Living a dream


POSTED: Sunday, November 22, 2009

It's been worth it. All of it—the tears, the frustration, the pain, the joy.

Just to be here. In this moment. On this team.

Aneli Cubi-Otineru couldn't have asked for a better senior season. The outside hitter is at the top of her game, helping No. 3 Hawaii also be at the top of its, heading into this week's Western Athletic Conference volleyball tournament in Las Vegas.

Stronger than ever, healthier than in the past, Cubi-Otineru is savoring her final weeks in a Rainbow Wahine uniform. The daily commute she made from Haleiwa to Punahou and back as a high schooler pales in comparison to the journey she's made the past five years, the trek to become the player she believed she could be, on the team she dreamed of being on since small-kid time.

“;All the sacrifices have been worth it,”; said Cubi-Otineru, captain of the top-seeded Wahine (26-2). “;Everything seems so perfect.”;





        Aneli Cubi-Otineru's volleyball career has included:

» All-WAC: First team, 2007-08


» Academic All-WAC: 2007-08


» All-American: College of Idaho, 2005


» All-State: Punahou, 2001-04





        » Sister Babes Kalulu played for Hawaii (1987)

» Sister Kawena Cubi-Otineru plays for Hawaii-Hilo




That was hardly the case for Cubi-Otineru her senior season at Punahou. The state player of the year as a junior sat out her last state tournament because of academics. The scholarship to Hawaii, where her sister Babes Kalulu had played in 1987, was fast becoming a green flash as the sun set on her future.

Wahine coach Dave Shoji promised he'd hold the scholarship for her IF—and it was a big if—Cubi-Otineru could get her act together at a junior college and transfer back after attaining her two-year associate degree. Combined with what her father, Joe, told her, it was the wake-up call Cubi-Otineru needed to focus on her future.

“;My dad sat me down, telling me I could end up being another person on the street who missed out on a great opportunity,”; she said. “;I know I missed out on so much my senior year. I didn't want to miss out again.”;

Cubi-Otineru ended up at the College of Southern Idaho, where she helped the Eagles to a national championship and earned junior college All-America honors. Then it was time to sit out again, not playing her sophomore year at CSI to concentrate on getting her degree.

“;I was encouraged by her progress in that first year, but I still wasn't sold,”; Shoji said. “;She had a long way to go and it was another year of 'wait and see.'

“;When she told me she was going to sit out so she could transfer and play three years for us, it was a good sign of her dedication. I thought it was huge that she got everything accomplished.”;

Perhaps more impressive is that Cubi-Otineru continued that academic focus after transferring to Hawaii. She's earned two WAC all-academic awards as well as her B.A. in interdisciplinary studies last May; she's playing this semester as a graduate student, working on her master's in public administration.

“;I am proud of myself,”; said Cubi-Otineru, who is 44 kills away from becoming the 16th Wahine to reach 1,000, only the second to do it while playing only three years. “;There were times when I didn't think it would happen. It was so hard, sitting out that year to get that A.A., but everything has been worth it.”;

“;She's stronger than she's ever been,”; Shoji said. “;The way she's hitting down the line on the right, it's pretty mean. I wouldn't want to dig it.”;

In Cubi-Otineru, the Wahine have found more than a hard hitter (3.09 kps) with a serve clocked at more than 55 mph (48 aces, sixth-best nationally). Out of his senior class, Shoji said the hardest to replace will be middle Amber Kaufman for her athleticism, and Cubi-Otineru for her overall game and court presence.

“;She's such a good-hearted person, a good friend to have,”; Wahine junior libero Elizabeth Ka'aihue said. “;I really see Aneli as my sister. We've been through so much together, playing in high school, club and here together. I do feel this is the senior year she was meant to have.”;

Cubi-Otineru hopes to continue her playing career. There are thoughts of trying for the national team and there have been inquiries from Puerto Rico.”;

But first there's this week and winning the WAC title. After that, as Cubi-Otineru knows, anything is possible.