UH's Lee lifts Hawaii's spirit


POSTED: Sunday, November 08, 2009

The lexicon that defines Jayme Lee is missing a few words.

Swim. Bike. Quit.

It's because Lee doesn't know how to do any of the three. Especially the third, which might have been the easiest to learn.

The senior defensive specialist/libero never gave up on her dream to play volleyball for Hawaii, which concludes its regular-season home schedule tonight against Utah State. If anyone has earned all the leis and hoopla that come with senior night, it's Lee ... a walk-on pre-med student who overcame injuries and two surgeries, and juggled labs and love of the sport for five years.

“;There's always reasons to quit anything, your job, school,”; Lee said. “;I think giving up is the easiest thing to do.

“;But what would make life exciting if you didn't have challenges? It shows you what you can handle, gives you a perspective that you wouldn't have had otherwise. This was an opportunity of a lifetime I couldn't pass up.”;




UTAH STATE (14-12, 5-8) AT NO. 3 HAWAII (22-2, 12-0)

        Where: 5 p.m. today, Stan Sheriff Center

Radio: KKEA 1420-AM


TV: KFVE Ch. 5


Series: Hawaii leads, 36-8




Listed generously at 5-foot-2, Lee was told she couldn't play Division I volleyball (too short, not athletic enough) and shouldn't play if she planned to go to medical school (time commitment, course load).

But the all-state selection from Hawaii Baptist showed up for fall camp in 2005. Easing Lee's fears was seeing HBA teammate and longtime friend Rayna Kitaguchi also in the gym.

“;We hadn't talked about doing this, but when I saw her, everything seemed normal,”; said Kitaguchi, who retired after three seasons to concentrate on her nursing degree. “;We helped each other through the entire process, the workouts, the emotional and physical stress. We were warm-up buddies and moral support for each other.

“;It wasn't a hard choice for me to leave, but it was sad to leave Jayme. We had been teammates a long time. I'm so proud of her. She is truly amazing. She'd be in the library until early in the morning then have practice 2 hours later. It takes someone special to do be able to do that.”;

Kitaguchi speaks of Lee's court presence, her radiance and energy. And the inspiration that Lee has become to all the young—usually short—girls who play volleyball in Hawaii.

“;She's a cute little girl, full of spunk, and who doesn't want to root for her?”; Kitaguchi asked. “;I think the little girls who ask her to sign their volleyballs see themselves in her. They see the possibilities and they have hope that anything is possible.”;

It certainly seemed that way when Lee became the starting libero the second match of 2006, her redshirt freshman season. She was named to the Western Athletic Conference all-freshman team and began her string of WAC all-academic honors.

The magic ended in 2007 when she played behind Elizabeth Ka'aihue, the first scholarship libero in the program's history. Tara Hittle took the starting role last year and Ka'aihue again this year.

(Lee has seen action in all 24 matches, both as a DS and a libero. The master of the bump set has 14 assists to go with 69 digs and four aces).

Helping Lee deal with not being in the lineup as much was Stephanie Brandt, the starting setter in 2007 who has been the backup to Dani Mafua the past two seasons.

“;We've been through a lot together,”; said Brandt, who is Lee's roommate. “;But she's such a dedicated athlete, works so hard and is so sweet.”;

“;She doesn't look like a Division I athlete,”; senior hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru said, “;but she's very scrappy, very strong and sacrifices her body to get to those balls.

“;She could have left. She could have played on a lot of other teams. I think she gives all the little girls in Hawaii hope.”;

Wahine coach Dave Shoji is glad Lee stuck it out.

“;When she showed up, you could see she had something that separated her from being just another small player,”; Shoji said. “;She still has limitations in covering the court but makes up for it with foot speed and tenacity. She can play a big role for us down the stretch.

“;As a person, she's fun to be around, always upbeat and positive. She can be serious, naive and funny. And I don't know too many players who'll study during water breaks, but she does.”;

Lee is carrying 19 units this semester, her first without at least one lab. After the season is done, she'll concentrate on studying for the Medical College Admission Test.

But for now, the concentration is on helping Hawaii win its first national championship since 1987—the year Lee was born.

“;That would be really special,”; she said. “;It's been a long time, my entire life. But if we play our game, we'll be unstoppable.

“;This has been quite a journey, and I couldn't have made it without my faith, without believing that everything was going to be OK. God is the only stable thing in my life, and all you can ask is to give God your best effort.”;

When it is over, Lee knows all the sacrifices will have been worth it. The 3-hours-of-sleep nights. The missing her sister Joelle win a third state volleyball championship with HBA last Saturday because Hawaii was playing at Nevada.

“;This is an experience that only 18 girls a season get to have,”; she said, “;and I've had the privilege of being here for five years.”;