again against Texas when the Longhorns took the second game after Hawaii had held them off to win Game 1 of the regional semifinal.
But they have that look in their eyes now. The one that looks back at a teammate and says, "I am there for you. I will dig the ball that cannot be dug. I will hustle and play as hard as I can for you. I will always give everything I have for you because you are my teammate and this is our destiny."
And so there they were against the Gators, trailing in the opening game of the final four. Destiny grabbed the Wahine by the backs of their necks and reminded them of their task.
Point by point, their confidence grew. By the time Ljungquist served with the score 11-10, she had that determined scowl on her face that comes with being the best player in the country. Three service points, including two overpowering aces, left the Gators reeling and the Wahine rockin' and rollin'.
Hawaii has a chance now to erase not only the sour taste left in its mouth from the loss to Michigan State last year, but also to gain a measure of redemption. Five times in the previous seven seasons, Long Beach State had just a little more talent, a little more luck, a little more heart. Coach Dave Shoji admits that doubt had been cast about his program - doubt that came mostly from the mainland, but to a small degree from here at home, too. Perhaps those Wahine teams didn't have the heart to be champions, it was whispered.
That won't be a question this year. Get ready to celebrate.