Mafua her own person


POSTED: Thursday, August 27, 2009

The ghosts don't whisper as loudly. And, if she hears them at all, Dani Mafua only listens to the words of their legacy.

Hawaii volleyball has long had a tradition of outstanding setters. If Mafua is to take her place along side them, she knows she has to stand apart.

She is not Kanoe Kamana'o.

She is not Robyn Ah Mow.

She is who she is ... and that is the starting setter for No. 7 Hawaii, which opens the season tomorrow night against Western Michigan.

“;Coming in a couple of years ago, it was intimidating,”; Mafua said. “;You kept hearing, 'Who's going to replace Kanoe?'

“;I think I got off on the wrong foot, maybe trying to be that replacement. Maybe (the fans) are going to hate me, but this is me. I can't be someone else.”;

The Mid-Pacific graduate is still trying to find her identity. The junior didn't start training as a setter until late, realizing that if she were to play in Division I, it wasn't going to be as a 5-foot-10 outside hitter.

“;I wanted to play at D-I, not settle for D-II, and my club coach was just teaching me the basics of setter when (UH coach Dave Shoji) approached me,”; Mafua said. “;I guess they saw some potential.

“;I think there's added pressure, being local, in this position. Setters like Robyn and Kanoe WERE the program. I'm just trying to find my place.”;






» No. 9 UCLA vs. No. 25 Santa Clara, 5 p.m., KFVE Ch. 5


» Western Michigan at No. 7 Hawaii, 7 p.m., KFVE Ch. 5, KKEA 1420 AM




The difference this season is Mafua came into camp as the No. 1 setter. There had been a heated battle the past two seasons between her and Stephanie Brandt, the current senior who started all but one match in 2007 and set the Wahine to the Western Athletic Conference championship last November when Mafua was injured.

There was little controversy during practice this month. There's intangibles—some imperceptible to all but a few—that give Mafua the edge.

“;I think she's able to stay in system better,”; Shoji said of Mafua. “;She's able to run the offense at a faster tempo and is more comfortable running it off the net.

“;She's made strides in every phase of the game. I don't know if anyone really expected her to be a Robyn or a Kanoe. She's her own person and she's close to becoming the setter we expected her to be. And she's still learning.”;

Associate coach Kari Anderson Ambrozich remembers the expectations for Wahine setters. She lived it ... running Hawaii's offense in 1992 before giving way to Ah Mow during the 1993 season.

“;This program has had a tradition of great setters, on the national and international level,”; Ambrozich said. “;Every setter has their own style and Dani has come into her own. People forget she hasn't been setting for very long and she's had a lot of learning to do.

“;Two things she's become better at are blocking and defense. And (physically) stronger? She's worked her butt off. But what I think really helped her was coaching club this summer. When you have to teach things to others you begin to hear yourself teaching what was taught to you.”;

Mafua agrees that her time coaching 'Imi 'Ike Volleyball Club has helped.

“;Reminding the players as to what they have to keep doing puts it in the mind, too,”; she said. “;Helping them with their blocking and footwork reinforces what I have to keep telling myself.

“;And I feel like I'm moving better. I can thank (strength coach) Tommy Heffernan, worked with him all summer and took it more seriously. If I'm going to help take this team farther, I have to be in the best shape to do it.”;

That Mafua was an outside hitter originally gives her more of an offensive mindset. She's more confident with her dump shots and, as she has shown during the preseason, more than holds her own against taller hitters.

Late during yesterday morning's practice, Mafua won a joust with 6-4 middle Alexis Forsythe and then had a solo stuff of the sophomore transfer. That was no accident, just further evidence of her increased strength ... mentally and physically.

“;I think she's grown tremendously in the last two years,”; senior hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru said. “;Her IQ has grown, her blocking and defense have improved. Her overall game has improved.

“;For local girls, you're always being compared to the previous great players. It's hard to have your own identity. I know I get compared to (former All-American hitters) Kim Willoughby and Lily Kahumoku. You have to have a strong sense of who you are as a player. And being a setter is not easy. But I think Dani's got a great competitive mind-set.”;

Mafua and the Wahine will be tested early. They open with a good Western Michigan team that returns all seven starters from an NCAA Sweet 16 team tomorrow, then follow up with No. 25 Santa Clara on Saturday and No. 9 UCLA—the 67th meeting with the Bruins—on Sunday.

“;I'm excited,”; Mafua said. “;Everyone can't wait to see people other than your teammates across the net.

“;Having my teammates trust me is a big key and I've learned to trust myself. I'm connecting better with everyone (on sets). We are ready to start. Of course we're looking at the scouting reports on the other teams, but we're concentrating on ourselves. As long as we can control what we can control, we'll be fine.”;