Women's volleyball: Hawaii enters new era under coach Robyn Ah Mow-Santos
There's a flow to her life that Robyn Ah Mow-Santos doesn't always understand. Things that just happen like a rogue wave that comes out of nowhere, one that changes the course, the direction, that alters what — supposedly — was the plan.
Sometimes the plans weren't even hers. She didn't want to be a setter ("Too much talking"). She didn't think she could play in college ... or professionally ... or for the U.S. national team.
And yet it all happened: a two-time first-team All-American at Hawaii, nearly 10 years playing in Europe as well as playing for America during that time, including three Olympics as the team captain and starting setter.
Up until six months ago, the flow seemed comfortable, almost predictable. Ah Mow-Santos and family moved to Las Vegas last summer due to her husband's military reassignment. Son Jordan and daughter Jream were adjusting to new schools and new friends, her dad had moved in, there was a new house, new club coaching opportunity with Vegas Aces and a new baby, son Makanamaikalani born with Down Syndrome.
Then the rogue wave hit. Legendary Hawaii coach Dave Shoji — Ah Mow-Santos' coach, whose first match heading the Wahine came two weeks after she was born in 1975 — was considering retirement after 42 seasons. Ah Mow-Santos dismissed the "What am I thinking" and sent in her application hours before the deadline.
The plan wasn't to be back in Manoa this soon, at least not as the head coach. But maybe it was, because the Ah Mow-Santos era officially begins on Tuesday afternoon with the first of two-a-day practices in Gym I.
"I can't wait," said Ah Mow-Santos, just the third head coach in the program's history. "I'm pumped, Angelica (new assistant coach and four-time UH All-American Ljungqvist) is pumped. It probably won't sink in until that first day.
"We got a little taste with the girls during camps, but we can't work with them until Tuesday. I'm excited to get into the gym with them.
"Coming full circle, coming back here to coach? It's pretty awesome."
It's not going to be easy, either team-wise or personally. Ah Mow-Santos knows that. How does one follow a Hall of Famer who never had a losing season, one of the winningest coaches of all time? How does does one replace the force that was Nikki Taylor? How does one maintain the standard of what has been called the most beloved athletic team in the state? And how does one do it with a husband and son still in Las Vegas, and her 7-year-old and 9-month-old with her in Honolulu?
"Make it work," the 41-year-old Ah Mow-Santos said. "I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I know that I will make it work. We will make it work.
"I've told the girls that it all depends on them. Being in shape is all on them, it's about having pride in yourself. Then we can teach them the volleyball skills."
Ah Mow-Santos coached 10 of the returning players before leaving in spring of 2017, and was involved with recruiting most of the incoming freshmen and returning sophomores. She said the biggest change from seasons past will be dictated by the absence of a go-to terminator as Taylor had been in the most recent seasons.
"I like more of a diversified offense, and we have a very good setter in Norene (sophomore Iosia) who can distribute the ball," Ah Mow-Santos said. "But we need ball control and passing so that we can get everybody into the offense, incorporate all of our hitters.
"(Junior middle Emily) Maglio has been awesome, but if we don't have the passing, how are we going to get her the ball? I think the (freshmen) coming in might need a year or two to vie for a spot, but you never know. Someone might surprise you."
The same could be said of Ah Mow-Santos, who credits where she's at to her high school and club coach, the late Longy Okamoto. "Mr. O" had a vision for her, one that made sure she was on the college-prep track at McKinley High and that the eventually 5-foot-7 quiet local girl would take full advantage of her soft setting hands.
"I don't know where I'd be without him," Ah Mow-Santos said.
In two days, that unplanned flow has brought her officially home.
This article is written by Cindy Luis from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.