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Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, November 21, 2000

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

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Wahine senior Aven Lee has set her sights
on another trip to the NCAA finals.

Senior defensive
specialist inspires

University of Hawaii volleyball
player Aven Lee would like nothing
more than another crack
at the NCAA finals

Wahine volleyball playbook

By Pat Bigold

Even four years after the fact, Aven Lee's eyes light up and she sounds excited when she talks about the 1996 NCAA volleyball finals.

UH "It was so surreal," she said of the setting at the Cleveland State Convocation Center.

Lee is the only current Wahine who was with the team that went 31-0 before losing 3-0 to Stanford in the championship match.

"I knew I was there, but when I was playing I don't think I knew exactly where I was," said Lee, a freshman at the time.

Lee's known as the Wahine with the perpetual aloha smile and a laugh that's easily triggered.

But on Dec. 20, 1996, she said she was too nervous to smile. So nervous that she missed her serve when she got the call to enter the match of her life.

"It was crazy. I saw the signs all around that said NCAA Finals. Then I looked across the court and saw (WNBA star) Kristin Folkl and (2000 Olympian) Kerri Walsh."

She paused, shaking her head and gesturing with her hands as she searched for words to describe how it felt to be so close to American volleyball's Holy Grail.

Then with a little growl, she added, "It was awesome!"

So awesome she wants another crack at that NCAA final. She believes this team (24-0 and ranked No. 2 in the AVCA poll) might have the versatility, balance and depth to get her to Virginia.

But the 5-foot-8 player named "Most Inspirational" at Sunday's team banquet is a role player in a game now dominated by women 6 feet and over.

"I don't mind," said Lee.

Wahine head coach Dave Shoji said that 10 years ago Lee might have been one of his starters instead of his No. 1 defensive specialist (1.50 digs a game) off the bench.

"She can dig just about any kind of ball," Shoji said. "She's not afraid of anything."

Tanja Nikolic, a junior outside hitter, said Lee's bravado on defense can not be judged statistically.

"You can see her amazing defense when everybody gives up on a ball and then she pops it up," Nikolic said.

Lee had several other options for volleyball as a Kamehameha senior but she chose Hawaii. She said the idea of being away from her family, the beach and local food was just too much to bear.

Shoji, who coached Lee's aunt, Joey Akeo from 1975-77, had known her since she was about 10.

"She played soccer with my daughter," Shoji said.

Lee cast an eye at the four Wahine national championship banners on the ceiling of the Stan Sheriff Center.

"I think the green is fading a bit up there so we need a new one to brighten things," she said with a playful smile.

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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