By Rodney S. Yap
Nothing could spoil their homecoming, not even a straight-set loss to Nebraska.
For two former Maui Interscholastic League players — Kalei Adolpho and Ginger Long — Friday’s reunion before family and friends resembled a spiritual awakening. The sold-out crowd of 2,500 embraced every move the two players made, acknowledging its support with loud cheers and colorful posters.
For the first time in more than 20 years, Mauians share in the religious experience known as University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine volleyball. From the pre-game music provided by Maui High’s marching band, to the singing of the National Anthem by former UH men’s volleyball player and Kihei resident Kala’e Camarillo, to the fan-generated wave that circled the stands in the fourth set.
Adolpho and Long are the only neighbor-island girls from the seven local players on Hawaii’s 14-member roster. After signing autographs and posing for pictures, Long was able to go home with her parents, Tab and Evelyn.
“We had a lot of family and friends here who have supported the girls over the years and we were all really excited to have her here,” said Evelyn Long. “I spoke to her in the morning (before the match) and she was very calm. She was trying to get all her laundry done because on Sunday they leave for Florida to play sand volleyball.
“I don’t think she knew how much she was going to play or how she was going to contribute. . . . I am sure she is pretty surprised to have so much court time, but she needs that experience after redshirting last year.”
“I miss my family a lot and I’m excited to go home,” said Long, who finished with two kills and played the entire fourth set. “But I’m also excited because on Sunday afternoon we hop on a plane and go to Florida.”
Long is one of 10 players on the current roster who are headed for Florida for three events, beginning with its first meeting against Division I opponent Jacksonville on Tuesday.
Collegiate sand volleyball is an emerging sport. Once there are 40 sponsoring institutions for two straight years, it will be considered an NCAA championship sport. 16 schools are sponsoring the sport in this initial season.
The season lasts eight weeks or until the end of the school year. UH will play the Division I minimum of eight dates, including a season-ending event April 7 at Queen’s Beach in Waikiki.
“I enjoy it a lot,” said Long, who partnered with freshman setter Elizabeth Blake at last week’s inaugural tournament against HPU and Nittaidai of Japan. “We did really well, we finished tied for third. It’s fun to be out there. It’s a good experience.”
Long had a tournament high 22 kills in a quarterfinal upset against No. 2 Natasha Bell and Sanoe Recca of HPU, 21-19, 21-19. Long and Blake were seeded No. 10 and loss in the semifinals to No. 3 Jane Croson and Larissa Nordyke, 21-8, 21-10.
After sand volleyball, Long said she plans to return home for the summer in hopes of getting stronger.
“I want to comeback and get back in the weight room with coach Mikey (Labuanan). I do miss home a lot, I was home last month, but you always want to come back.”
Adolpho, who is Hawaii’s only two sport female athlete, earned a much needed return to the Friendly Isle, after playing both volleyball and basketball.
“I’m actually going home tomorrow and I’m really excited about that,” said Adolpho, who had four kills against the Huskers. “I get to stay for a week because of spring break.”
Unlike Long, who redshirt last season, Adolpho played in 25 matches as a middle blocker. She recorded 54 kills to go along with 56 total blocks. Adolpho had a breakout performance in late September, finishing with seven kills and eight blocks with an .875 attack percentage against Utah State, and was rewarded with more playing time.
“Yeah definitely, the experience I got last year has helped me, especially with my confidence,” said the daughter of Carl and Vesta Adolpho.
“I got to start a couple of games and played in some big matches. All that is just building and helping me for next season. I am so thankful for all the game time I got last season. I hope to continue to build on top of that and try to pick up were I left off and keep going.”
When asked if she was tired from playing back-to-back sports, Adolpho shook her head, and said: “No, not as much as you would think. It’s not bad. I mean I’m a little tired but it’s exciting to keep working and getting better.”
Adolpho adjusted to the change of sports almost seamlessly. In her college basketball debut against Denver on Dec. 19, she had a team-high 15 rebounds.
In 21 games played, she earned two starts, averaged 6.4 rebounds and 6.0 points per game. Coming off the bench, she averaged 19.4 minutes per game. Her 134 rebounds was third on the team, as was her .412 shooting percentage.
“Kalei has been with basketball and has only had a week of practice and it shows,” said Hawaii coach Dave Shoji, after the Rainbow Wahine fell to Nebraska, 25-23, 25-16, 25-15, 25-16. “She’s a little rusty out there, but we really like her potential. Ginger has had a really good spring, I think she just tried too hard tonight, but she’s getting better and I expect both of them to contribute next year.”
Shoji said the transition from high school to college is especially difficult on neighbor island players who don’t get to play at a high level of competition — week in and week out — in comparison to girls on Oahu.
“It’s just tough. It’s tough for all the local kids who don’t get the competition all-year round. But they are coming around and I really like their attitudes and their work ethic.”
In accessing the team’s immediate future, Shoji said he is looking for players to fill the void left from the departure of middle blocker Brittany Hewitt and the graduation of outside hitters Kanani Danielson and Chanteal Satele.
“I see we have some firepower on the left with (Emily) Hartog and (Jane) Croson, and Mita (Uiato) is a really good setter so those three positions are solid. We have to get somebody to step up in the middle and I think Jade Vorster in time will be a good player. Kalei also has potential and Kristiana Tuaniga has been in the program for three years now so we have got to get more production out of them. I thought Kaela Goodman struggled tonight, we expected more out of her and I think we’re going to get more out of her.”
As for Long, Shoji said, “She can play either left or the right. We need help on the right but I think she can help us in a double-sub kind of situation. But really its going to be up to her and how much she trains this summer and gets stronger, and her skills have got to get better too.”