Hawaiian fits in with Longhorns’ defense

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It’s a fascinating thing to hear the way a native Hawaiian pronounces the name of their home state: Hawai’i — the traditional spelling in the Hawaiian language — with an elegant pause before uttering the final syllable.

Hang around the Texas volleyball team for a few hours and you will be treated to a crash course in the state’s pronunciation from a pair of natives, freshman Sarah Palmer and junior Sydney Yogi.

The two defensive specialists from the island of Oahu share a special bond and take pride in their Hawaiian roots.

“They love volleyball there; everybody comes to watch,” Palmer said. “It prepared me well because Hawaii is known for their defense and that’s how I got recruited here. They pushed me and brought me up to where I am right now.”

Senior outside hitter and co-captain Juliann Faucette said she calls Palmer “Palmy,” a nickname inspired by the state’s scenic palm trees.

Palmer is enjoying her first year in Austin but admits it’s been a big adjustment from life on the islands.

“Everything up here is different — faster paced,” Palmer said. “The girls are taller, more competitive and it’s this new atmosphere that I love.”

Palmer’s teammates give her a hard time about some of her Hawaiian habits, especially her taste for a popular meal on the islands — Spam. Even so, the presence of co-captain Yogi on the team was a major factor in Palmer’s decision to play for Texas and a little slice of home she could recognize.

“It was great knowing that I would have that Hawaiian connection on the team,” Palmer said. “She reassured me that Texas volleyball was a great place to be and I’m glad I chose here.”

Yogi has taken the newcomer under her wing as the two not only played for the same club team back in Oahu, Asics Rainbows Volleyball Club, but also share the libero position.

“Every time I need help or want to ask questions I always know I can go to her,” Palmer said. “She helps me out and teaches me all the things she already knows. She’s great.”

Palmer’s role has expanded over Texas’ last three matches as Yogi has been fighting an injury. The freshman came off the bench in Texas’ upset of Iowa State last Wednesday and tallied a team-high 11 digs. She led the Longhorn defense in Saturday’s loss to Nebraska with a career-high 15 digs — Yogi did not play.

“It’s awesome to see her step up in that role,” Faucette said. “As a freshman it’s really intimidating, especially the libero position. That’s a huge position on the court and you have to be steady. You have to be aggressive and she’s really stepped up and its really a confidence builder for us just knowing that we can have those types of roles filled when we need them.”

Palmer’s big game against No. 3 Nebraska came as no surprise because she has faced tough competition before, training with the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Team in 2009.

“U.S.A. training prepared me mentally to focus on bigger games and how to prepare myself to relax throughout the game and not overwhelm myself,” Palmer said. “I love playing in front of a big crowd and a big atmosphere. It makes you push harder every point to prove everyone wrong.”

Although her family back home in Oahu is nine hours away by plane, Palmer said they keep up with her by watching Texas’ live-streamed games and sending her text messages after every match.