Pleasure and pain for Cubi-Otineru


POSTED: Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. >> It was a touching, intimate moment between a father and his daughter. A moment that few witnessed, but one that brought tears to the eyes of those who did.

Aneli Cubi-Otineru hobbled across the Maples Pavilion court Saturday night, calling out, “;It's OK, Daddy, I'll come to you.”;

Joe Otineru waited, watching, flashing back to a similar moment more than 20 years ago when his baby girl toddled over to him, taking her first steps.

Nothing had changed since then, not the sweet smile, not the way she fell into his arms with such a sense of pride in her accomplishment.

And nothing had changed in the way Joe Otineru, an imposing policeman with a teddy bear heart, responded. Tears in his eyes, arms wrapping around the senior captain for the Hawaii volleyball team, the words: “;We're so proud of you.”;

It was the end of a very emotional day, one that began with Cubi-Otineru crying about the pain in her knees and calves, and concluding with her all-regional performance that had helped the third-ranked Rainbow Wahine to their first final four appearance since 2003.

Most knew of the abdominal strain that had forced senior middle Amber Kaufman out of Friday's regional match with Illinois.

The only physical sign of Cubi-Otineru's nagging injuries, was that her right knee — less than a year removed from arthroscopic surgery — was taped heavier than usual, as the regional final match with Michigan began. Her spiritual healing began hours earlier, with calls to her parents, her pastor, and her older sister Babes Kalulu, who played for Hawaii in 1989.





        FINAL FOUR

        At Tampa, Fla.

        » TV: ESPN2

        » Radio: Hawaii matches, KKEA, 1420-AM

        » Texas (28-1) vs. Minnesota (28-8), 2 p.m.
        » Penn State (36-0) vs. Hawaii (32-2), 4 p.m.


        » Thursday's winners, 3 p.m.


“;When she called us that morning, she said she was so frustrated with her knees,”; Joe Otineru said. “;I told her, 'Aneli, you've been raised to know what to do. You need to sit down and pray, ask God to help you. You need to trust in God, do your best and, no matter what, Mommy and Daddy love you.'

“;After the match, we just hugged and thanked God. That's how our family has been. No matter what happens, you love each other and also thank God for everything.”;

“;I was very frustrated,”; Cubi-Otineru said. “;But I talked to my pastor and my sister. Babes said 'Go out, play your game. You have a lot of heart.'

“;Once I get on the court, my adrenaline starts going and I just block out the pain.”;

It happened on the final two points of the USC match Dec. 5 when Cubi-Otineru was in on the blocks that gave Hawaii a win in the fourth set. It happened Friday when, after having no kills and three errors in the Set 1 loss to Illinois, she came back with 12 kills with no errors on her last 28 swings; it was a run that included her 1,000th kill.

And Michigan on Saturday? Just seven kills, but a team-high 10 digs, an ace and the calming presence that growing up around the sport brings.

“;Final four ... we are here,”; Cubi-Otineru said. “;We all believed when others didn't. This team has a lot of chemistry and we are more of a family. Everyone calls each other 'Sis,' not just the local girls.

“;But having the local girls on the team just adds to the pride, to be from Hawaii on the team that potentially could be the national champion.”;

Thursday, the Wahine put their 28-match win streak up against top-ranked and two-time defending national champ Penn State (36-0), winners of its last 100.

“;I think a lot of teams are afraid because of the name (Penn State),”; Cubi-Otineru said. “;Yes, they've been dominating. But if we play like we know we can, we'll be fine. Win or lose, if we do our best, trust in God ... that's all that matters.”;

The Otineru ohana will be there to watch, as well as a number of the players' families who have been living in hotels and airports the past few weeks.

Joe and Delphine Otineru have put more than 2,000 miles on rental cars and have friends with airline buddy passes on speed dial as they've followed the three daughters involved in college volleyball postseason play: Babes, a coach at College of Southern Idaho, which won the national junior college title last month; Kawena, whose Hawaii-Hilo team won the Pacific West Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Division II regional; and now Aneli, whose team is among the last four in Division I still playing.

Cubi-Otineru was 2 months old when Hawaii won its last title in 1987. That team is reminiscent of this year's squad: tough, undersized and determined not to lose. Perhaps most importantly, the Rainbow Wahine have faith.