College volleyball: Kahuku kinship spurs Vulcans at setter

UH-Hiloʻs ShaRae Niu

They can talk, use hand signals or simply read each other by the looks on their faces. One way or another, UH-Hilo’s Basia Sauni and Sha Rae Niu are sure to be communicating – constructively – on the volleyball court.

Make a bad set? Shrug it off.

Out of rhythm? Take a deep breath.

“At Kahuku, we learned not to take things personally, so we can tell each other things,” Niu said.

The Vulcans’ setters are in sync because they share a connection.

It’s a Kahuku thing, but the small town on Oahu’s North Shore shares some similarities to Hilo, so most here should be able to understand.

In some respects, Sauni, a junior, and Niu, a true freshman, have simply relocated from one close-knit community to another. Though other facets of East Hawaii life have taken some time to get used to.

“No sand,” Sauni said. “That was a surprise.”

Both first-year Vulcans were in for a surprise earlier this year on the recruiting trail.

Friends and club teammates since elementary school in Kahuku, they separated when Sauni’s family moved to Arizona, only keeping in touch when she would come back home.

UH-Hilo coach Gene Krieger plucked Sauni after her second season at Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College, where she was a second-team juco all-American in 2016, while Niu was an all-OIA setter for the Red Raiders back home.

“I was planning my (recruiting) visit,” Niu recalled, “and Coach (Krieger) said he had another setter, and her name is Basia.

“I only know one Basia. I have never heard of anyone else named Basia”

Small world, and both cogs in the Vulcans’ two-setter system have found big benefits from reconnecting.

“Not only a friend, but having someone who understands where we come from,” Niu said, “because it’s not the same as any other place I’ve been.”

Sauni effortlessly recited the Kahuku code: family, community, pride.

Sound like any place familiar?

“It’s like here, where everyone knows each other, but we’re not from here,” Sauni said.

No, but they’re starting to become known for UH-Hilo (3-5, 0-2 Pacific West Conference), which will try to brush off a three-match losing streak when it takes the court for its home opener at 7 p.m. Friday against Academy of Art (0-2, 2-6). Another 7 p.m. match is on tap Saturday against Fresno Pacific (1-1, 2-8).

Each has played in every set so far for the Vulcans, with Sauni (144 assists) receiving sightly more playing time than Niu (99) because of experience. Both are accustomed to playing in a one-setter system, but both are happy to share playing time, not to mention knowledge.

“It’s nice having another setter because you both get to see each others’ perception of the game,” Sauni said.

So if one detects a strategic advantage – say a hot hitter worth setting or an opposing blocker vulnerable to an attack – it quickly becomes the wisdom of two.

“Sometimes it’s harder to see the whole picture in the game, everything happens so fast,” said Niu, a former ball girl for BYU-Hawaii. “I feel we can help each other. I think we have pretty much the same style. We both like the same things.”

One of the reasons they were drawn to Krieger in the first place was because he holds many of the same values they learned from their former club coach, Mona Ah-Hoy, who also coached at BYU-Hawaii.

“She has the same mentality as coach Gene: family first; church, family, volleyball,” Niu said.

Sounds like the Kahuku way.

Vuls home at last

UH-Hilo has featured balanced hitting so far this season, especially with junior Randi Hunter in lineup. The Vulcans took a hit last weekend in losses at Chaminade and Hawaii Pacific when Hunter missed the trip with an illness, but she is expected to return Friday. Hunter is second on the team in kills behind senior Siera Green. …

Krieger came away encouraged the Vulcans played two close matches last weekend against a pair of foes that started 2-0 in the PacWest, and he hopes the home crowd will make the difference this weekend.

“It will be good to finally play at home,” he said in a release. “We have been looking forward to this for a long time. Our team understands that our gym is a special place with a wealth of great history. We are hopeful that the community and students will come out and create an atmosphere that truly makes it a home court advantage.” …

Academy of Art enters off losses to Notre Dame de Namur (four sets) and Dominican (five), and the Vulcans lead the all-time series 9-3. Fresno Pacific plays Chaminade on Friday night, owning a win against Dominican and a loss against Azusa Pacific. …

All keiki in attendance Friday night will receive a UH-Hilo schedule poster, and Vulcans’ players will be available after the match to sign autographs.

On Saturday, it’s Sack the Sunbirds night, according to a release. The first 100 fans through the door will receive a free Vulcan reusable grocery bag.

College volleyball: Kahuku kinship spurs Vulcans at setter