Imagine leaving behind everything you have ever known.
That’s exactly what six Linfield College students from the Hawaiian Islands - Kailana Ritte-Camara, Leimomi Hookano, Courtney Uyeda, Christine Fujiki, Quinn Takashima and Mahina Galletes - experienced when they decided to enroll. Attending school on the mainland was a big decision, one that, especially in Ritte-Camara’s case, went against her family’s wishes. While some of the student-athletes were encouraged to continue their educations off of ‘The Rock’, Ritte-Camara, a psychology major, is the only one from her immediate family to go to school any where other than Hawaii.
For Uyeda, an education major from Honolulu, the decision seemed clear, since both of her father, Russell, and mother, Tammie, are alumni of the college. Uyeda loved the great sense of community she experienced when she visited, as well as the high standard of Linfield academics.
A creative writing major from Kaneohe, Hookano made Linfield her No. 1 college choice, in part because she can play in the front row, which, for 5-foot-5 hitters is not guaranteed elsewhere. At Linfield, many of the players are below average in height.
According to Hookano, volleyball players at other schools tend to be taller than average, especially front row players, and as such, she would not have the opportunity to play her desired position of outside hitter. Linfield, however, allowed her the freedom to compete for playing time at the position.
Fujiki, a nursing major from Honolulu, was attracted to the college’s nursing program and felt volleyball was an added benefit to an already great college experience.
Honolulu native Takashima, who is pursuing a psychology degree, sought a school roughly the same size as her high school (Punahou) and a place where she could focus on academics while continue to play volleyball. She did not want the sport to consume her life the way it had in high school.
In Hawaii, the volleyball culture is omnipresent. Lacking professional sports teams on the islands, youngsters grow up watching the University of Hawaii athletes perform while aspiring to play at that level.
However, as the years ticked by, those dreams became blurred. In high school, the young women encountered coaches and situations that made volleyball seem more of a job than a recreational hobby. Hawaiians play volleyball year around, so it was difficult not feel burnt out and exhausted after many years of playing.
“Volleyball became an obligation, something we had to do,” says Takashima. “But I think when we felt we wanted to quit, we all had the thought that we couldn’t live without it because we’ve been around it for so long. It’s in our blood.”
Even at their lowest point, one constant has remained. Whether at their high school graduation, or at every volleyball match they’ve played in college, the young Hawaiians have felt the support of their fans, friends, and families.
It is a tradition for high school students in Hawaii to receive leis from friends and family at their graduation ceremony. When asked about their proudest moments, many of the girls recalled their leis with teary eyes. “It’s really cool to have that tradition,” says Ritte-Camara, a resident of Molokai.
Hookano added “Leis come from people you know. They remind you that you have many people there supporting you throughout high school and that’s their way of showing it.” Uyeda agreed, saying “Those are the people who are always there for you and impacted your life.”
Besides the leis, the Wildcats greatly appreciate their family and their fans.
Ritte-Camara’s mother, Scarlett, originally wanted her daughter to remain in Hawaii, but now supports her decision by making an effort to be at every match. Uyeda and Fujiki always receive a text from their parents before every match. Hookano draws comfort from knowing her family is able to watch her compete in matches online, thanks to the implementation of a new video webcast service this fall.
When asked about the fans and the signs they always bring to matches, the girls gushed with appreciation. “The fans make it feel like home,” says Ritte-Camara. “All the fans here, it’s a different vibe. All the fans from the mainland, they cheer…but when we have the fans from Hawaii, they go all out and yell. It just makes you pumped up when they’re pumped up and standing and yelling. I guess it’s more of the vibe they give us when they’re having the signs and yelling for us, which makes us feel better.”
They also draw tremendous internal support from one another. Galletes, an elementary education major from Honolulu, says, “This year’s team is the best as far as chemistry on and off the court. If there are tiffs, we work them out. It’s really nice to have a team that gets along so well.”
Takashima agrees, but gives a different perspective.
“The freshmen don’t know what has happened in previous years, so it’s a lot different. We’re a younger team, but we already have great chemistry, and it’s only going to get better.”
“Yeah, our mainland teammates don’t discriminate. They don’t say, ‘Oh, you’re from Hawaii, you can’t hang out with us’. They just can’t pronounce our names!” Hookano, whose first name is shortened to ‘Momi,’ adds with a laugh.
Since leaving behind their culture, families, and comfortable surroundings, the Hawaiian transplants are slowly yet steadily making Linfield their home away from home. New relationships have formed, new experiences are unfolding, and memories are being made. Suddenly, life on the mainland does not appear as scary or daunting as it once was.
— Kelsey McGarry ‘16