Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, September 8, 1999

W A H I N E _ V O L L E Y B A L L

helped Wahine
turn corner

Hawaii's first 'blue-chipper' came from
California and helped UH to its first title ...
and unknowingly played a role in the
program's long-term strength

By Cindy Luis


This is the third in a weekly series featuring the University of Hawaii's first national volleyball championship in 1979.

SHE was the turning point in Hawaii's volleyball recruiting history. She was the program's first blue-chipper, the first to make the 2,500-mile journey across the Pacific to play for the Wahine.

And she didn't know it until years after she had finished her career.

"Dave (coach Shoji) told me after one alumnae game that I had legitimized the program," said Diane Sebastian Pestolesi, who married former UH volleyball player Tom Pestolesi in 1985. "He said for an 18-year-old girl to come all that way made it OK for others to come out. I never realized how big of a deal it was to him."

That's been the story of Pestolesi's life. She knew what she wanted and she went after it.

In 1979, Diane Sebastian wanted the national title. For herself, for the great Hawaii fans and for the eight seniors who had come close but never won a championship in their three previous years - they had finished third twice and second once.

"Right before my sophomore season, I saw a picture of our team playing in Volleyball Monthly," she said. "There was a picture of this fat girl wearing my number. Then I realized it was me. I decided right then to get into the best shape of my life.

Photo courtesy of Pestolesi family
Diane Sebastian Pestolesi, with her husband, Tom,
daughter Kari, 10, Tommy, 11, and Danny 6.

"I knew that if we were ever going to win it all, this would have to be the year. We were losing so many seniors. So I worked my tail off with that single goal in mind - running, lifting weights, playing on the beach every day. When I came back to Hawaii, I felt I had accomplished my goal."

And the Wahine would accomplish theirs, defeating Utah State, 8-15, 7-15, 15-9, 16-15, 15-12. Hawaii finished 36-5 that season and left Carbondale, Ill., with four all-tournament selections, including Sebastian.

It capped a tumultuous season that had been plagued by injuries, personality conflicts and intense rivalry during practices.

"I've never seen such a competitive group of people (as) the ones that were on this team," said Pestolesi. "Everyone had to fight just to maintain their spot. Practice was so competitive every day that you were challenged just to get playing time."

She said her strongest memory of her sophomore year was of the rivalry with Utah State, which traded the No. 1 and 2 spots in the poll with Hawaii all season.

"There was so much excitement to our matches because of the Hawaii fans," she said. "They were so awesome and supportive of us. They're still that way."

Pestolesi nearly didn't get to enjoy it. She grew up a rabid UCLA fan and had always wanted to be a Bruin. But when UCLA coach Andy Banachowski came to watch her play, Pestolesi said, she had the worst game of her life. Banachowski offered a partial scholarship that she weighed against the full ride from Hawaii.

"My parents couldn't afford to pay the rest at UCLA, so I told them, 'Thanks, but no, that I was going to Hawaii,' " she said. "Two days later, they offered me a full ride. I talked to my high school coach about it. She said if UCLA was toying with me now that it might be a pattern.

"I'm a very bottom-line kind of person. I want you to be straight with me. So I said, 'I'm going to Hawaii and it's going to be great.' It was one of the best decisions of my life."

But it wasn't an easy one. The Wahine program had been built on home-grown talent and Pestolesi joined a team that had played together for two years.

Add to that the culture shock, coming from a sheltered, Catholic upbringing in Santa Barbara and "I wasn't prepared to be there," she said. "I found a whole new world in Hawaii and I didn't feel like I fit in. But some of the girls on the team would take me out to the beach and helped me fit in. All I knew is I had seen Rocky (Elias) setting when I was in high school and knew I wanted to play on her team."

But Elias was injured (during the regionals) and Diana McInerny came in to set for the nationals.

"Here we are at nationals without our starting setter," said Pestolesi. "And Rocky is really, really good. But we were so deep, there was so much competitiveness. There was still a ton of confidence.

"After all the trials and struggles we had just to get to the final match we knew we had to win to save the season. There was no question in my mind we were going to win because we just had to."


Bullet In 1979: Sophomore middle blocker

Bullet In 1999: Professor of nursing, Saddleback College, Mission Viejo, Calif., and ICU nurse.

Bullet Home: Living in Huntington Beach, Calif. Husband, Tom, is a former UH volleyball player now coaching at Irvine Valley College. Three children: Tommy, 11; Kari, 10; and Danny, 6.

Bullet Awards: AIAW All-American 1978 and 1979.

Bullet Post UH career: U.S. national team (1981); UH men's and women's graduate assistant (1982 and '83); professional indoor league (champion Los Angeles Starlites); pro beach doubles (1986-87, '91); recreational league player (present).

It wasn't looking good. Top-seeded Utah State played near-perfect in winning the first two games.

"My feeling was, 'They can't keep playing like this,' " said Sebastian. "They were flawless. But we came back. The fifth game was just trading points. Dave made a substitution error that left (back-row player) Candy Kane. He couldn't take her out and it's like 12-12 in the title game. We got away with it."

Pestolesi said she was motivated to win for herself but also for Elias.

"She was injured and, doggone-it, we were going to finish it for her," said Pestolesi. "I was thinking, 'I know how hard we worked in the off-season and I'm going to win today.' It was our seniors' last chance. I had a tremendous amount of confidence, not just in myself but in the team."

Sebastian never won another title. She played on an injured ankle her junior season and Hawaii went 34-10, beating UCLA for third place at the last AIAW Tournament. Her senior year, the Wahine Machine was ranked No. 1 most of the season but was upset by Southern Cal in the regional final of the first NCAA Tournament to finish 37-2.

She did get two more rings, however, as the graduate assistant for the back-to-back championship teams of 1982 and '83.

"For me, going to Hawaii was a tremendous opportunity," she said. "I feel fortunate to have been recruited and to have been coached by Dave. I love Hawaii. Some of my best friends still live there.

"And now, we just have the most unbelievable lifestyle. I'm living my dream with a wonderful husband, wonderful kids and a job (teaching nursing) that is rewarding and challenging. I love what I do."

Sebastian still plays volleyball for fun. She and several former national team players compete in summer leagues where they are clearly the most veteran team.

"We do it more for the social thing," she said. "But we've won the league the past two years. The funny thing is that our kids come to watch us. And the teams we play against are kids whose parents come to watch them. We were so competitive for so long and now we're just having fun again."
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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