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Academics important for Wahine at final 4


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POSTED: Wednesday, December 16, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. » Talk about doing it by the book.

The women of the University of Hawaii volleyball team undergo their biggest test tomorrow, a national semifinal match against unbeaten No. 1 seeded and ranked Penn State.

But it's not the only exam for most of them here, nearly 5,000 miles away from their Manoa classrooms and teachers.

Yesterday at practice at the University of Tampa, hobbled Rainbow Wahine players Amber Kaufman and Cat Fowler studied on the side while receiving treatment for their injuries and catching stray volleyballs.

“;Marketing and research,”; Fowler replied when asked about the thick binder wrinkling her brow as she stretched out with ice on her sprained ankle.

Kaufman's got two finals in psychology (her major) and one in astronomy. Tomorrow she shoots for the stars against the Nittany Lions, assuming the pain from her abdominal strain is manageable.

Alexis Forsythe is at the final four and has four finals.

Then there's Jayme Lee, the pre-med defensive specialist known for studying during water breaks.

The Wahine cracked books as much as volleyballs.

I saw more UH athletes studying yesterday than on around 40 previous road trips over the years ... AT A PRACTICE. Of course, there's a sense of urgency, with this being finals week. I've witnessed some impressive doubles before, but this multi-tasking of trying to win a national championship coupled with the academic stress of finals beats all the rest.

Not that it's anything new, and it's not unique to UH (although I'll tell you why it's harder on the Wahine).

“;It's a tough week for all the teams here,”; coach Dave Shoji said after practice. “;We're all taking finals. This morning, some late tonight.”;

Yes, it's hard on all four teams here. But UH was away from class more, with a back-loaded WAC road schedule leading into the postseason—and that little thing called the Pacific Ocean factoring in.

This also makes me think about gender equity. Opponents of a college football playoff claim it would hurt the players' education; most of us already consider that hogwash, but if you need another reason, how about this: Many women's volleyball players are on the road for much of December, when they must also sprint to the finish line of the semester. You don't hear any complaints about the sport cutting into their class and study time. And football plays its bowl games after finals, alleviating any study demands. Can these great volleyball teams here truly perform at their best with the academic pressures so intense?

But, like the Wahine do on the court, they find a way. This week Jennifer Matsuda is with them. She's the department chair of academic advising, and proctoring 20 final exams. “;Some people worked with their instructors to take them early,”; she said. “;But in some cases that's impossible. The faculty is very supportive.”;

That's because the Wahine meet them more than halfway when they can. Shoji's decision to return to Hawaii between the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament and last week's regional semis and finals in California helped. Setter Dani Mafua said one of her teachers was surprised, but glad, to see her.

The Wahine are all on track to graduate, many with honors.

“;They have a good reputation with the faculty,”; Matsuda said. “;They're good students with high aspirations.”;

And their presence here at the final four proves those aspirations can co-exist with lofty athletic achievements and goals.