Title IX Profile: For Robyn Ah Mow, volleyball was the wind beneath her wings Leave a Comment / Volleyball / By admin Mahalo for supporting the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! It took a nudge from a Hawaii volleyball legend to send Robyn Ah Mow on a nearly decade-long journey around the globe. Well, nudge might be an understatement. Ah Mow had just completed her collegiate career as an All-America setter with the Rainbow Wahine in 1996 when she chatted with Deitre Collins about her immediate plans, particularly her newfound affinity for beach volleyball. Collins, herself an Olympian and one of UH’s all-time greats, coached Ah Mow in the US Olympic Festival the previous summer and made clear her thoughts on the subject. “She’s like, ‘You’d better get your butt to Colorado,'” Ah Mow recalled, her voice rising to match the urgency of Collins’ command. “‘You need to go over there and train, that’s what you need to do. Get your butt over there.’” Ah Mow ultimately did make her way to the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and made her debut in international competition in 1999. When she returned home in 2009, Ah Mow had played for three US Olympic teams — bringing back a silver medal from the 2008 Games in Beijing — over a nine-year run with the national program and putting together a professional career spread across three countries in Europe. Quite the odyssey for a self-described “homebody” who was uncomfortable with camping trips to the North Shore as a kid. “I didn’t like travelling, but… I guess God had that in my plans,” Ah Mow said. “I never thought I was going to get off the island ever in high school.” Ah Mow’s path would lead back to Hawaii, and the return trip brought another unexpected turn — this time into a career in coaching — and in 2017 she came full circle to take over as head coach of the Rainbow Wahine volleyball program. Now in her sixth year on the job, she’s preparing to lead the Wahine into the start of practice on Tuesday with the opener of her fifth season less than three weeks away. Since Ah Mow succeeded Hall of Famer Dave Shoji as UH head coach, the Wahine have compiled an 86-32 record, including a 60-8 mark in Big West Conference play, and enter the season as the two-time defending Big West Conference champion . “I really don’t know what my life would be like if I didn’t have volleyball in it,” Ah Mow said. “I probably wouldn’t have traveled the world, or had the experience here at UH.” A family affair The road to the national team originated outside the Waikiki Natatorium for the daughter of Talmage and Lovina Ah Mow. Trips to the beach inevitably included a volleyball being bumped around among her parents’ circle of family and friends, and young Robyn would routinely tag along to her parents’ matches. “Everybody used to play volleyball (at the Natatorium), so I grew up around volleyball players,” she said. “I’d say 98% of my life was volleyball. “I just played it because I loved to hang out with my parents, especially my dad. He would go to Halawa Gym and Salt Lake Gym and play in these adult leagues. And here I’m just a little kid and it was, ‘Hey, come inside and play.’” Out of that upbringing developed a feel for the game that would continue to blossom under the guidance of longtime coach Longy Okamoto with the Kamali’i Manaloa Volleyball Club and at McKinley High School. It was around middle school that Ah Mow started hounding her parents to take her to matches at Klum Gym, where a group led by Teee Williams, Tita Ahuna, Martina Cincerova, Mahina Eleneki and Suzanne Eagye electrified the steamy gym on their way to the 1987 NCAA title. “After that is was a like a drug,” Ah Mow said. “You had to go watch.” Knack for the game Over the course of three All-State seasons at McKinley, Ah Mow’s skills drew the attention of Shoji, who in turn offered her a shot at joining the program. A versatile player in high school, Ah Mow practiced as a hitter and a setter in 1993 and can remember as a 5-foot-8 freshman being sent in to hit on the outside in her collegiate debut at Blaisdell Arena. But by her sophomore season, her future as a setter had crystallized. “She just had a knack for playing the game,” Shoji said. “The setting skills might have come a little later, but she had a knack for who to see, where to see it. She could set with really good tempo and just had an overall understanding of the game. That’s what separated her from anybody else.” Given the controls of a UH attack headlined by All-America middle Angelica Ljungqvist, Ah Mow set the Wahine to a 66-4 record over the 1995 and ’96 seasons. She earned AVCA first-team All-America honors both years and closed her career with a loss to Stanford in the NCAA championship match in Cleveland. Playing in a national final would be the prelude to competing on the world’s biggest stage. Ah Mow made her Olympic debut at the Sydney Games in 2000 and started all seven matches for the US, which finished fourth in the tournament. She capped her run by captaining the team to a silver medal in 2008, leading the US to the medal stand for the first time since 1992. “Just putting on a jersey with your name and with USA on it… I have a picture of that still,” Ah Mow said. “I cried every time the national anthem played.” Back in the gym After taking a break from volleyball, Ah Mow found herself drawn back to the court — first helping out with clinics, then getting into coaching with the national program. She returned to UH as a student-assistant with the men’s program early in Charlie Wade’s tenure as head coach, then joined Shoji’s staff in 2011. “First of all, she commanded a ton of respect just because of who she was and what she accomplished,” Shoji said. “So when she got on the court, she got the attention of the players right away. What she was teaching was stuff that made her successful … so I thought she could relate to the players and they could relate to her. “It was no nonsense, let’s get this done, this is how you do it, and then take the reps. … There’s no frills about it. It’s a pretty simple philosophy — work hard, do what you’re asked to do, and you’re going to get better.” Ah Mow spent five seasons as an assistant and took over the program upon Shoji’s retirement after 42 seasons in a joint announcement on Feb. 20, 2017. “At no point in my life did I think I would be sitting here in Dave’s spot,” Ah Mow said in her office last week. In the four seasons, Ah Mow has helped the Wahine extend the program’s streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to 28 (not counting the 2020 season, when the Big West canceled women’s volleyball) and has twice been named the Big West Coach of the Year, sharing the honor in 2019. “I’m just thrilled that she’s the coach,” Shoji said. “It’s important to know where the program has been and you have to be proud of where the program was and the traditions that have been established over several decades. I think Robyn is the perfect person to do that.” Paying it forward Along with the years she spent playing and coaching with Shoji, Ah Mow draws inspiration from the example set by Longy Okamoto as one of the current coaches who have branched out into the volleyball community. “We all know the amount of work that he put in for kids,” Ah Mow said. “He wasn’t looking for money. He tried to do fundraisers just to help all the kids.” Now in her role leading the UH program, Ah Mow views imparting a sense of appreciation for those who saw the program’s foundations as part of her duties in leading the current Rainbow Wahine into another season. “When you come here, this H means something other than, ‘Hey it’s Hawaii and let’s go to the beach,'” Ah Mow said, pointing to the logo on her shirt. “This is what you represent. I try to get some of the older players to come in and talk to the girls just to let them know this is where the program was and let’s try to keep it there and/or make it better.” June 23, 2022, marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX. To commemorate this watershed event, the Star-Advertiser will publish a series of stories celebrating the achievements of female pioneers and leaders with Hawaii ties. Click here to view the Title IX series.