Through my numerous articles I feel that many of you have probably pieced together portions of my life as I sometimes relate personal experiences. You probably have a pretty good visual of me by now, for which I’m eternally sorry about, but one item I’ve never mentioned is that I’m originally from Hawaii. That’s right, although I was born in Southern California and raised there for most of my life (outside of a couple of years in Virginia), I really consider myself from Hawaii. I mean I’ve visited three times in my life and it is quite simply the epitome of paradise so I’ve decided that’s where I’m from. My brothers and sisters from the islands have actually given me a nickname, “Haole”, which I’m told means “native brother” and it always brings joyful laughter to those I ask. Because of this strong bond, when I’m updating the recruit’s page, I always take great interest in the athletes from my home state. Therefore, I found it interesting that every athlete over the last two years that I’ve been able to track down from Hawaii (with two exceptions) have committed to a school in the Northwest Conference.
(I need to take a quick break here. There obviously have been athletes from Hawaii that have committed and then played for other DIII schools in the West Region, not to mention the seven evil regions that shall remain nameless. I know Occidental had a Hawaiian freshman last year. It’s just that in my research I’ve found 17 athletes and only two have committed to a non-NWC school.)
I started wondering about this Hawaiian Pipeline enjoyed by the NWC and finally decided to reach out to a few of the NWC coaches, which includes a couple of fellow Hawaiians. I also did a little background and found that the New York Times published an article a few years ago that talked about the migration of college students from each state. Hawaii, not surprisingly sends out more students then they receive and the most likely landing spot is Oregon. The rest of the west coast is well represented with California and Washington getting their share but it’s clear the NWC has an advantage with this migration. I also looked at the 2018 rosters from the NWC schools and found that every team except George Fox had at least one Hawaiian. There were a total of 21 Hawaiians altogether throughout the conference. Last year, both Pacific Lutheran and Lewis & Clark each had 5 Hawaiians. As a side note, it’s also interesting to note that of the 21 players, 14 of them were either setters or defensive specialists. I guess at 6’6” that makes me quite a tall Hawaiian.
So what makes the Northwest so appealing to the Hawaiian athlete? For one the DIII athlete has to go somewhere as there are no DIII colleges in Hawaii. In fact there are only 4 NCAA schools on the Islands (3 being DII programs). It makes sense then, if you have to go somewhere that you go as close as you can to home. Here in Texas, there are a lot of options but in Hawaii it means you are going to the west coast. So why the Northwest more so than Southern California? The Northwest does have a large Hawaiian population and the cities and towns are going to be smaller than Los Angeles might be the main reasons. The schools all have a number of Hawaiians attending and there are a number of clubs and activities that keep the Hawaiian student engaged that you aren’t going to find at a Texas institution, for instance.
Pacific Lutheran Head Coach Kevin Aoki (a fellow Hawaiian native) mentioned, “I think it is so cool that even though we are opponents [in the NWC], the Hawaii kids have a special bond and to see a familiar face that represents the 808 [Hawaii’s area code] is neat.”
A number of coaches also mentioned the high academic standards found in the NWC, which is also true with the SCIAC. Bottom line, there is no reason for Hawaiians to have to look past the west coast when it comes to academics.
One big advantage that California and Texas have over the Northwest is the vast player pool available to recruit potential athletes. That really makes it hard to justify the financial cost of recruiting in Hawaii even though they also have a strong player pool. I have had a coach from Texas tell me that there really is no incentive for them to recruit outside of the state due to the talent level that can be found locally. From the recruit side of things, flying past the west coast just increases the cost and time required to reach their destination.
I assumed that recruiting the Hawaiian athlete due to their isolation was really up to the recruit and would mainly be done through video but the NWC is very active on the Islands. Lewis & Clark Head Coach Emily Hayes stated that she recruits in Hawaii several times a year. Pacific University has an office on Oahu with a full-time staff and their coach (Kip Yoshimura) also visits at least once a year if not more. Willamette’s Head Coach Tom Shoji did them all one better by having a brother that coached at the University of Hawaii for 42 years and can now act as his #1 scout. How important is Hawaii to the NWC? Nearly half of their coaches are Hawaiians or have connections to Hawaii. One of the main recruiting events in Hawaii that a number of coaches mentioned was The Hawaii Volleyball Combine. The combine occurs every February and showcases the best volleyball players the state has to offer. This year there were 42 full-time colleges in attendance including 9 from DIII with 6 of those being from the NWC. Every year there is a sprinkle of non-NWC DIII schools represented but none are very consistent. Coach Yoshimura likes the combine in addition to the normal recruiting at tournaments. He also says the combine is a little more easy going and a place that allows the recruits to engage with the coaches more.
I asked these coaches what makes the Hawaiian volleyball player special. Coach Yoshimura mentioned that on the islands they tend to train at all positions so finding a middle that can also play libero is not that unusual. Coach Aoki said that the Hawaii kids tend to be on the small side so they have great ball handling skills and are tremendous defensively. Willamette Head Coach Tom Shoji mentioned the role models Hawaiian players get to see playing at the University of Hawaii, which helps to fuel their volleyball culture. A number of coaches talked about their sense of family and wanting to be part of a team. This ends up making their team tighter and closer than maybe they would have been without the Hawaiian athlete. They also talked about how the Hawaiian students and athletes will support their fellow Hawaiians regardless of the activity. Again, a strong sense of family and community resides within the typical Hawaiian.
Looking forward I’ll be interested to see how Pacific University does in recruiting Hawaiians as they are actually playing in Hawaii this season. They have matches scheduled with Wells College and Simpson College. That’s really upping the recruiting game but it’s also a wonderful perk for the team. Coach Yoshimura did mention that it really gets the recruit’s attention when they mention their upcoming schedule.
If you remember from the top I mentioned there were two exceptions (so far) and both are from this year. Izzy Sakoda has committed to the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps program and Lauren Asato has committed to the Pomona-Pitzer program. In both cases, the players were looking for high academic schools and really pursued the programs. Both coaches also said that their visits to their schools really sealed their recruitment. Still, these are the exceptions.
“Yes, it can be very hard to get Hawaiian kids here.”, bemoaned CMS Head Coach Kurt Vlasich.
“I feel like it is a real challenge and I feel lucky when I do land one.”, echoed Pomona-Pitzer Head Coach Valerie Townsend.
The NWC Hawaiian Pipeline is very real and continues to stock their teams with quality players year after year. It will be interesting to see if recruiting these athletes improves for Wells College and Simpson College by playing there this year and maybe that’s something the Texas schools need to look at in the future. Finances are always the stumbling block in DIII and that may be the greatest reason that the NWC will continue to enjoy their pipeline.