Full-Court Press

By Paul Arnett

Friday, September 17, 1999

Some days you
gotta play hurt

COACHES have been telling me this for years. Players have practiced what these men with whistles have preached. But until a half-hour before the Hawaii women's volleyball team took the floor last night against Long Beach, I didn't appreciate the expression: Some days you gotta play hurt.

Considering yesterday's announcement that the Star-Bulletin would close a day before the Great Pumpkin is supposed to visit Linus, it would have been easy to tell my boss I had changed my mind about covering the first women's volleyball match of my career.

For years, I've scoffed at the notion of 10,000 people clamoring for a Stan Sheriff Center seat to watch a sport I never took the time to understand.

When I first told beat writer Cindy Luis earlier this week that I'd be sitting next to her at courtside, she put her hand on my brow to see if I had a fever.

"Why?" she asked, knowing my disdain for volleyball.

"Why indeed?" I thought to myself as the women warmed up for perhaps the most important match of the regular season. I should be home helping my wife and kids pack.

FORTUNATELY for me, I fought the urge to tell my courtside cohorts I was leaving after the Star Spangled Banner to beat the traffic. What followed over the next two hours and change was an enjoyable match between two West Coast rivals.

The crowd sang songs, cheered an inspired performance by the Wahine -- who not only beat the defending national champions but snapped their 42-game winning streak as well -- and made waves that equaled the Star-Bulletin's.

I peppered Cindy with a variety of questions about the rules, what the referee's signals meant, what exactly is the need for the three-meter line and what strategies are employed from all the substitutions.

Of course, it was difficult for her to hear me above the din of noise created by a crowd eager to see the Wahine run their record to a perfect 8-0 against this nationally ranked opponent.

AFTER the victory, head coach Dave Shoji stopped short of guaranteeing this win would allow them to be home throughout the playoffs, but without it, he could have kissed that opportunity good-bye.

I didn't interview any of the women for fear I would embarrass myself by asking a question such as, "What's up with that antenna on top of the net?" Or, "What's the deal with those guys with the red flags?"

Instead, I stood in the hallway and waited for Shoji to walk by to give me some pearls of wisdom. As it turned out, he asked me, "What are you going to do now?"

That was a better question than any I had planned and one that reminded me of the plight I faced in six weeks.

For a while, I had been able to put my problems on the shelf. I had enjoyed watching all the kills, digs, sets and serves. It made me remember why I began this journey 21 years ago at a small paper in Texas called the Galveston Daily News.

"I don't know," I told Shoji.

And I didn't as I walked out of the Stan Sheriff Center for perhaps the final time. The sadness of that thought almost compelled me to drive down H-1 and straight home to my wife and kids to say, "Grab the Beanie Babies and the Harley-Davidson Barbies and let's get the hell out of here."

But I didn't. Because I realized that some days, you gotta play hurt.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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