Thursday, November 17, 2005

Very Cool Story.......

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do in life is to stay focused, focused on what are life's real priorities. Check this story out, real cool story about Ashley Watanabe, University of Hawaii Wahine Volleyball player, that put's many, including myself to shame. You go girl!!!!! Hoooo hoooo!!!!! Very, very cool!!!! Hey and about that group Ashley's dad played in, "The Laughing Kahunas", now that's a name I can remember. They were cool in their day!!!!!

Posted on: Thursday, November 17, 2005

Faith has paid off for Watanabe

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer


Height: 5-6

Position: libero

High school: 'Aiea

GRADUATION: December 2005, business management

NOTABLE: Averaging 4.22 digs per game, which ties the school record she set last year and third in the WAC ... needs 71 digs to tie school dig record (437) ... second on team in aces (19)


Had a career-high 31 digs and three aces against Loyola Marymount ... As a junior, her first year as starting libero, earned second-team all-WAC honors ... set school record with average of 4.22 digs per game ... finished seven digs short of single-season school record (437) when she broke her hand before NCAA Tournament ... collected 42 digs and 7 aces — 5 in the final against Nevada — to earn all-WAC Tournament honors ... redshirted in 2001 and played in 81 games her first two seasons (2002 and 2003)


Helped 'Aiea to OIA West titles in 1997 and 2000. Earned honorable mention all-state honors as a senior ... member of 2001 state high school championship basketball team.


"(Coach Dave) Shoji definitely started getting harder on me. When he started really getting on my case about every little thing I knew my role had picked up and more was expected of me from others other than me."

Ashley Watanabe will be the first to tell you she cannot count all her blessings, but she was hardly blessed with an abundance of volleyball gifts.

When she talks about how, if she can succeed on the highest collegiate level, anyone coming out of a Hawai'i high school can, people should listen.

Watanabe is 5 feet 6 in a volleyball world looking for 6 feet 5. She is quick but hardly warp-speed, has become strong but remains small, is confident but far from arrogant.

In short — which might be the most accurate way to describe UH's senior libero — Watanabe has willed her way to making an impact on her ninth-ranked team.

"I think it's just being driven and allowing yourself to change," Watanabe says. "Give yourself a chance. I was not a natural athlete.

"I was sitting out a lot even during practice and shagging balls and doing whatever I possibly could. Getting to touch a ball was an awesome feeling that rarely occurred. You have to humble yourself before you get in the program."

As Watanabe, Victoria Prince and Susie Boogaard gear up for their final home matches, tonight and tomorrow against New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech, respectively, the last few years are suddenly a blur.

Watanabe's life has been in perpetual fast-forward since she decided to pass on the Division II schools where she could have played immediately coming out of 'Aiea High School in 2001.

She stayed home because she couldn't find a church "connection" with the smaller Mainland colleges that left her as fulfilled as Grace Bible, where her family worships.

She found the "whole Rainbow Wahine volleyball thing admirable," but the only person who knew for sure she could play for Hawai'i was her grandfather. He promised he would watch her from the seats at Stan Sheriff Center, but succumbed to cancer before she got to college. He watches from far, far above now.

That left Watanabe and all the others who encouraged her to pursue sports in college, but tried to be realistic about her chances of playing at UH. 'Aiea counselor Rodney Cavaco was prominent, ultimately talking UH coach Dave Shoji into giving her a shot.

"I didn't even know she could play until her senior year in high school," says Ashley's father, Eric. "I was totally shocked she was going to UH. It was a Division I, ranked school and she was from 'Aiea High School. I didn't think she had a prayer in the world. But I never discouraged her."

Fran Villarmia-Kahawai came out of 'Aiea to play basketball for UH, thanks to Cavaco, then coached Watanabe in that sport at their alma mater. She is also somewhat shocked at Watanabe's success in Manoa, but does recall a trail of persistent clues.

"Ashley is not the most talented, but if you tell her to do something, she'll do it and do it and do it and do it until she gets it right," Villarmia says. "She works hard at what you tell her, never gives you any attitude. She had the mindset that she wanted to be good."

Even Watanabe had her doubts. She still comes home from practice in tears some days and says, "It's not all glitz and glamour, you've got to be real." Eric believes his daughter's faith has "pulled her through."

Shoji never promised her a position. He only gave her a scholarship last year, after Melissa Villaroman graduated to the national program. Watanabe overwhelmed all other libero applicants with ballhandling and jump-float serving skills only a player who has taken numerous repetitions can perform.

She had been so dogged for so long, had passed balls through so many water breaks and worked out so much harder than he had asked, Shoji could no longer ignore her. When she broke her hand in a fluke accident going into last year's NCAA Tournament, he found out the hard way how critical Watanabe had become to his team, on and off the court.

"What I didn't see before she got here was the inside part of her," Shoji says. "How tough she is and how hard she is willing to work and how much time she is willing to spend not knowing if there is ever going to be a reward.

"After three years you'd think you'd be on the court and contributing, but she wasn't, and she never complained. She was just happy to be out there taking reps."


Shoji thinks his little libero "took on a new love" for the game once she got to Manoa, but Watanabe makes it sound as if that devotion is part of every aspect of her life.

She tries to live it according to a list she made with her dad that begins with God and family. She has the foundation to stick with it and realized at an early age how critical it was to find a balance because "I know how time goes."

Watanabe wakes, works, plays, studies, sings and speaks the praises of faith and family daily. Her family is pervasive. They pray together, work together at Watanabe Realty and perform at parties together as the band NYK, which stands for Not Yet Known before the gig and Now You Know after.

Ashley Watanabe, center with Rainbow Wahine coach Dave Shoji, plays in a band with, from left, dad Eric, mom Janice, brother Taylor and sister Dawn.

Eric used to perform in Waikiki with the Laughing Kahunas and sang to his children "before they were born." His dream of a family band started then because "I believe in the unity of family. I did not want myself to say later, 'I wish I'd spent more time with the kids.' If you talk to them now, they'll probably say I wish he'd leave me alone more."

He started Ashley's sister on piano at age 6, "forced" Ashley to learn bass guitar at 10 and bought a drum set for her brother at the same age. He wanted a horn section so all the kids later learned another instrument. They also sing, but none as much as Eric, whose children will tell you is "in his element" onstage.

"When we first played together it was really clunky," Eric says. "They were real little and playing the song 'It's Too Late to Turn Back Now.' It was only two chords. After that I got us professional help."

They still play at parties and luau, but scheduling is tough this time of year. Ashley is stretched to the limit as she prepares for volleyball playoffs and graduation in the next month, along with working twice a week to help pay her tuition.


Real estate is now truly in her blood. A few years ago, the Watanabe children talked their parents out of selling Watanabe Realty and plan to take the business over. Ashley eagerly anticipates the opportunities for "creativity and innovation."

"They have an aptitude, especially Ashley," Eric says. "She can talk to people, she's not afraid. If you can stand in front of all those people at Stan Sheriff Center, you can talk to one person."

Ashley can talk to anyone. It is another "gift" Shoji couldn't see early on. Of the seniors, she is most comfortable taking a leadership position. Watanabe is the "mom-figure" who encourages everyone to attend chapel, inspires walk-ons trying to walk in her tiny but extremely motivated footsteps and provides relentless enthusiasm from one end of the bench to the other.

That athletic gift comes naturally, but still takes work. On her locker, Watanabe has taped a newspaper article from September where former UH All-American and Olympian Heather Bown is critical of the team's leadership and attitude.

"It struck a nerve in me thinking I really need to pick up my role, especially as a leader," Watanabe says. "I'm not an underclassman anymore, not following anybody anymore. It was really hard to get used to. In my last year, I finally realized that I do play a part on the team where I can influence other people. I never thought I could."

Those who watch the Rainbow Wahine now sense her influence immediately. Watanabe knew her place from the start and made it work.

"I had a blast from the beginning," she says. "That's why I always feel God graced me with so many things. I never questioned why can't I jump in there, why can't I perform, never questioned who was before me. I knew my place."

It was here, at home.

Reach Ann Miller at


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