Freshmen Kanoe Kamana'o and Cayley Thurlby will be competing to become the Wahine's starting setter. There are 13 days until the season opener.

Riding on their hands

The Wahine hold their first practice
this morning with freshmen
Kamana'o and Thurlby battling
to be the starting setter

ONE officially becomes an adult today. The other marks the end of her first year of adulthood tomorrow.

Both will be doing a lot of growing up starting at 9 this morning in Gym 1 when the Hawaii women's volleyball team officially opens its season with its inaugural 2003 practice.

For openers

The Hawaii women's volleyball team begins its quest for its first NCAA title since 1987.

>> Last year's record: 34-2

>> 2002-03 ranking: No. 3

>> Returnees: Kim Willoughby, Lily Kahumoku, Lauren Duggins, Maja Gustin, Susie Boogaard, Nohea Tano, Melody Eckmier, Ashley Watanabe, Melissa Villaroman

>> Newcomers: Kanoe Kamana'o, Alicia Arnott, Kari Gregory, Cayley Thurlby, Juliana Sanders

Freshmen setters Kanoe Kamana'o and Cayley Thurlby will have to grow up fast.

Very fast.

The Wahine open their season in 13 days, with expectations matching an anticipated Top 2 preseason national ranking. Hawaii returns two first-team All-Americans, a third-teamer and an all-conference middle off a 34-2 team that reached the final four last season.

All four are seniors and all four -- Kim Willoughby, Lily Kahumoku, Lauren Duggins and Maja Gustin -- are craving the program's first NCAA title since 1987.

But Hawaii's fate literally will be in the hands of an unknown and untested freshman. Also unknown is which one will start against Kansas State in the Aug. 22 season opener -- the 5-foot-10 Thurlby, with a redshirt year of experience in the program, or the 5-8 Kamana'o, who grew up in the Wahine club system and is a former floor-wiper during matches at the Stan Sheriff Center.

"I'm just anxious for everything to start," said Thurlby, who turns 19 tomorrow. "I've grown up playing and knowing that competition is good for me. I really think that at this high level, you thrive off of competition, that you look forward to it every day."

That battle begins today with Hawaii's first official practice. Unlike last season, in which Wahine coach Dave Shoji was able to utilize two setters -- Margaret Vakasausau mostly in back-row rotations and Jen Carey in the front -- Hawaii will have "a first-team setter and a second-team setter," according to Shoji, who is beginning his 29th season at Manoa.

"It was an unusual situation that we had last year with Margaret and Jen," he said. "We won't have that this season.

"I can't give anyone an edge at the moment. Cayley may have an advantage having been in the program a year, but Kanoe won't be at a disadvantage. She's been around for a while with us. I wish we had a month to work with them instead of two weeks. It's much like throwing a high school quarterback into a college game."

However, Thurlby and Kamana'o are not average freshmen. Both were high school All-Americans, Player of the Year picks and Fab 50 selections.

Both are used to winning. And both expect it.

"I think everyone is looking forward to winning the national championship this year," said Kamana'o, who led Iolani School to its first state title as a junior in 2001. "I'm getting excited, thinking about the season starting. I'm excited about (today) and I'm eager to learn.

"I don't know if there's competition between Cayley and me. We're on the same team. Both of us will be pushing each other to get better."

Vakasausau knows the feeling. She and Carey battled it out for court time for four years, but it only strengthened their friendship.

"It will be really healthy for them to push each other and everyone else," said Vakasausau, who finished her eligibility last season. "Both are great players, both are very intelligent, work hard and so talented. It's a good situation for the team."

Wahine assistant Kari Anderson had a different experience while setting for Hawaii in the 1990s. As a senior, she lost the starting job to sophomore Robyn Ah Mow, who went on to become an All-American and Olympian.

"We have two good young setters and it should be a good competition between them," said Anderson. "The only bad thing is we have just two weeks to get them ready.

"I've worked with both of them, Cayley last year and Kanoe as her club coach a few years ago. It's hard to say who might end up starting that first night. We'll see over the next two weeks."

Shoji won't redshirt Kamana'o, saying he needs two setters. He also says the veteran players will need patience.

"Our returnees are used to the ball being set a certain way and now they have to work with new setters," said Shoji, himself a former All-American setter at UC Santa Barbara. "They've got to understand they need to be patient.

"We're looking forward to the challenge of the new season. The players will set the tone. They know what they want and what they'll need to get there."

Hawaii will need a solid setter to get to the final four in Dallas this December. The Wahine have been blessed with greatness at that position, from Joyce Ka'apuni to Nahaku Brown, from Martina Cincerova to Ah Mow.

Thurlby and Kamana'o have the potential to join them. It's very likely that only one will.

"There is motivation not to sit out, to work hard, to push hard," said Kamana'o, who worked on technique with Ah Mow this summer. "We've had pick-up games this summer and Cayley is a leader. She takes charge and knows how to communicate. I'm looking forward to learning from her and from the rest of my teammates."

"I had a great time learning from Jen and Margaret last year," said Thurlby, who hails from Naperville, Ill. "And I'm excited about learning from Kanoe, too. I went to a few of her (high school) games. She's a very, very athletic girl and that's kind of my game, too.

"It will be a really good challenge. One of my best friends (Sam Tortorello) is the setter at Penn State and our coach was always challenging us to beat each other out, saying we weren't supposed to become best friends. But we did. That's what I saw happen with Jen and Margaret and that's what I'm looking for in Kanoe. She's a great player. I'm looking for friendship and camaraderie, a learning partner and someone who will challenge me.

"That's the way this team works. There's tons of competition at every spot, but there's so much camaraderie at the same time. It's really encouraging."

Notes: The State Farm NACWAA Women's Volleyball Classic will be held Aug. 22-23 at the Stan Sheriff Center. The 5 p.m. match on Aug. 22 is a rematch of last year's national semifinal between Florida and defending national champion Southern Cal. Hawaii takes on Kansas State in the second match. The consolation match on Aug. 23 is at 5 p.m., followed by the championship match. ... Ticket packages run from $12 to $30, while individual day tickets are $6 to $16. ... Vakasausau and Carey have signed with professional teams in Croatia.

WAC Tournament tickets
go on sale Friday

Tickets for the Nov. 21-23 Western Athletic Conference Volleyball Tournament in Reno, Nev., will go on sale Aug. 15.

All-session (seven matches) tickets are $15 for children and students, and $30 for adults. All seats are general admission.

Tickets can be purchased at the University of Nevada ticket office or by calling 775-348-7225.

Special tournament room rates are available at the Silver Legacy for $49 Sunday-Thursday nights and $79 for Friday and Saturday nights. The phone number is 1-800-687-8733 and the reservation ID code is "Volley."

Eight of the 10 WAC teams will advance to the tournament. The quarterfinals on Friday are at noon and 2 p.m. (first session) and 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. (second session).

The Nov. 22 semifinals are at 5 and 7 p.m. The WAC championship match is scheduled for 3 p.m. Nov. 23.

Hawaii won its third consecutive WAC tournament title last Nov. 24, defending the host Wolf Pack 3-1.

Cindy Luis, Star-Bulletin


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