Volleyball is a family tradition for Tuaniga


POSTED: Thursday, February 26, 2009

The learning curve was steep, the adjustments were many.





        No. 7 Stanford (9-7, 5-6 MPSF) at No. 11 Hawaii (3-8, 2-6), 7 p.m. today and Saturday; TV: KFVE, Ch. 5; Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM

Going from high school to college; from prep volleyball to NCAA Division I volleyball; from his close-knit Samoan family in California to living in Hawaii, complete with a roommate from Canada.

Gus Tuaniga is the first to admit he had some growing up to do. After a shaky first semester - and a team rules infraction that kept him out of last month's two matches against Cal State Northridge - the freshman outside hitter for the Hawaii volleyball team has settled down and settled in.

“;Grades were on my mind last semester,”; said Tuaniga, third on the team in kill average (2.77) and aces (6). “;This semester, I feel like a monkey is off my back. The grades are better, volleyball is better.

“;The atmosphere is amazing. I love this (arena). I feel like I belong here.”;

That he had family in Hawaii and had visited numerous times helped make his decision. Tuaniga, the two-time league player of the year at West Valley in Hemet, Calif., originally gave Long Beach State an oral commitment but changed his mind.





        Tuaniga's cousin Kristiana Tuaniga, a 6-2 middle, has committed to play for the Rainbow Wahine this fall.

“;It was between here, Long Beach State and Northridge,”; Tuaniga said. “;But after seeing those other two teams, I can't picture myself anywhere else but here.

“;I love these guys; they're my brothers. It's like a big family.”;

Tuaniga, the oldest of four children, first learned the game from his father, Eperu, who played for Farrington during the 1980s, and mother, Tinei, a standout at Carson (Calif.) High. Tinei coached her son's varsity team last spring to the Sunbelt League title as West Valley went undefeated and didn't drop a set; the Mustangs lost in the CIF Division II quarterfinals.

“;It was my first year as the boys coach and he made things easier for me,”; Tinei Tuaniga said in a phone call last night from California. “;He was a leader, a little bit of an assistant coach for me.

“;I think going to Hawaii was a good choice. But it was hard for me. I cried the week before he left.”;

Tinei Tuaniga saw her son's potential in the sport at an early age. Gus began playing in a beach doubles league when he was 9 and “;I could tell then he might be good,”; she said. “;He's got his Double-A beach rating and his No. 1 goal is to play on the beach.”;

His all-around skills are an asset for both the beach and indoor game. Tuaniga, who shared setting duties in his high school's 6-2 offense, is one of the Warriors' better passers. He still has to compensate for being undersized at the net.

“;I need to improve my blocking,”; the 6-foot-3 Tuaniga said. “;I am pretty small, trying to block guys a lot bigger.

“;On offense, I try to use my quickness to beat the block. It does get frustrating, hitting against taller blocks, but I just have to work hard, keep my head up, lift more weights and improve on my vertical.”;

His progress has been steady.

“;He has a lot of ability,”; Warriors coach Mike Wilton said. “;There's some polarity there as a young freshman, but he's got game.”;

“;He's a much better hitter than I anticipated,”; UH associate coach Tino Reyes added. “;He's got a quick arm and a good head for the game. He's a smart volleyball player.”;

And entertaining.

“;He can't stop singing,”; said freshman hitter Steven Hunt, Tuaniga's roommate. “;He's a lot more focused now. I like his intensity.”;

With Hunt sidelined indefinitely with a broken hand, Hawaii likely will depend on Tuaniga's offense even more, starting with tonight's match against Stanford.

“;It's going to be fun playing them,”; he said. “;But we can't let our guard down.”;