Thursday, January 14, 1999
Ebenius serves asBy Jerry Campany
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Kristina Ebenius has ridden inner strength and a stubborn streak straight to the top of her class.
Ebenius graduated from Hawaii Pacific last night at the Waikiki Shell with many other students, but the girl from Vasteras, Sweden, was one of the few speaking as well as one of the many listening.
Ebenius was HPU's undergraduate valedictorian and anchor of the women's tennis team. The crowd already knew that Ebenius was a stellar student and tennis player -- she was 14-4 in her final season of play. They may have assumed that she is an exceptional person and that it all came easy to her.
Ebenius is an exceptional person, but everything she has attained has been earned. She told her audience about the strength of perseverance, and hoped to convey how much her message means to her. She has lived it, and it has served her well.
As a freshman four years ago, Ebenius set two goals for herself. She wanted to compete with her team in the NAIA national championship tennis tournament to thank the university for granting her a scholarship, and she wanted to graduate Summa Cum Laude -- a 3.9 grade point average or better -- to validate that she made the most of her opportunity to continue her education.
Ebenius accomplished both goals. She stepped to the podium last night and explained to her peers that what she did is attainable by any one of them, but that it won't come easy.
Near the end of the 1996-97 season, Ebenius accompanied her team to Los Angeles to play in the regional finals in the middle of what she calls "a terrible heat wave." Her team earned the right to be there, but would need an exceptional effort to have any hope of winning it.
They got that effort from Ebenius.
Ebenius was to play a doubleheader on the sweltering outdoor courts, as every player was. But Ebenius is not every player. In such a situation, it is easy for an athlete to know when she is beaten and conserve her energy for the next match, but Ebenius does not quit -- or even pace herself -- under any circumstances.
"If someone is going to beat me," Ebenius said. "They are going to have to fight through everything I have got. It is better to play all night than to just quit."
Ebenius didn't quit. She struggled through four hours of grueling tennis before dispatching her opponent, and used the 25 minute break before her next match to rest her weary muscles.
Before Ebenius knew it, she was on the court again, hustling for every point as if it were the first set of the day -- before the fatigue finally set in.
"I don't remember much about the second game because I was delirious, nauseated, cramping, and had blurred vision," Ebenius said. "I only remember that I wanted to win."
The game dragged on for three more hours before she did win -- eight hours of tennis made worthwhile by two victories. Shortly after the match ended, Ebenius showed a rare sign of weakness when her body cramped up from dehydration and she let the tears of victory and pain fall from her eyes. When her teammates pulled her shoes off her, they found her socks covered in blood from popped blisters. The skin on the bottoms of both feet had to be cut off and special padded shoe inserts found, but Ebenius recovered in time for her match the next day.
The heart was willing, but this time her body would not respond and she lost to the eventual tournament champion in an hour and a half.
"I don't know how she did it," Hawaii Pacific women's tennis coach Carolyn Katayama said. "Kristina is always the last to finish, she stays out there until she gets the job done."
Ebenius accomplished the goal of getting her team into the nationals, but couldn't play because of the injuries she suffered in the regionals -- but they might not have gotten there if not for her inspiring performance.
The strength that Ebenius showed on the tennis court is what sets her apart in the classroom. As draining as a full load of classes and workouts is -- as well as the time with friends that is important to her -- Ebenius claims that the busy schedule of a student-athlete helps her in the classroom.
"Tennis helps me in school; it gives me energy," Ebenius said. "I get lazy if I am not moving all the time. I really believe that maintaining a healthy body gives me a healthy mind."
In a world where student-athletes seem to excel in one or the other but not both, Ebenius has proved to be one of the exceptions, an athlete who will not be forgotten if she stops playing.
"It takes a lot of self-discipline for a student to balance athletic endeavors with academic commitment," Dr. Helen Varner, HPU Dean of Communications said. "Kristina has that self-discipline and it will make her successful in any future endeavors."
Ebenius' next goal is to find a public relations job in Hawaii, but she has a contingency plan on the continental U.S. in the event that she cannot find work on the island that has become so special to her.
Judging by the way Ebenius sets goals for herself and meets them, the mainland will have to do without her.
BIG BASKETBALL WEEKEND: Hawaii Pacific hosts Alaska-Fairbanks tomorrow night and Alaska-Anchorage Saturday night at the Mid Pacific gymnasium. All three squads are undefeated in the Pacific Division of the conference after only two games. If one team can escape the weekend without a loss, it will be a game up in the division with 10 to play.
"We cannot lose these games," Hawaii Pacific head coach Tony Sellitto said. "If we win both of them, we are in the driver's seat and everyone else is looking up at us from the bottom."
Tomorrow night's game figures to be a low-scoring affair, as it will feature the two best defensive teams in the conference. Alaska-Fairbanks has held opponents to 65.7 points per game, while the Sea Warriors have given up only 69.6.
The difference may be on the offensive end, where the Nanooks have lit up opponents for 88 points to the Sea Warriors' 75.2.
Brigham Young-Hawaii (7-7, 1-1) hosts Alaska-Anchorage tomorrow and Alaska-Fairbanks Saturday, and can climb into first place with a sweep and a HPU loss.
Chaminade (7-7, 1-1) hosts Western New Mexico tomorrow and Montana State-Billings Saturday.
Hawaii-Hilo (4-10, 0-2) takes on Montana State-Billings tomorrow and Western New Mexico Saturday.