Rainbow Wahine and greats from the volleyball program's storied past put on a show

·4 min read

Sep. 17—Homecoming week on the University of Hawaii campus included a family reunion of sorts for the Rainbow Wahine volleyball program.

Homecoming week on the University of Hawaii campus included a family reunion of sorts for the Rainbow Wahine volleyball program.

Absent from the schedule for three years, the return of the program's Alumnae match on Friday turned the court in SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center into a celebration of Rainbow Wahine volleyball, from the program's beginnings 50 years ago to the present.

"I think it's pretty unreal, " said Lisa Strand, a member of the 1982 and'83 NCAA championship teams and now a Spectrum Sports analyst. "We always talk about it as a sisterhood and this is probably the best turnout we've had in years, just from our group and a lot of the younger ones, which is really nice to see because we get to cheer for them."

The night began with the alumnae split into two teams for a two-set match, with UH head coach Robyn Ah Mow taking the lead in running the festivities. The former All-America setter then took a turn running the attack in a one-set duel between the current coaching staff and an alumnae team.

"All I wanted was to make sure the alumnae had a good time. It's great to see all the different generations, " Ah Mow said.

She ended the night back in coaching mode, with the varsity capping the evening with a two-set intra-squad Green-White scrimmage before a crowd of about 1, 000.

The night began with hugs and smiles, as 34 alumnae bridging generations trickled into the arena, wearing matching black shirts with the rainbow logo.

Former libero Savanah Kahakai (2014-17 ) showed she still had the touch from the service line with three aces in the alumnae vs. alumnae match. Middle blocker Kalei Adolpho (2011-14 ) had five kills and two blocks for the Green, which won both sets 25-15, 15-6.

"It was super awesome, " said Adolpho, who also played for the Wahine basketball team during her college days. "I got to play with the people I played with here, still some of my closest friends today. (To ) be out on the court and in the arena we spent so much time in as an athlete just brings back so much great memories and just a lot of fun."

The return of the alumnae match continued the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX and the start of Rainbow Wahine athletics and the 40th anniversary of the 1982 title.

"I walk through Klum Gym often to come into the Stan and I get chicken skin every time, " Strand said. "To see the players we saw tonight. it brings you right back. It doesn't feel like its been 40 years, We've all gone on with our lives and our families and it's like yesterday."

"Even our group doesn't see each other that much. So it's nice to reconnect and to see how many (alumnae ) that did come was nice, " Marci Wurts Nowack (1980-83 ) said. "There's a few boosters that were here that were our boosters. It's pretty amazing."

The evening also provided a connection between the program's past and its present. Current outside hitter Chandler Cowell grew up watching Wahine volleyball on Maui and ended the night by putting away the final kill of the Green-White scrimmage.

"It's just so fun to look at the court and see players I grew up watching—Tayler Higgins, Savanah Kahakai, all of these girls who shaped the game for me, " Cowell said. "So seeing them tonight, watching them play and seeing they still have the touches, is just a phenomenal thing. It just shows the team culture and the culture of Hawaii that we've had for generations."

While the night was largely spent looking back, the closing scrimmage gave the Wahine a chance to stay sharp moving forward into next week's opening weekend of Big West play. Middle blocker Amber Igiede had 12 kills for the White and outside hitter Riley Wagoner had nine for the Green.

Middle blocker Kennedi Evans made her debut in front of the fans in her most extensive work since joining the team as a graduate transfer from Utah. Evans, a junior, has been gradually working back from a knee injury she suffered last year and was recently cleared for full participation.

"It was exciting. First time playing full sixes in a long time, so it feels pretty good, and it was fun to do in front of fans with some energy, " Evans said.

Evans' addition to the rotation provides depth in the middle along with Igiede and Tiffany Westerberg.

"This is the first time she continuously played all around and I think she did just fine, " Ah Mow said.