HPU's volleyball core wants more
by Chuck Cordill, assoc. Sports editor
The 2003 Lady Sea Warrior volleyball season
saw a talented but unseasoned crew of newcomers surpass all
as the team made an improbable post-season run that took them
all the way to the NCAA II Pacific Region Championship semifinals.
Head Coach Reydan “Tita” Ahuna hopes last year’s “baptism
of fire” helped solidify a core of returning players
that this year will carry the program to the next level.
“I think that after a year
together, they are a much better team,” Ahuna observed. “We
are more mature, there is more cohesiveness, and they know
our system of play a lot better. They’re also a lot tougher
physically and also in the mental game.”
Coach Reydan Ahuna
|Last season Ahuna and squad, a group of gifted, individual
players, mostly sophomores, took a roller coaster ride. They
closed the season with four consecutive losses and knew that
they’d have to defeat cross-island archrival Brigham Young
University-Hawai‘i in the last regular season match to
have a chance to advance. But shortly before the season finale,
BYU-H announced that they had used an ineligible player for most
of the season and forfeited most of their games. Although HPU
fell short in a hard fought five-game battle, they were awarded
the conference title by default. The Lady Sea Warriors went to
San Diego, Calif. for the NCAA II Pacific Regionals as underdogs.
In fact, much of the buzz around the tournament was that HPU
didn’t belong there. Ahuna’s squad quickly proved
the pundits wrong. Seeded fifth, they prevailed in five games
against fourth-seed Cal State- Bakersfield. That victory gave
the Lady Sea Warriors the right to face the host UC-San Diego
Tritons, the number one-ranked Division II team in the nation,
on their home court, where UCSD had a 20-match winning streak
dating back to the 2002 season. Except for a handful of Ahuna’s
family and friends, the sellout crowd at UCSD’s RIMAC Arena
was squarely behind the host team. In a “Game of the Year,” the
Lady Sea Warriors shocked the top-seeded Tritons in five games
to advance to the regional finals.
HPU fell in straight three sets to Cal State-San Bernardino
in the final match, but gained nationwide respect in the process.
Ahuna’s team finished the season battle tested, but wanting
“The regional was amazing,” Ahuna recalled. “Many
people questioned us being there, and I think that helped us
solidify as a team. We made a great run. I was really proud of
the Lady’s because they played their hearts out, left it
all on the floor. But in the semifinal match, there was nothing
“Everyone was proud at how far we went, but I think we
all left with a bad taste in our mouths. The team knew we could
have won that match, and they took that feeling into the off
season and really worked hard . . . taking classes and improving
their conditioning. “The key to this game is HEART. It’s
the difference between a good team and a champion. ‘Heart’ can’t
be taught, it comes from within an athlete. I think a lot of
that growth has happened this summer.”
Ahuna, with a career record of 161-51 (76%), begins her
9th season as head coach with her usual attitude of cautious
knowing that the nucleus of her squad of gifted upstarts have
put in the extra hours necessary to take the team to a higher
level of play, but also knowing her competitors will be stronger
than ever. Ahuna, last year’s Pacific West Conference Coach-of-the-Year,
also knows that the “road to postseason” is best
navigated one mile marker at a time. The key to this season
is how well her team will perform against other conference
“The way the schedule was put together this year, I think
we have to win the PacWest to advance,” said Ahuna. “That’s
a difficult task, because we have such a strong conference, and
an even tougher region. We all know the long-term goal, but that
really isn’t our focus. It can’t be. Every one of
our opponents has gotten stronger. I look at the competition
in the Pac West, and it is excellent—any team could make
a serious run for the title. We have to focus on getting better
with time, getting stronger, staying healthy throughout the season.
We’ll take our schedule game-by-game, team-by-team.”
If Ahuna’s Lady Sea Warriors come out on top of the
PacWest dogfight, it will likely be at the hands of her returning
Quarterbacking the action on the floor will be setter Vera
Olivera, a 2003 All-PacWest first-team choice. Olivera,
a 5-11 junior
from Londrina, Brazil, led the team with an average 11.61
assists per game, and made her mark at the service line
with a team high
Leading the attack will be outside hitter Flavia Brakling, an
American Volleyball Coaches Association second-team All-America
pick in 2003. Brakling, a 6-foot junior from Sao Paulo, Brazil,
led the team with 400 kills, averaging a team high 4.17 per game.
She also led the team with an average of 2.43 digs a game.
Outside hitter Nadica Karleusa returns, having averaged 4.02
kills per game for a total of 366 in the 2003 season. The 6-2
junior from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, also averaged 1.62 digs and
0.92 blocks per game.
Middle blocker Barbara Martin will make her presence known
at the net. The 6-3 sophomore from Curitiba, Brazil, was named
last year’s Pacific Region All-Tournament Team. Martin
led the team with an average of 1.13 blocks per game and hammered
a total of 233 kills for a 2.45 average last season.
Adding to the attack will be 6-2 outside middle hitter Paula
Koikopoulos, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil. A junior, “Koko” averaged
2.37 kills, 1.59 digs, and 0.78 blocked shots per game.
Piikea Dudoit, a 5-10 junior from Honolulu, will
return to provide support as an outside hitter. Dudoit averaged
1.23 kills, 0.44 assists, and 1.51 digs per game.
Junior Mahea Rawlins will likely be the key defensive specialist.
The 5-6 blocker from Moloka‘i averaged 2.0 digs and 1.28
assists per game last season.
Outside hitters Sandra Brunke and Paula
Nascimento will be the lone seniors on this year’s squad,
and they will be expected to provide leadership as well as
6-1 native of Potsdam, Germany, averaged 1.41 kills and 0.77
digs per game, with a .282 attack percentage.
6-2 native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, averaged 1.78 kills
digs per game, attacking at a .2 61 average.
Sophomore Melissa Sekigawa showed poise last season as a defensive
specialist and returns to build upon her freshman experience.
Sekigawa, a 5-6 product of Wahiawa, Hawai‘i, averaged
0.62 digs in the 42 games she played.
Hawai‘i prep stars Melissa Aki and Duchess Kama add fresh
talent to the 2004 Lady Sea Warriors. Aki, a 5-9 freshman from
Honolulu, will see time as the outside hitter. Kama, a 5-7 freshman
from Hilo, Hawai‘i, is a defensive specialist and outside
hitter who as a prep athlete helped lead St. Joseph High School
to the Big Island Federation title all four years.