Volleyball and Hawaii: How Two UNC Coaches Landed in Colorado | Sports



June 19 – The islands of Hawaii are known for their beaches, pineapples and a number of professional athletes. They are also the birthplace of two Northern Colorado volleyball head coaches.

Jon Haruguchi and Pi’i Aiu grew up on the islands and still have families there. They participated in volleyball and water sports, while Aiu also loved rodeo, ranching, and horse riding.

“I know I took it for granted that I would grow up or go to the beach, surf and boogie on any vacation,” said Haruguchi. “Growing up on the islands is something I was fortunate to have.”

Volleyball has been part of her life since she was a child.

Haruguchi suspects he played for his school in ninth grade before visiting Colorado State. There he played in the club team of the Rams.

Granted, he wasn’t the best player ever, but the club’s roster allowed him to improve and keep in touch with the sport as he graduated.

Coaching wasn’t on his radar at first. He planned to teach – he did – but asked a friend who ran the NorCo volleyball club team if there was a place for him to help. He was offered the coaching job.

Haruguchi worked with the club teaching special education for several years before beginning a full-time performance.

“It has always been a part of my life, whether I did it for work or if it was secondary to my actual job,” said Haruguchi. “It’s always been there.”

Before joining the UNC team, he worked as an assistant in Southern Louisiana, Louisiana Lafayette and Dartmouth.

His background in teaching, Haruguchi said, helps him be a better coach and understand the different ways athletes can learn. He definitely misses the classroom, but coaching is what “excites” him the most.

Haruguchi was hired as an assistant in April 2016 before being promoted in 2020. He said many things made the job desirable, including head coach Lyndsey Oates’ success and connection to the community, the number of friends he has in Colorado – some of them hailing from Hawaii – and his general love of the state. He knew this was a place that would offer personal and professional fulfillment.

Aiu has a similar story. He also started playing sports as a boy after seeing his father and uncles in their free time. They often set up a net in the backyard and just spent time together on weekends. In fact, one of his uncles played for San Jose State and mentored him through high school.

When it was time to apply for college, Aiu looked at various programs. However, men’s volleyball isn’t common at the college level like women’s volleyball, so he attended CU on a military scholarship.

Aiu coached the women’s team while in bouldering. He planned a career in computer science and spent a short time writing code for a company, but then CU called.

“It’s just something that happened in the end,” said Aiu. “It fell into my lap.”

When CU began creating an NCAA-approved women’s volleyball team, he was first accepted as a student assistant. Aiu was promoted to assistant coach and head coach and became one of the most successful people on the bench in buffs history.

He recorded a record of 199-155 from 1997 to 2008, which included nine NCAA tournament appearances. CU fired the longtime coach after a 13-17 season.

Aiu took time out from college to be more present in his daughter’s life – she was in elementary school at the time – but spent some time leading and coaching club teams. In 2019, he decided it was time to join a university program again.

“Being a coach is my passion,” he said, adding that he doesn’t regret the decision. “I’m really glad I came. It’s a great program to work for.”

Colorado also reminds her a lot of home. There is plenty to do outdoors, the sun is sensational, and there are plenty of Hawaiian locals to meet.

Haruguchi remembered meeting a girl at a UNC volleyball clinic who had a T-shirt that said “Aloha”. He saw the same young girl in King Soopers and found that the girl’s mother attended school across from his school.

The Big Sky Conference also has some players from Hawaii so the job is fun. Aiu said they always try to talk to them.

“That connection is always there,” said Aiu. “You come from the same little place in the middle of the ocean, thousands of miles from the mainland. It’s always nice to see a Hawaiian face.”

Both coaches hope to visit this year after COVID-19 canceled their 2020 plans. You want to see the family and the changes the islands are experiencing.

Hawaii has seen a recent rebirth in its culture. The first Hawaiian renaissance began in the 1970s following the annexation and occupation of the islands by the United States, but a more recent one began around 2016. The islands have celebrated the language, music, clothing, food, and system of government. It has adopted seafaring skills, spiritual traditions, and land and water conservation.

It’s more than just a honeymoon destination. Hawaii is a home – Aiu and Haruguchi are both hoping to move back – and a place full of history.

“A lot has happened to Hawaiians over time. There has been a recent Hawaiian renaissance in terms of culture and civic pride,” Aiu said. “I think this is something that visitors might explore and add a little something to their visit to Hawaii.”

(c) Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colorado) in 2021

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