College volleyball: With two-a-days here, Grant, Vuls get with the program

  • RICK OGATA photo
    UH-Hilo senior libero Mina Grant has never minded digging deep to lend a hand for the Vulcans.

Southern California native Mina Grant phoned home last year only to find out she had a new one.

To hear Grant tell it, her matter-of-fact conversation with the folks last October went something like this:

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Mina: Hey, guys, what’s up?

Parents: We’ve moved to Bend, Oregon.

“So I’m an Oregonian (now),” Grant said in deadpan style Monday at UH-Hilo volleyball practice from her second home, Vulcans gymnasium.

No matter her mainland roots, she’ll always be a Vulcan, but times a ticking for the senior libero, who will use coach Gene Krieger’s second season as chance to write her final chapter.

And as UH-Hilo’s sole three-year contributor, the stories Grant could already tell.

“I think the program has changed a lot,” she said. “It’s a lot more demanding, we require a lot more accountability and more discipline. I’m excited for the future after I leave.

“I’ve been through it all, a couple of coaches, a new floor.”

Not to mention, a new knee.

Grant was one of the best defensive players in the Pacific West Conference last season and leading the league in digs when she was struck by the team injury bug that marred a debut campaign under Krieger that saw the Vuls finish 9-18, the program’s sixth consecutive losing season.

“Mina probably would have made all-conference if she had not missed those four games,” Krieger said. “She looks strong now.”

In the offseason, doctors essentially swapped the cartilage from Grant’s torn right knee for three injections of orthovisc, a fluid that acts as a shock absorber.

“You know they took something out, so the had to replace it,” Grant joked.

On a more serious note, the dog days of summer arrived in earnest Monday morning as the Vuls opened the first of 13 two-a-day practice sessions leading up to the First Hawaiian Bank Volleyball Challenge, which runs Aug. 23-25 at UHH gym.

While Grant has stayed in shape by biking, kayaking and hiking, the less fortunate Vulcans were in for a rude awakening when Krieger gave them a fitness test to start the preseason.

Nobody vomited, Krieger said, but a “few of them thought about it.”

The scene at UHH gym on the first day of practice mimicked that of many of the school classrooms around the area. With five freshmen and transfer Bria Beale new to the program, the Vuls spent much the day getting to know each other.

“I’ve never played with many of them before,” Grant said. “Before at camp we had fun, but now were practicing.

“It’s been a whole summer of not seeing everyone and not playing games, so it’s exciting, but at the same time, it’s two-a-days.”

Much is expected of Beale, both because of her pedigree and the Vulcans’ gaping holes at outside hitter. UHH is trying to replace its top three sources of offensive firepower from a year ago – Siera Green graduated, Randi Hunter decided not to return for her senior year and Lucee Fitzgerald is set for surgery in the coming days and is taking a redshirt.

Krieger unsuccessfully recruited Beale last season, and he lured the 5-foot-11 hitter after she played one season at Division I UC Irvine.

He nominated Beale and Grant for preseason all-PacWest consideration, and he’s counting on opposite Evelin Solyomvari, who’s battled injury issues of her own during her career, to step up as well.

“Now that (Evelin) has been healthy for a year and it’s her senior year, I’m hoping that her and Mina kind of help lead the way, maybe with (senior middle) Kiley Davis,” Krieger said.

Still, while the Vulcans look for offensive leaders to emerge, they won’t get anywhere without another strong performance from a player that had all of two kills last season.

“I don’t need recognition. I start it off,” said Grant, mindful that each play starts with a pass. “I know I’m good at my job.”

That been her mindset for a while now.

The 5-7 Grant was an outside hitter until she got to Culver City High School near Los Angeles.

“I was too short and no hops, negative inches,” Grant said. “They said sorry, you’re a libero.”

She’s been one ever since, all the while refining her craft.

“I’ve put in a lot of work,” Grant said. “In high school, I would spend hours. My dad played semipro baseball, so he has an arm. He would just throw me volleyballs and I would have to pass them into a bucket, and I did that for hours.”

At this point in the interview, Krieger started to hover, anxious for Grant to join the Vuls second practice of the day.

“This is my year, and I owe it to the team,” she said. “I’m very excited that I’m going to play really well.”

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And with that, she touched the gym court as if to knock on wood.

For Grant and the Vuls, it was good to be back home.