Where are they know? Sara Pilgreen, now an academic, found enlightenment with UHH volleyball

  • Dr. Sara Terrana

The ripples hit home for Sara Pilgreen, whose seed to her path in life was planted by former UH-Hilo volleyball coach Sharon Peterson.

Pilgreen played for the Vulcans from 2000 to 2004 when BYU-Hawaii, which shuttered its athletic programs in 2017, and Hawaii Pacific ruled the landscape with foreign players. The Seasiders and Sharks took turns winning the NCAA Division II championship in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2002.

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Still, the two-time All-PacWest first-team pick and 5-foot-10 outside hitter is third in UHH career kills and digs.

However, her career was never defined by stats. She steered the Vulcans with a strong sense of teamwork, a trait inherited from her parents, Jim and Mary Pilgreen, and reinforced by Peterson.

Interestingly, Pilgreen found the answers to life’s two most important questions — Who am I? and Why am I here? — after her volleyball playing days.

In the curious case of Where are They Now?, Pilgreen, 38, now Dr. Sara Terrana, is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Adelphi University in New York.

She married Jay Terrana, a lawyer with Morgan Stanley, in 2016 and they have a 19-month son named Weston. He was named after the hometown of Sara’s mother, Mary.

Terrana is also 5-10 and wrestled, ran track and played football in high school. Whether Weston takes to the Pilgreen family sport of basketball and volleyball or follows in his dad’s footsteps remains to be seen.

Mary passed away in March 2008. She was 63 years old. Sara’s dad, Jim, 75, is healthy, loving life and still lives in the Springfield, Ore., house where she grew up in.

Mary used to rent a place in Punaluu during the volleyball season and cooked for Sara and her teammates. When the family cleaned the house in Weston, Ore., Sara found a hidden treasure, Mary’s old recipes.

Jim’s love of sports included basketball, which J.J., Sara’s older brother, played at Alaska Anchorage. J.J. is a sales rep for outdoor companies, and his wife, Erin, is a school teacher in Alaska.

They four children, a 10-year old, 8-year-old twins, and a 5 year-year-old. Mary died before meeting any of her grandchildren.

At Adelphi, Sara is a professor of social work where she teaches courses in social policy and human behavior. A lot of what she learned from Peterson, particularly the importance of teamwork, washes over so many aspects of life, including sports, work and community service.

In her senior season, Julie Morgan was the UHH coach. But it’s the moments with the ageless Peterson, who’s still coaching the Hawaii Prep boys and girls teams, that Sara remembers most.

“What I do now being in the social work profession, I’ve learned those lessons at Hilo about being a team player and giving back,” she said. “At UHH, volleyball was everything. It was my life. I lived it and breathed it. I was not aware of the social inequalities, the bigger social issues, in life at the time.

“Sharon was giving us living lessons, about how people joining together can accomplish something bigger than one person.Those are lessons that stuck with me.”

After UHH, Sara’s plan was to play pro ball in Europe. Then life threw her a curveball. She injured her knee during the Haili tournament during spring break of her senior year and required ACL surgery.

From there, her life played out like a roller-coaster movie. She joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Vanuatu, teaching English, adolescent reproductive health issues and clean water initiatives. Then she lived in San Francisco and worked on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

Sara continued her education atTeachers College, Columbia University in New York and then went to complete her Ph.D. at UCLA. Sara went to a friend’s wedding in 2012 in New York, where she met her future husband, proving that type of stuff does happen outside of the movies.

She was a part of a five-member class, which also included Brittany Baum, Megan Denman, Tiffanie Ollison and Emily Hutchinson. Sara keeps in touch with most of them.

Sara also has Hilo contacts, including Dr. Wally Chong and Margaret Alamada Collins. Collins and her late husband Henry were supportive local fans who hanai adopted Sara.

When Sara graduated from UHH, her family members stayed at Collins’ house.

Of course, Sara has a cement bond with Peterson, who sprinkles in her sense of humor on holiday cards.

“I received a hand-written card from Sharon, who talked about receiving my holiday card with all of life’s updates, including chasing after Weston. Sharon wrote, ‘It’s a good thing you were a good athlete. You can keep up with him.’ Whenever I ask her, ‘How long are you going to keep coaching.’ Her response remains the same, ‘I don’t know how long.’ She always says that.”

Peterson’s gift as a NAIA Hall of Fame coach wasn’t only her ability to teach the game of volleyball but also to impart her concepts of life lessons that connected sports and life. It was the invaluable stuff like teamwork that her players could never forget.

Sara’s most memorable moment came in her sophomore year when the Vulcans faced BYUH, which was stocked with older players with national team experience.

“Our freshmen year, we were swept in three games,” Sara said. “One of my highlights was in my sophomore year. They were unbeaten in almost two years. Our team probably had an average age of about 18 years old. They were easily averaging 25 years old. But we beat them at home.”

Obviously, the Vulcans didn’t suddenly grow more talent on a tree. They relied on teamwork and rallied around Peterson’s favorite phrase, “The game is played from the neck up.”

As a mother, it’s Sara’s turn to pass the baton, which has traveled a singular path from her parents and Peterson to her and now to her son.

What does Sara want for her son?

In a nutshell, to discover the answers to life’s two biggest questions.

“I want him to grow and be emphatic, to be a nice person and to impress upon him to make his own path in whatever course he wants to take,” Sara said. “But ultimately to give back to society and make it a better whole for everyone.”

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Out in Waimea, Peterson is seeing the ripples and smiling, and high above so is Mary Pilgreen.

Dr. Sara can be reached at sterrana@adelphi.edu

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