alum is coaching
in Wahine Classic

Aiu brings Colorado to the islands
to face UH, UCLA and Ohio State

By Grace Wen

When Pi'i Aiu left Hawaii 20 years ago, he never imagined that he would come back to the islands with 13 kids, including one that's his own, in tow.

The Kamehameha Schools graduate returns this weekend as coach of the Colorado women's volleyball team. It isn't the first time Aiu has been back as a coach, but it is the Buffs' first appearance in the 15th annual Hawaiian Airlines Classic.

The tournament starts tomorrow with No. 21 Colorado playing No. 11 UCLA at 5 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center. Fourth-ranked Hawaii plays ninth-ranked Ohio State in the second match, slated to start at 7 p.m.

Coaching wasn't exactly the career path that Aiu thought he would take when he left Hawaii to attend the University of Colorado. It was through a series of coincidences that Aiu became the head coach in 1997, though he has been associated with the program since its inception.

The Kauai native was studying engineering and playing for the Buffs' club team when former CU women's coach Brad Saindon asked him to help out with tryouts for the new women's varsity team in 1986. Aiu stayed with the program as a team manager for two years before being promoted to first assistant in 1989 when Saindon left to coach the men's national team. The position was supposed to be temporary.

"I actually left the program after I finished school," Aiu said. "I was a software engineer for six months. I wasn't that into my job. I missed coaching and hanging out with the kids and being in the gym.

"I thought, 'OK, I can put my life on hold for two more years and work for CU again.' And Brad did come back. Mike McLean decided he would leave and that opened up another position for me. It's a series of coincidences that have kept me around coaching. I feel very fortunate."

But it's more than good fortune that has Aiu nearing a personal milestone. If the Buffs win twice this weekend, Aiu would be the second and fastest Colorado coach to reach 100 victories.

"It would be nice wouldn't it?," Aiu said. "I didn't even know that. It's just a number. It would be fun and it's a milestone. It would be fun to get a win or two."

A win or two doesn't sound impossible, but a tough tournament field may delay the milestone.

Aiu's 1-year-old daughter is making the trip.

Host Hawaii may be the highest ranked team in the tournament, but it is expecting every match to be a battle. The Rainbow Wahine have been antsy in practice the entire week.

"We practiced poorly for the most part on Monday and Tuesday," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "People are just anxious to play. They have to understand we need to practice well every day. We haven't done that. Our concentration level is not always there. They want to play."

This year's season opener won't be as tough as last year's, but getting a win won't be easy.

The Buckeyes return four starters, including sophomore outside hitter Stacey Gordon, the AVCA freshman of the year. Also back are seniors Katie Virtue, Shelly Draeger, and Suzie Stiling. Ohio State was the coaches' preseason pick to win the Big Ten conference.

"It'll definitely show where we're weak. Ohio State will exploit some things we're not very good at," Shoji said.

"They've got a senior setter, which usually means she'll be able to run an offense and pick you apart. They're definitely well coached. I think they're going to be really fast, so we need to anticipate that."

Anticipation will be one factor and nerves could be another. Senior Margaret Vakasausau still hasn't conquered opening-night jitters.

"It's time to showcase to the state of Hawaii how hard we've been working. I always find it more nerve-wracking to play here at home than play away," Vakasausau said. "No one comes to the away games. No one cares like the people of Hawaii.

"It's always hard when it's your tournament. You never want to perform badly. Last year, we got second in both of our tournaments and that didn't feel very good."

The Bruins won the tournament last year and helped UCLA coach Andy Banachowski pick up his 900th career win. UCLA and Hawaii have identical tournament records at 31-11 and six classic titles each.

A seventh tournament title for UCLA won't be easy. The Bruins aren't young, but they're not experienced either. Only outside hitter Lauren Fendrick, middle blocker Angela Eckmier -- sister of UH's Melody Eckmier, and libero Chrissie Zartman have seen much court time.

"We've got a lot of new faces out on the court. We certainly have some spots to fill, losing (Ashley) Bowles, (Kristee) Porter and (Erika) Selsor. We're going to have a different look than we've had the past few years."

Banachowski said the Bruins have a rotation of nine players who play all the time. UCLA could break away from its traditional one-setter offense and use a two-setter rotation with newcomer Haley Jorgensborg and junior Krystal McFarland.

UH Volleyball

What: 15th Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Classic
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
When: Tomorrow, UCLA vs. Colorado 5 p.m., Hawaii vs. Ohio State 7 p.m.; Saturday, Colorado vs. Ohio State 2 p.m.; Sunday, UCLA vs. Ohio State 3 p.m., Hawaii vs. Colorado 5 p.m.; Monday, Hawaii vs. UCLA 5 p.m.

UH Athletics

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