Rainbow Wahine earn usual haul of WAC awards


POSTED: Thursday, November 20, 2008

More hours in the training room than on the court. Countless more hours.





Hawaii (2) vs. Boise State (7)

        When: 7:30 p.m. today


TV: KFVE Ch. 5


Radio: KKEA, 1420 AM.



And likely more tears shed than sweat. Although that might be close.

If anyone has deserved a season like this, it's Nickie Thomas. But Hawaii's senior middle blocker doesn't measure success by the wins accumulated by No. 6 Hawaii (23-3), nor her hitting percentage (.370, third best in the Western Athletic Conference), nor even—finally—All-WAC recognition (second team, announced at last night's pre-tournament banquet).

No, Thomas' success is measured by perseverance, her ability to rehab through two painful anterior cruciate ligament injuries, in order to be able to play. Even if it's only for this one season.

Thoughts of quitting were daily and constant, and very much part of the 5-hour routine required to get back on the court. Even Rainbow Wahine coach Dave Shoji said he wouldn't have faulted the Texas native for “;retiring”; from the sport.

“;I don't think anyone can truly understand how many hours she spent in the training room just getting rehabbed,”; Shoji said. “;It's not fun and you can't make it fun. It's physical hell and she did it for almost three years.

“;She went through all that work because she wanted to get on the court and show what she could do. Truthfully, she's played way beyond our expectations this season because we had no expectations. We didn't know if she'd be able to play at all.”;

But the 6-foot-3 Thomas has played, through the pain and through the doubt, knowing she has lost nearly six inches off the vertical that made her a sought-after college high-jump prospect and making up for it with smarts and heart. She's started 24 of the 26 matches, leading the team in solo blocks (11) and second in block average (0.76 bps) among the Wahine starters.

Tonight's match against Boise State will be the 23-year-old's first appearance in the WAC tournament in her five seasons at Hawaii. The Westwood High product redshirted in 2004, didn't play in the 2005 tournament as a freshman and was injured the past two years.

“;It's been worth it,”; Thomas said. “;It's been a good year so far and I've had fun playing and finally feeling a real part of the team.

“;I did think about quitting. It was really, really painful, physically and emotionally, having two seasons taken away. The thought's always in the back of your mind.”;

It was like a volleyball match. On one side, there was the voice saying, “;I don't have to do this.”; On the other side, the voice was saying, “;I have to do this, I need to do this, I want to do this.”;

The competitive side won.

“;It wasn't so much to prove it to everyone else as it was to prove to myself that I could play at this level,”; Thomas said. “;I knew I was good enough to do it, but I had to find out for myself.”;

In spring of 2006, Thomas was thought of as a “;franchise middle blocker,”; associate head coach Mike Sealy said. “;When I first got here that spring, she was the best player in the gym by far. She worked the hardest in the weight room. But sometimes in athletics it doesn't work out.”;

Thomas played five matches in 2006, starting three, and went down with an ACL tear in her right knee against Cal Poly, ending the season. Less than 12 months later, she hurt the ACL in her left knee during the final 15 minutes of a preseason practice.

“;I know it was hard for me,”; said senior libero Tara Hittle, who sat out most of 2006 with a foot injury. “;But she's had to go through it several times. I give her a lot of credit for getting through it.

“;Anytime anyone can overcome that, it's a sign of character.”;

Thomas feels she hasn't had time to make an impact on the program but hopes she's been an example.

“;If anything, it would be to tell people to keep trying when they got hurt and didn't want to do it anymore,”; she said. “;Maybe they'll think about someone who came off two surgeries and still played.”;

Her “;team-first”; attitude led to another decision. When boyfriend Matt Price wanted to propose as part of Senior Night festivities a week ago tomorrow, Thomas said she didn't want to take away from the other seniors (Hittle, Jamie Houston and Jessica Keefe).

Thomas graduates next month with a degree in sociology and a minor in women's studies. As much as she wants to participate in the ceremony Dec. 20—“;It's a big deal for my whole family,”; she said.—Thomas happily would forego it for another big event: The national title match is also that day.

That would make everything worth it.


WAC Tournament

At Stan Sheriff Center (seedings in parentheses):
Today's Play-in
» Fresno State (8) vs. LaTech (9), 9:30 a.m.
Today's Quarterfinals
  » Idaho (3) vs. Nevada (6), noon; Utah State (4) vs. San Jose State (5), 2:30 p.m.; New Mexico State (1) vs. Fresno State-LaTech winner, 5 p.m.; Hawaii (2) vs. Boise State (7), 7:30 p.m., KFVE Ch. 5, KKEA, 1420 AM

First Team

Krista AltermattNew Mexico StateOHSr.
Lindsay BaldwinNevadaMHSo.
Kelly CrowSan Jose StateOHSr.
Aneli Cubi-OtineruHawaiiOHJr.
Kanani DanielsonHawaiiOHFr.
Jamie HoustonHawaiiOHSr.
Amber KaufmanHawaiiMHJr.
Haley LarsenIdahoOHSr
Melissa OsterlohUtah St.OHSr.
Amber SimpsonNew Mexico StateMHSr.
Krystal TorresNew Mexico StateLSr.
Lindsey YonNew Mexico StateOHSr.


  Second Team: Brianna Amian, San Jose St., OH, So.; Katie Astle, Utah St., MH, So.; Colleen Burke, San Jose St., MH, Sr.; Chelsea Fowles, Utah St., S, So.; Kylie Harrington, Nevada, OH, So.; Tara Hittle, Hawaii, L, Sr.; Kelsey James, Idaho, S, Sr.; Dani Mafua, Hawaii, S, So.; Sadie Maughan, Boise St., MH, So.; Anna McKinney, Idaho, MH, Jr.; Christine Morrill, Utah St., L, So; Nickie Thomas, Hawaii, MH, Sr.
All-freshman Team: Brianna Clarke, Fresno St., MH; Kanani Danielson, Hawaii, OH; Jenna DeVries, New Mexico St., S; Stephanie Ferrell, Hawaii, OH; Emily Kortsen, Utah St., OH; Baylee Platt, Fresno St., OH.
Player of the Year: Jamie Houston, Hawaii
Coach of the Year: Mike Jordan, New Mexico State
Freshman of the Year: Kanani Danielson, Hawaii