Thursday, October 21, 1999
Girl next door
impresses UH coaches
Margaret Vakasausau neverWahine Playbook
expected to play volleyball
for the Wahine
By Cindy Luis
She didn't have to go to Iowa to find her field of dreams. Margaret Vakasausau found it literally in her own backyard.
She didn't even have to change her favorite colors from green and white. All Vakasausau had to do was cross University Avenue and - voila - she went from being a Junior Rainbow to a Rainbow Wahine.
"It really is pretty amazing,'' said Vakasausau, the freshman defensive specialist and backup setter for the Hawaii women's volleyball team. "I never expected anything like this. Never expected to be playing for the No. 2 team in the country. And to think I'm actually out there on the court ... wow.''
Actually, it's the UH Lab School product who has done the wow-ing. Pressed into the starting setter's role two weeks ago when Jennifer Carey sat out with an injury, the 5-foot-8 Vakasausau impressed her coaches, teammates and the opponents as she quarterbacked the Wahine to WAC victories over TCU and Fresno State.
It was the first time she had set a match in her five-plus years of playing volleyball. It has Wahine coach Dave Shoji trying to figure a way to keep Vakasausau out on the court more, along with high school All-American Carey.
"Margaret is just so athletic,'' Shoji said as the team prepared for tonight's WAC match with UTEP at the Stan Sheriff Center. "She's very valuable to us on the court. All she needs is game experience to become a really good setter. She's already a good volleyball player.
"She's in the mold of our great local setters like Nahaku Brown and Robyn Ah Mow. Plus she brings a lot to practice. Her attitude is so infectious, you can't be down around her. You end up laughing at her or with her. She just gets everyone fired up.''
Shoji doesn't need to do much to get Vakasausau inspired. He calls her 'Maggie' - a nickname she despises - but "I know when he calls me that, it's usually to get me pumped up before I go into a game,'' said Vakasausau.
"I don't care where he (Shoji) puts me. I'll play middle blocker if that's what he wants. I'm just so happy to contribute. I'll do anything to help our team get here Dec. 18.''
That's the date of the NCAA Tournament title match at the Stan Sheriff Center. Hawaii (16-0) has done every thing right so far to be in a position to win its fifth national title at home.
Some of it is due to the Kaimuki-raised Vakasausau, who spent all 13 years of her pre-college education across the street from the Manoa campus. But playing for the Wahine wasn't her dream; she didn't think she was good enough.
"I had already made the cut in my mind as to where I'd go to school,'' said Vakasausau. "I went on a (recruiting) visit to the University of Iowa and I really liked that. It was totally a college town and a neat experience.
"I was going to go there but I wanted to see what Hawaii had to offer me first. I didn't think it would be a scholarship and that was my goal in life, to get a scholarship to college so my parents wouldn't have to worry about me.''
She also considered Rutgers but when she made her visit to UH, there truly was no place like home.
"I loved the team, I loved the girls, and I didn't even know them,'' she said. "The team chemistry was so strong, their chemistry with the coaches was so strong. I just never thought they would want me. I never thought my skills or talents were good enough.''
She was wrong. It was hard to overlook the athleticism that led to first-team all-state and ILH honors twice in volleyball, all-league honors twice in basketball and paddling.
Twice she was runner-up in the balloting for the state player of the year. That award both times went to her Wahine teammate Lily Kahumoku, who helped Kamehameha to two state titles.
"Margaret's a very good athlete,'' said University coach Keoni Jeremiah. "I had her on the varsity for three years and her teammates all looked up to her. She has a lot of drive and determination, always strives to do her best. She always wants to learn and know more. And she's very much a perfectionist.''
Vakasausau started playing volleyball in the eighth grade when problems with her knees slowed her in her favorite sports: soccer and softball.
"I fell in love with volleyball,'' she said.
The sport loved her right back.
"Athletic is the first word I'd use when talking about Margaret,'' said Kari Anderson, a Wahine assistant coach and former setter. "She's a lot like Robyn Ah Mow in that she has the quickness and can make a difficult play look easy. She's really competitive.
"Margaret picks up things quickly. I think the coaching staff was pleasantly surprised with how well she did setting. We expected her to be more nervous, that there'd be more bumps.
"But she made good decisions and got into the flow of the game right away. I'm sure it's not easy for her to be in a backup situation. She could easily be starting for someone else and playing full time.''
But Vakasausau is happy with her role. She most often subs in the back row for Kahumoku; otherwise, she's leading cheers from the sidelines.
Her biggest problem right now is signing autographs.
"My name is so long that I sign one autograph in the time it takes the others to sign five,'' said Vakasausau, whose last name is Fijian.
"I never thought I'd be signing autographs. It's so different being on the other side of it."
Tonight: Texas-El Paso (5-13, 3-2) at No. 2 Hawaii (16-0, 5-0), 7 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center.
VS. UTEP MINERS
Coaches-Hawaii: Dave Shoji (25th season, 697-135-1). UTEP: Revis Ward-Dagget (1st, 5-13).
Series: Hawaii leads UTEP, 2-0. Both matches were played last season with the Wahine winning in straight sets both nights.
Top players - Hawaii: Heather Bown (6-3 Sr. MB) 4.21 kpg, .394, 2.25 bpg, 15 aces; Jessica Sudduth (6-2 Jr. LS) 3.21 kpg, .232, 17 aces, 2.52 dpg; Veronica Lima (6-2 So. MB) 2.12 kpg, .294, 2.69 dpg, 1.20 bpg, 20 aces; Jennifer Carey (6-1 Fr. S)12.08 apg, 2.90 dpg, 1.04 bpg; Lily Kahumoku (6-2 Fr. LS) 3.33 kpg, .299, 2.06 dpg. UTEP: Stacy Zimmerman (6-0 Jr. OH) 3.84 kpg, .151, 3.18 dpg; Nicki Mosher (6-3 So. OH) 2.75 kpg, .154; Catherine Porter (5-8 Sr. OH) 2.70 kpg, .034, 3.35 dpg, 15 aces; Eryn Polhamus (6-2 Sr. MB) 2.08 kpg, .189, 0.81 bpg; Krista Gronert (5-9 Jr. S) 12.16 apg, 12 aces.
About the Wahine: Hawaii ran its record to 16-0 with a 90 minute victory over SMU Saturday. The win was the 31st straight at the Stan Sheriff Center for UH. (The Wahine's longest home winning streak is 55, from 1986-89). Bown had 17 kills with just one error (.640) in the win over the Mustangs ... The Wahine lead the country in blocks per game (3.98) with Player of the Year candidate Bown No. 1 nationally in block average. As a team, Hawaii leads the WAC in hitting percentage (.291), kills (15.94 kpg), and blocks... Hawaii is expected to top the 100,000 mark in attendance for the fifth consecutive year tonight against the Miners. Through 13 home matches, the Wahine are averaging 7,231, nearly 3,500 more than the next closest team (Nebraska). So far this year, Hawaii has drawn 94,009 to the Sheriff Center.
About the Miners: UTEP is coming off a 15-13, 15-7, 15-13 victory over TCU Saturday. Zimmerman put down team highs of 11 kills and 13 digs for her ninth double-double performance of the season ... Zimmerman is second in the WAC in digs and sixth in kills per game. Porter continues to lead the conference in digs and leads the Miners in aces... Sophomore blocker Jacqui Nosan was in on seven blocks against the Horned Frogs... The Miners have just nine players on the roster.
On the air: Live on KFVE TV (Channel 5) and KCCN (1420-AM).
Tickets: $5-$9 (upper level only).