Wednesday, January 20, 1999
By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Mason Kuo is finally at home as Hawaii's setter.
Kuo feels at home
as Bows setter
Now that he's moved into aBy Cindy Luis
position of his own, Mason Kuo
finally knows where he belongs
The slippers have come off and are outside the door.
Mason Kuo feels at home.
For the past three seasons, he's been a part-time visitor at the setting and hitting spots on the University of Hawaii men's volleyball team. Now, the 6-foot-2 senior has taken up permanent residence as the Rainbows' setter.
It's a move that has given stability to a Hawaii team full of newcomers and players trying new positions. More importantly, it has given Kuo a sense of place.
"I didn't care where I played as long as I was playing," said Kuo, preparing for tonight's match with second-ranked Lewis. "But there was never a chance to get comfortable doing one thing. In some games I'd set then switch to outside.
"I just needed the experience and confidence to grow at whatever position the coaches wanted me in. Finally, I've become real comfortable as a setter."
His setting debut came his freshman season in 1996. But he was playing behind senior Erik Pichel that final-four season and then senior Curt Vaughan the next.
Freshman Jorge Perez began last year as Hawaii's setter, but Kuo won the job midway through the season and the team finished 13-4 in his 17 starts. Noam Katz came and went last fall when Rainbow coach Mike Wilton wouldn't guarantee that he'd replace Kuo.
The revolving door has stopped. Kuo is the man. He's in his fifth season and is the only player left from the 1996 national runner-up team.
He wears the experience well.
"We're going to be very good this season, and a lot of it has to do with Mason," said Rainbow assistant Matt Johnson. "It's because he's the type of player who doesn't play for himself; he plays for the team. He's not one to say, 'Hey, look, wasn't that a great set?' He's a giver."
Wilton speaks of Kuo's athleticism and his intelligence. But he's more impressed with his senior's demeanor.
"He doesn't paint anyone in a corner with his body language," said Wilton. "He's real supportive. Having been an outside hitter, he has a real understanding and empathy for the position.
"He's a wonderful kid, a very good student, very goal-oriented. He's a gem."
Kuo came to Manoa as a diamond in the rough. He played opposite at McKinley High and for Kamali'i Volleyball Club at the Junior Olympics, drawing enough notice to be named to Volleyball magazine's Fab 50 prep list.
Because of his good grades -- Kuo graduated magna cum laude from McKinley -- it was assumed he'd be going to the mainland. It wasn't until club coach and former Rainbow Lyman Lacro asked about his plans that the Hawaii coaching staff became aware that Kuo was staying home.
"I didn't think I was good enough actually," said Kuo. "You don't see that many local kids going on to play for the Rainbows. But one day, Tino (assistant coach Reyes) came to our club practice and asked if I'd be interested in coming out for the team.
"I never pictured myself being in this position, of ever being on the team. I thought that after high school that would be it for me in volleyball. I figured I'd go to school and get a part-time job," Kuo said.
Kuo never realized that his part-time setting job would become full time. And he's happy.
"What I like about setting is it provides more of a mental challenge. I like that," Kuo said.
"I still think a lot instead of feeling it. We're using a different system this year and I'm still getting used to who's where in the rotation. I've got a lot of choices out there.
"This team is one of the most talented teams I've ever played on. We have the potential to contend for a national championship. But one thing I've learned is a lot of things can happen that you don't have control over."
Kuo has finished his course work in accounting and will be finishing up his double major in management information science. He might have to miss graduation ceremonies, though, if all goes according to plan: the final four is at UCLA the same weekend as graduation.
Kuo's freshman year, the top-ranked Rainbows lost to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion in the national title match.
"It would be nice to go back to UCLA and maybe reverse the outcome," he said. "Maybe the second time around, things could change.
"It's gone by pretty fast. The one thing I'd like to say was how much Mr. O (the late Kamali'i coach Longy Okamoto) did to help me. I didn't realize back then what he was teaching me. He was amazing."
There isn't much room for hobbies between school and volleyball but Kuo finds relaxation in playing his guitar. He is taking a slack key class, learning what he calls "the Hawaiian soul."
"The music is pretty and it has a lot to do with Hawaii," said Kuo, who was born in Taiwan. "It's not something you can force. Sometimes you try to think too much and it doesn't work. It's like setting. You have to feel it, get into the flow."
"We knew it was just a matter of his getting comfortable," said Wilton. "The coaches used to joke about it last year. We were waiting for the day when Mason looked like he was a member of the family instead of a house guest.
"He's finally found a home."
1999 UH Mens