While Hawaii is known as a vacation destination, it is also a place where collegiate teams, like the University of Utah volleyball team, recruit their athletes. The Utah coaching staff visits the Hawaiian Islands every year to search for players, players like freshman Phoebe Grace, to join the Ute family.
The Utes participate in the annual Hawaii Volleyball Combine where college coaches can watch their potential athletes compete. Without the combine, athletes from Hawaii have a difficult time getting noticed by competitive universities, but for Grace, this combine is where head coach Beth Launiere spotted her during one of her high school practices on Oíahu.
“It’s really hard for them to get recruited because they’re not on the mainland as much,” Launiere said. “So when I was over there for the combine, I felt really strongly that she had potential – but when she got in our gym, we got even more excited about her.”
Grace, who is originally from Laie, Hawaii, is now the middle blocker for the Utes. Although she is a long way from home, she was motivated to make the journey because she wanted to be the first of her siblings to become a college student-athlete. Grace said becoming a Division I athlete in the Pac-12 was a bit nerve-wracking, but she said it also felt like it was where she belonged.
“It was definitely a culture shock just because I’m so used to every one I was raised with and the community I was in,” Grace said. “But it was a pretty easy transition because I already knew people from here. I just like the environment and mood. Utah just seemed right.”
Her teammates, outside hitter Adora Anae and setter Bailey Choy, are also from Hawaii. Calling the same place home has helped Grace with her transition from her small town to Salt Lake City.
Those three Utes along with the rest of the team travelled to Hawaii to compete in the Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic at the beginning of each season. That opportunity gave those players from the island a chance to perform in front of their home crowd. While Grace did not actually compete in the tournament, she still made the journey out there.
“It was nice to be back home,î Grace said. “It’s every Hawaii volleyball player’s dream, I think, is to play there.”
Launiere said that whether or not she redshirts the freshman this year is still to be determined. If she does redshirt this season, Grace plans to stay in shape and contribute in any way she can to help push the team to reach its full potential.
“She has a lot of potential and so if you can have them for five years, that’s a great thing,” Launiere said.
Taking a year to hone her skills may be just what Grace needs to become a more successful player. She left Hawaii as the No. 2 ranked volleyball player in the state of Hawaii, and she earned the title of Oahu Inter-Scholastic Association East Division Player of the Year in 2016. Grace also had 163 kills and 96 blocks prior to signing with Utah.
“I think Phoebe is a very competitive and confident person and athlete, so I think she will do very well,” Launiere said.
Grace brings pride and enthusiasm on the court and away from it. During the games, she is found cheering on her fellow Utes, and she is always learning about everything it takes to play at the Pac-12 level. Although Grace was not a member of the womenís volleyball team last season when they competed at the NCAA tournament, she wants to help get the team there again.
“That’s the goal for this year,” Grace said. “And that’s the same goal for next year.”