If successfully coaching NCAA Division
II women’s volleyball was merely a case of assembling talented
players and getting them all into uniform on time for the first
serve, HPU Head Coach Tita Ahuna could easily bring a beach chair
to games—complete with a straw hat and those fruity drinks
that come with a miniature umbrella.
Perhaps that’s what coaches at this level dream about in
their few hours of leisure. But reality is a splash of ice-cold
water in the face. Ahuna is one of the most respected coaches
in her field and she’s blessed with a squad of nine talented
newcomers as well as six return players, two of them seniors.
Her challenge is molding this young talent into a team that
can prevail in a crowded field of teams equal in ability. The
news is, Ahuna likes what she sees.
This team has started to mesh early, more so than most of our
past teams,” said Ahuna. “Everyone is starting
to get comfortable with each other; they are starting to communicate
In athletics, early season games can sometimes set the tone
for the rest of a season. Those who burst out of the starting
with a flurry seem to hold an advantage. Those who stumble
at the beginning sometimes never regain their composure.
of a season can either “make you or break you.” But
what happens when you know you have the potential for greatness,
but it doesn’t always show up in the win-loss column?
Ahuna and her 15 ranked HPU Lady Sea Warriors ponder many
of those questions after opening the 2003 season with a 5-2
Ahuna and her squad feel they have the physical talent to
play at the top of the Pacific West Conference this year.
it’s just a matter of how hard they are willing to work
We have the potential to go far,” said Ahuna. “If
we can just do the ‘little things’ correctly, I feel
that the only team that can beat us is ourselves.” Ahuna
recently got feedback from sophomore outside hitter Flavia Brakling
that, in her opinion, sums up the situation. “Flavia told
me, ‘Coach, at times we can do amazing things out there,
but we also make some stupid mistakes that change the game.”
Whoever put together the Lady Sea Warriors schedule must
have wanted them to be battle tested early. HPU hosted
Barry University and 2 ranked University of California-San
consecutive nights, falling to both teams in agonizing
five-game losses. In the first match, played Sept. 4 at
Institute, HPU out hit Barry .259 to .102 in attack percentage
and dominated the unbeaten Buccaneers in games two and
three. But errors and mental lapses let Barry back into
and they ultimately prevailed. The final score was 25-30,
30-10, 30-20, 27-30, 13-15.
The next evening, the Lady Sea Warriors hosted UC-San Diego
at St. Andrews Priory with fairly identical results. After
game one, HPU took games two and three and looked in position
to upset the favored Tritons. But again, errors came back
to haunt the Lady Sea Warriors and the Tritons slipped
islands without a loss. The final score in that game was
24-30, 30-24, 30-22, 28-30, 14-16. UC-San Diego is currently
team in NCAA II.
Outside hitter Nadica Karleusa took the losses personally.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore from Belgrade, Yugoslavia leads
the team in
kills, with 123, and has a .358 attack percentage. Karleusa,
who fills the middle blocker position, plays with intensity
and emotion that reminds some of former, two-time All-American
In some ways, I feel personally responsible for the losses,” she
said. “There were times in those games I felt I could
have done some things better. I had trouble sleeping for about
after those games.”
It’s a little frustrating to come within two points of
winning against good teams,” said Brakling, who is currently
second on the team with 113 kills. “It hurts to lose, but
those two games were also good tests of our ability. It shows
that we need to work on concentration when we’re out
on the court.”
Ahuna echoed that sentiment, saying the pair of losses
might have been a blessing in disguise.
We’ve been challenged early on this year in some great
games,” said Ahuna. “When you play the best, you
can only get better. The areas you need to work on become apparent
immediately. I’m still very proud of what the ladies did
out there. We just have some things to work on if we’re
going to reach where we want to go.”
Ahuna says the two losses lit a spark in the individual
players as well as the coaching staff. In addition
to working on
the mental errors that hurt her young squad, Ahuna
wants them to
toughen up and put the opposition away.
When you play at this level and have a team down, you can’t
afford to let them back into games,” said Ahuna. “We
are working hard at finishing. There’s nothing worse
than giving 110 percent and then cruising at the finish.”
Ahuna carries the importance on finishing strong
into practice. She has the team running a lot to
in her words, “keep running through the finish line, not
three steps behind it.”
Karleusa feels that while practices can be grueling—“so
much running,”—they are energizing as well. “Right
now my battery is full of energy,” she said. “I feel
the same energy from my teammates. We’re ready to go.”
What’s really promising for the coaching staff is for us
to see the ability we have to dominate when everyone is working
together.” said Ahuna.
HPU, ranked 22nd in preseason, opened play Aug.
29-30 at the Hawaiian Style Tournament, hosted
by the University
HPU was a perfect 4-0 through the tourney, beating
Northern Colorado. The Lady Sea Warriors easily
swept past St. Mary’s of Texas the following week. The team traveled
to the U.S. mainland Sept. 22-26 to play a pair of games against
Pac West rivals Western New Mexico and Montana State University-Billings.