Nov. 16—Every University of Hawaii women's volleyball player quickly learns that becoming a Rainbow Wahine is different from any other school in the country.
Every University of Hawaii women's volleyball player quickly learns that becoming a Rainbow Wahine is different from any other school in the country.
It doesn't take long to realize the opportunity to play at a school like UH comes with a certain level of celebrity status.
Thousands of people fill SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center for every home match. Autograph lines are always long and the connection between volleyball and the community is as special as it is unique.
Nobody learned this lesson quicker than Kendra Ham, who is one of six seniors who will be honored after Hawaii's final home match of the season on Saturday against Long Beach State.
Ham hadn't even moved in yet and had been off the plane from California less than a couple of hours when she was already taking photos for fans.
"My Uber driver (from the airport ) was asking me why I was here an I said, 'Oh, I'm actually coming to play volleyball at the University of Hawaii, ' " Ham said. "She pulled over and asked to take a selfie with me and I was like, 'whoa, this is kind of strange.' That's when I realized it's kind of a big deal here because I hadn't even been on the team yet."
Each of the six seniors has a different story to share. Ham, who began her career at Cal Poly, transferred to UH during the COVID-19 pandemic and has played three full seasons.
Talia Edmonds (Michigan State ), Chandler Cowell (Saint Mary's ) and Kennedi Evans (Utah ) all used their extra redshirt years to transfer to UH for their final two years of eligibility.
Then there's Amber Igiede and Riley Wagoner, two fifth-year seniors from far away. They have been Big West champions since they were freshmen.
"It's been a real eye-opening experience for me just to learn the culture out here and be exposed to the aloha that is out here, which is a real thing, " said Wagoner, who is from Dublin, Ohio. "That's the biggest thing that's going to stay with me."
Igiede, the reigning Big West Player of the Year and three-time All-Big West first-team selection, from Baton Rouge, La., will go down as one of the all-time greats to wear a Rainbow Wahine uniform.
Just last week, she became the fourth UH player ever to record 1, 000 kills and 500 blocks in a career, putting her in a very elite class with Angelica Ljungqvist, who coached Igiede her freshman season, Suzanne Eagye and Dietre Collins.
"I am extremely grateful that my name can even be in that conversation or associated with the players that I have looked up to and watched before and have made an impact in this program, " Igiede said. "Just gratitude is the feeling that overwhelms me because without the team that I've grown up with I don't think I would be the player that I am today."
Igiede has had her own share of interactions with fans outside of the volleyball court and said one moment, also involving an Uber ride, stands out.
"I went to pick up my family for my graduation in an Uber and my Uber (driver ) was a big fan of UH volleyball and said us as players really changed her life, " Igiede said. "That just made me really happy and she literally stopped on the side of the road to buy lei to give to me and my whole family and I just started crying because it was amazing. She really didn't have to do that and I will always remember that. It's the perfect example of ohana and how Hawaii treats everyone."
Edmonds' first memories of Hawaii are as a young girl on family trips. Her mother, Elizabeth, grew up on Oahu and played for Hawaii Hilo in the early 1980s.
Edmonds attended UH volleyball camps during the summer where she first started dreaming of one day becoming a Rainbow Wahine.
"Then it was like, Rainbow Wahine volleyball is so cool but after that it was just kind of a passing thought, " Edmonds said. "That moment when it became real is so surreal that this would be an opportunity for me. I was so overwhelmingly excited."
This weekend will test this senior class, which will have to balance the emotions of their final home matches with the reality that the entire season comes down to the next 10 days.
With Long Beach State losing twice last weekend, Hawaii can earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in next week's Big West Conference Tournament by sweeping this week's matches.
Two Hawaii victories guarantees at least a tie for second place with Cal Poly. A long and confusing tiebreaker system, UH would win a complicated tiebreaker system based on sets won and lost in conference play to get that No. 2 seed.
"I think senior week is going to be a great momentum builder and hopefully we have a great crowd both nights, and I think Friday is also going to be a momentum builder to set the tone for Saturday, " Igiede said. "We have to do well in the practice gym this week and it should take care of itself."