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Knee feels sturdy again for UH's steady force


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POSTED: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Aneli Cubi-Otineru could hide the pain from the casual fans.

For the most part, she still got herself to the right spot at the right time, still put herself in position to make plays.

The tear of the meniscus in her left knee and the lack of cartilage slowed her down a bit. But she remained a valuable, experienced outside hitter for the University of Hawaii volleyball team last season, and she would play as long as she could tolerate the pain.

“;It would be OK during the matches, but after, it was sore,”; she said yesterday, as she and her Wahine teammates warmed up for the second session of the first day of practice.

She was on crutches just a few months ago following surgery. Yesterday she moved like nothing had happened.

“;I don't think a lot of people knew or understood she was playing hurt,”; coach Dave Shoji said. “;Her jump was probably down a few inches. But she was still a very skilled volleyball player.”;

Without her, the Wahine probably wouldn't have made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament last year.

“;OUR STRENGTH is we have four players who started last year and are proven top players, among the best in the country,”; Shoji said. “;It's a really good nucleus for a good solid ballclub. And we've got other people who have been working to play.”;

Kanani Danielson and Amber Kaufman are often more spectacular, and Dani Mafua is always a focal point as the setter. But Cubi-Otineru — with a combination of athleticism, steadiness and gumption — was often the glue last year, and will be expected to fill that role again as a senior. She's the stabilizing force, but how stable is her knee?

“;I think she is close to 100 percent. She's still got some issues with her knee, but I think it will be good for the season,”; Shoji said.

THE NATIONAL championship remains the goal for Hawaii, as the Wahine head into Shoji's 35th year hunting for the elusive fifth banner (and he will become just the second Division I women's coach to win 1,000 matches along the way). But regardless of what happens on the volleyball court this fall, Cubi-Otineru already has earned a big part of what she came to Manoa for.

As a Division I nonqualifier out of Punahou, she had to put her UH scholarship on hold and went to Southern Idaho. She returned to Hawaii with a national junior college championship and an associate's degree. Cubi-Otineru added a bachelor's last May and is playing her final season as a graduate student.

Some would've called it a career instead of undergoing surgery and enduring the agony of rebuilding the joint.

“;Rehab is hard,”; she said. “;Getting back to the lifting and running, I had to be strong, disciplined.”;

Those watching with a trained eye toward the end of last season noticed she was a half-step slower. Every now and then there was a grimace. And the toughest part, the surgery and the rehab, was yet to come.

Did she ever think of sitting one out?

“;No,”; she said. “;I wanted to finish.”;

The Wahine enter the season ranked No. 7 in the nation. Will they finish higher? Perhaps, if they can fill in around that nucleus of stars.

The one certainty is it will take more than a wrenched knee to get Aneli Cubi-Otineru out of the lineup.

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Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at starbulletin.com, and twitter.com/davereardon.