KOLOA — On the last day of camp, some local youth volleyball players got to meet a two-time Olympian.
The fourth-annual NBC Kauai Volleyball Camp concluded its five-day event Friday at the Southside Sports Complex in Koloa, which is part of the Kauai Christian Fellowship church.
“The reason we brought this to Kauai was, it’s a Mainland camp and not a lot of families can bring their kids to the Mainland for this type of camp,” said camp director Josh Burton. “We bring the camp here so they can experience it.”
Before drills began on Friday, the camp participants were visited by former Olympic volleyball player Laurel Brassey Iversen.
Iversen made the United States teams for the 1980 Games in Moscow, Soviet Union — present-day Russia — and the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea.
“This is my church. This is our gym,” Iversen said, who is a San Diego, Calif. native but now resides on-island and works for Kukuiula Development Co.
“We’re trying to host a lot of programs here. I know a lot of these kids and the coaches,” Iversen continued. “I work with a gal that knew about the camp. She mentioned it to me, and they wanted me to come by and help out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do too much. But just to come, talk to the kids and spend a little time — I love giving back to the sport.”
Camp particpant Ehukai Goias-Medeiros, 16, of Wailua, said this was his first camp.
“We’ve been working a lot on our base, our skills,” Goias-Medeiros said, who plays outside hitter for local club Kaulu Koa Volleyball Club. “How to pass and how to set. That’s really the main thing of the game. You got to learn how to pass before you can hit. … And they’ve been teaching us how to fellowship with people as we go on. And to have fun because that’s what the game is about.”
During her talk with the group of youth volleyball players, Iversen — who was a setter — mentioned the many highs of her volleyball career. Not just becoming an Olympian, but also:
w Not just playing on the women’s team at San Diego State University, but also becoming the first woman to play with a collegiate men’s team at the school as well.
w Being head coach of the women’s volleyball team at the University of New Mexico for nearly two decades.
“To me, it was a big thing,” said Daneica Muraoka, 16, of Kekaha. Muraoka plays for Waimea High School’s varsity girls volleyball team and for local club Kiakaha Volleyball Club.
“We’re on an island. We don’t get to meet very big people. When they come to us and they talk to us, it’s such a big thing,” Muraoka continued. “I just want to listen to their stories and their takeaways. Just get any information I can from them.”
But Iversen not only talked about the good times. She also talked about dealing with adversity, including taking part in the 1980 Olympic Games boycott protesting against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
“Life doesn’t always just roll along. You face adversity,” she said. “Although the boycott was really hard, all the gals that played on that team in 1980, we all know it made us the people that we are today. That was really tough, and we’re all really tight still. The ‘80 team, really close. We see each other from time-to-time, and we make a point to stay connected.”
Iverson also took part in the Olympic torch relay during the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Georgia. She brought the torch to the camp, and campers got to hold it.
“That was awesome,” Goias-Medeiros said about holding the torch.
The last day of camp continued with several drills, during which Iversen gave tips to the campers, and then an awards ceremony afterward.
Eighty-four campers took part this year. Separate camps were held each day — one for 8-11-year-olds, and another for 12-18-year-olds.
“The younger kids, they’re still learning the game. Some of them have little experience or none. So, it’s a teaching thing but we also keep it fun to keep them engaged,” Burton said. “The older kids, they have more years of experience. They’re looking for a higher-level of coaching, and more competitiveness.”
Forty-five of the participants received scholarships to take part in the camp free of charge, including Goias-Medeiros.
“It’s very special for me. It’s an honor to do this because not a lot of youths get this opportunity,” he said. “I was grateful to have a scholarship for this, and it’s a really good experience to have — to fellowship with people that live here and I’ve never met them, and to know how much they love this sport.”
Muraoka said, as an outside hitter and middle blocker, she’s improved on jumping during the camp.
“At first, I could only jump like two inches off the ground,” she said. “Now, I can jump five. It’s a big improvement from me.”
Iversen said if there was just one thing the kids took away from her, she hopes it’s the will to “follow your dreams.”
“If there’s something they’re passionate about, and with the younger kids we talked about that it might not be volleyball,” she said. “It might be that you’re a good artist or you’re a musician, or you’re great in science. Go for it, and don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not good enough.”