Raeceen Woolford worked out with the Wahine yesterday in Gym 1 as the team opened practice for the coming season.

The heat is on for
rebuilding Wahine

Hawaii opens volleyball practice
having lost seven seniors from last
year’s final-four squad

New beginnings can be difficult, but Washington State transfer Victoria Prince wasn't worried about moving to Hawaii.

A month ago, the 6-foot middle blocker got an inkling of what to expect and received some simple advice from a good source before she arrived. Prince's mother, Brenda, grew up in Hawaii, attended Leilehua High School and went to UH.

"She just said, 'It's really laid-back and nice all the time'," said Prince, a Washington native. "She wanted me to concentrate on what I'm here for, and that's to play volleyball and go to school and not straying to the beach."

There will be little time for the beach the next couple of weeks with two practices a day on the schedule. Prince was one of many smiling new faces at the first day of Rainbow Wahine volleyball practice yesterday. The sweltering heat in Gym 1 did little to diminish the enthusiasm and excitement of a new season.

"I really, really like this. It's like a breath of fresh air," senior middle Melody Eckmier said. "New faces. Everyone is kind of re-energized to go out and battle. We've been waiting a long time."

That's how Prince felt after being away from volleyball for a year. She left the Cougars after a successful season in 2002 in which she led the team in blocking (1.21 per game, sixth in the Pac-10) and was voted to the NCAA East Regional team.

Prince described the situation she left at WSU as "interesting." When she was granted her release from the Cougars, she received calls from several coaches. After a visit to Hawaii, Prince was smitten and the choice was easy.

"I never, ever, ever thought I would be here," said Prince, who was voted preseason All-Western Athletic Conference. "It's awesome. I'm so lucky. I was so excited for today that I could barely sleep last night.

"We have great chemistry already. We all work so well together. It's amazing. ... We're going to be good. Everything is going to be fine."

Prince is expected to help Hawaii ease the transition as the Rainbow Wahine start anew. Her unexpected availability gives Hawaii the experience it needs after losing seven seniors.

"She's played a lot at a real high level," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "No matter what, she's going to give us something we just didn't have."

"She fits in very well," setter Kanoe Kamana'o said. "She's a very experienced player. She'll be really helpful for putting up a block. She reminds me of how Lauren (Duggins) is. Touching every single ball and stopping those hard-driven balls. That's what we need."

The list of what Hawaii needs is long, but at least Shoji doesn't have to worry about conditioning. All 17 players passed the morning sprint tests. Shoji liked what he saw in yesterday's practices and so did his players, who already have a mutual respect for each other's abilities.

"We have to learn each other's tendencies and get to play with each other more comfortably," Eckmier said. "That comes with time.

"You can't throw six great athletes on the court and play and have them win a national championship. You have to have some kind of camaraderie and chemistry. We definitely have a little bit of that now."

"It's a whole new team, a whole different team," Kamana'o added. "It doesn't mean we're at the bottom of everything. A lot of these players are very experienced and we have a lot to work with."

And a lot to work on.

Note: CSTV will air the second Hawaii vs. Pepperdine match on Sept. 26. The match will be Shoji's 1,000th as the UH coach.



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