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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 expectations 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.

Flavia Brakling


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 more.

“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 left.

“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.”

Nadica Karleusa


Ahuna, with a career record of 161-51 (76%), begins her 9th season as head coach with her usual attitude of cautious optimism, 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 teams.

“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.”

Barbara Martin


If Ahuna’s Lady Sea Warriors come out on top of the PacWest dogfight, it will likely be at the hands of her returning corps of players.

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 41 aces.

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.

Mahea Rawlins


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 to 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.

Vera Olivera


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 offensive support. Brunke, a 6-1 native of Potsdam, Germany, averaged 1.41 kills and 0.77 digs per game, with a .282 attack percentage.

Nascimento, a 6-2 native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, averaged 1.78 kills and 0.86 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.


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