Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, September 14, 2001


Hawaii-Hilo volleyball coach Sharon Peterson.

Chasing 500

The Hilo coach, who is eight wins
away from a milestone, loves her job

By Jerry Campany

Anyone who thinks that a single win at their sport's highest level is worth more than 500 in the bush leagues needs to talk to Hawaii-Hilo volleyball coach Sharon Peterson.

Because Peterson -- who has never won a single NCAA Division I volleyball game as a coach but has strung together 492 in the smaller divisions -- is an authority on the subject.

Peterson stands eight victories away from 500 career victories, which would move her up to ninth on the all-time win list.

"I haven't really thought about it. I had no clue where I was," Peterson said. "If I can get it, that's kinda cool, but not that important as long as I know that I gave as much as I can."

It almost never was though, as the accomplished coach nearly bolted the island life she has grown to love in favor of a high-profile job at Kentucky in 1983.

Peterson turned down a job at Kentucky 18 years ago.

Peterson was coming off three national championships in her first five years at Hilo when the Wildcats approached her with an opportunity that every small college coach is supposed to covet -- a chance to test her tactical beliefs and motivational abilities against the best the country has to offer.

And Peterson bought into it, thinking that a coach who had accomplished everything else in the world of volleyball had to accept one more challenge, that it was her duty to the game.

"I thought that going to Division I was just something I was supposed to do," Peterson said. "When I decided to stay I knew I would have had to work harder, but I really love D-II. My life is more balanced here with my husband and my animals. I have never regretted anything."

Peterson resigned from her post at the helm of Hilo to take the Kentucky job with the blessing of then athletic director Ramon Goya.

Goya allowed his head coach, who had already amassed 141 wins, to move on without making a fuss because he knew something about her that she did not even know.

Just as Hilo needed Peterson, Peterson needed Hilo.

Peterson's husband, Greg, did not want to relocate and had already talked Goya into allowing his wife to withdraw her resignation as soon as he "wore her down," which he did, easily.

Rather, he allowed Peterson to wear herself down.

"I remember coming back and telling Ramon 'It was my husband's decision,'" Peterson said. "Ramon said, 'No, it was your decision' and right then I knew that I was hearing words of wisdom. I could grow here at UH-Hilo, it offered a wonderful growing experience. I am such a lucky person."

Peterson stayed at Hilo and refined her hands-off style of coaching even further, expecting her players to take care of the physical side of the game while she works on the all-important mental part.

Oh, she knows strategies and can match wits with the best of them, but she prefers to sit back and watch how her players react to different situations so that she can possibly show them a better way.

It wasn't always so.

"I'm still growing and learning," Peterson said. "At one time I realized that I have to trust the players more. If the kids didn't perform I was angry at them and it just got to a point where I realized that they are putting themselves out on the line."

Peterson almost walked away from the 500-win plateau at least once before, when Kathleen McNally was hired as athletic director and made one of her first priorities ensuring that Hilo institutions Peterson and Bobby Estrella stuck around. McNally won Peterson's confidence and she's still at Hilo, but both coach and athletic director know that the 23-year veteran is not going to be around forever.

"I wouldn't say I'll (coach) more than two or three more years," Peterson said. "I've got a sophomore group that continues to connect and I'd like to stay to see them through."


Career of the winningest Division II volleyball coach in Hawaii (2001 record in progress)

Year W L

1978 22 6

1979* 26 5

1980 21 13

1981* 38 7

1982* 34 6

1983* 25 4

1984* 34 3

1985 17 14

1986 16 8

1987 25 8

1988* 26 1

1989 21 13

1990 10 11

1991 22 9

1992 21 10

1993 26 6

1994 24 7

1995 26 7

1996 7 21

1997 19 12

1998 14 17

1999 5 15

2000 8 15

2001 5 5

* National championships

Hilo won two titles in 1981, one each in the AIAW and NAIA.

Coaching records

All-time Pct Yrs 2000s

Sharon Peterson, Hilo 492-208 .703 23 13-30

Wilfred Navalta, BYUH 354-63 .849 14 22-8

Tita Ahuna, HPU 111-29 .793 5 20-0

Glennie Adams, CU 76-100 .432 8 7-19

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