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The UAA Hawai'i Connection, Part 3: Attending UAA Schools

The UAA Hawai'i Connection, Part 3: Attending UAA Schools

Student-athletes from Hawai'i chose UAA institutions for a variety of reasons. While the opportunity to compete in intercollegiate athletics was one of many important factors for some, others focused solely on academics and ended up either walking on to their collegiate team or being re-energized by the sport they grew up playing.

Blayne Fuke came a long way from his early days of baseball. "I started playing when I was five years old. For the first few years, I was always due for at least one trip to the emergency room... that's how 'good' I was," he laughed. "My dad was always one of the coaches on the team until I tried out for the middle school team. He passed on his love for the game and his knowledge early on."

Photo: 2010 University of Rochester graduate Blayne Fuke

Fuke first heard about University of Rochester from his high school counselor and loved the campus on an October visit with his father. After not being recruited out of high school, he tried out for the baseball team in the fall and decided to forego his previous plan to be a part of Navy ROTC and focus on just academics and baseball. "I made the team and knew I could see some significant playing time," he stated. "I don't even know if I would have had the playing career I did if I had stayed in the ROTC."

Nick Kwon started playing football in the fifth grade and also ran track for his final two years of high school, but it was only academics that drew him to Case Western Reserve University. "I actually didn't plan on going to CWRU at first, but I chose it in the end just for the quality education," he remembered. "I also wasn't a football recruit there, but I informed the coaches when I decided to attend and they were very nice in welcoming me onto the team." He has excelled on the football field, but does recall one hobby in which he was not quite as successful. "I did judo for about 10 years when I was a young kid, but I was pretty bad at it," he joked.

Photo: Senior Nick Kwon of Case Western Reserve University

Current senior Austin Darmawan began playing baseball when he was five years old and ended up playing in an elite league nearly 45 minutes from his home. By the time he graduated high school, he had lost of some of his passion for baseball and chose to attend Washington University based solely on academics. "I figured I would be on the team my freshman season and probably not continue," he said. "Then my freshman year, I found it to be a great environment with a great bunch of guys. I got some playing time, which was nice, but at that point I knew I would continue with the program regardless of playing time. It also helped me improve my social group and resume."

Photo: Senior Austin Darmawan of Washington University

"I first found out about Wash U after taking the S.A.T. the first time (junior year of high school) and receiving mail from the school," said Shanna-Lei Dacanay, who played basketball for the Bears for four years and graduated in 2009. "I didn’t think a school in St. Louis, Missouri would be a place I would consider seriously, but still put it on a list of colleges for my high school coach to send my basketball tape to. Coach Nancy Fahey showed great interest, and I continued receiving mail from the school. I even watched (in the VHS player!) a promotion video the university sent. I remember that what stood out to me after watching the video was that, besides the campus being beautiful with any Ivy League setting, the athletes not only took pride in their sports, but also were very serious about their academics. I wanted to be surrounded by other student-athletes who excelled in both academics and athletics so this seemed like a great fit."  

Photo: 2009 Washington University graduate Shanna-Lei Dacanay

"It intrigued me that I could go to a school with a high quality academic program and also have a chance to win a Division III national championship," Dacanay added. "I liked the fact that in the UAA the teams get to travel to cool cities – Boston, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Rochester -- and it would give me an opportunity to also see places I never had a chance to see before. When I went to visit the school as a recruit and meet the team, I really liked the people. Coach Fahey and (Assistant) Coach (Bobbi) Morse were great, and Coach Fahey showed that she really cared for her players like family so it definitely felt like it could be a home for me for my four years of college."

Dacanay ended up being a student-athlete again in 2015-16, playing in the top division of women's basketball in Iceland, where she is a graduate student at Reykjavik University. The team advanced to the national championship, where it fell in the fifth game of a best-of-five series. "It was very much like my Wash U experience, but nearly 10 years later," she said. "Although we fell short of first place, it was a great experience!"

Junior Daniel Pietsch had never heard of Emory University when he went on a college visiting trip up and down the East Coast. "We had an extra day with nowhere to go before our next visit and my dad said 'There is this great school Emory in Atlanta' so we went there for the day," Pietsch recalled. "Then when I sent my athlete recruiting forms all over, it was Coach (Aaron) Campbell who reached out to me the most. He called me and had me come out again for another visit. The campus speaks for itself. The academics are great and Coach (Campbell) convinced me it would be great for me." 

Photo: Junior Daniel Pietsch of Emory University

Steve Bralver took a much different route from Hawai'i to Emory. Born in California, he attended NCAA Division I University of Hawai'i to play baseball. Things worked out better for his parents there than they did for him as they moved there when he began college and still live there today. "Hawai'i was the first school to offer me a scholarship and I jumped at it. It was definitely a mistake. I redshirted my first year and tried to stick it out because my family was there, but I really didn't matter to the school."

Bralver knew some people from middle school and high school were at Emory and going there gave him the chance to continue to play baseball. "I fit it much more at Emory," he stated. "It was much more like California." The 2009 UAA Baseball Most Valuable Player went on to play professional baseball for three independent teams, the Florence Freedom, the Laredo Broncos, and the Normal CornBelters. "Pro ball was a headache that I will always cherish," he laughed. He is now a stunt man in Los Angeles with more than 75 credits to his name, mostly for popular television programs, and he used his baseball experience to write the feature length screenplay "Life in the Minors." 

Senior soccer player Tristan Medios-Simon also took an NCAA Division I route to a UAA institution, starting at Seattle University before transferring to NYU. "I chose to look into colleges that were recruiting me since my dream was to play professional soccer at the time," he recalled. "I didn't think much about academics and location. It was a learning experience for me. I wanted to study business and the coach said everything I wanted to hear. Once I got there, soccer became a job for me. I wasn't happy doing something I had always done."

Photo: Junior Tristan Medios-Simon of NYU

Medios-Simon started studying business and finance, going to investment clubs. "Soccer became a hobby for me and I became much more interested in finance," he commented. "I loved the reputation of New York City and became interested in Jim Cramer's 'Mad Money' on CNBC. He was really influential in the way he explained things and his animation rubbed off on me. I wanted to be surrounded by people like him. In fact, I only applied to NYU. I even mentioned NYU specifically on my Common App transfer essay."

Before his senior year of high school, Spencer Ho played a couple soccer tournaments on the mainland. While playing at Stanford, he met University of Chicago Head Coach Mike Babst. "He liked my playing style and suggested I look into UC," Ho recalled. "Initially it was the soccer aspect that interested me, but when I visited the school in January, in the worst time of year, I fell in love with the city and campus, and really liked my teammates. Division III soccer is the perfect blend between balancing a rigorous academic course load and continuing to pursue my passion for soccer."

For first-year CWRU volleyball player Christine Tamura, her school of choice was not even on the radar through most of her college search. "CWRU was a really random choice for me. I was doing some last minute emailing to colleges, and it was on that list," she said. "(Head) Coach (Karen) Farrell e-mailed me back, I researched the school, and talked to some players. I decided to visit before I put my deposit down and the overnight really sold it for me. Everyone was so kind and welcoming of the Hawai'i girl who was way too excited about snow. The day I landed at home, I put my deposit down and the rest is history."

Photo: CWRU rookie Christine Tamura 

The coach also played a major role in sophomore cross country and track & field student-athlete Marissa Miyagi choosing CWRU. "I first heard about the school through e-mails and mail they sent to me. I wouldn't be at CWRU if it weren't for my cross country coach Kathy Lanese and my admissions counselor Robert McCullough," she stated. "They made it possible for me to be at the school and I will be forever indebted to them for this opportunity. The support Coach Lanese showed for me during the admission process was incredible and I knew that I would have a great support system if I came here."

Photo: Sophomore Marissa Miyagi of CWRU

Senior Assistant Coach Corey Luce played a pivotal role in 2015 UAA Most Outstanding Wrestler and All-America honoree Patrick Sheehan choosing to attend NYU. "I chose NYU because of Coach Luce, who flew me out to experience the city," Sheehan said. "Once I arrived in the city I knew it was where I wanted to be."  Luce remembers the visit well. "I'm a huge Phillies fan and I happened to be wearing my Shane Victorino shirt when I flew him in for a recruiting trip without putting the two together. (Victorino is from Hawai'i),"Luce recalled. "I said, 'This must mean something! I don't know what, but it does!' We all laughed." 

Photo: 2015 NYU graduate Patrick Sheehan

Alyssa Poentis started playing golf when she was seven years old. "As a young child, I enjoyed faster-paced and team sports. I quit golf and played tennis and volleyball until my sophomore year of high school when I decided to play golf again," she said. Going to NYU was an easy choice for her. "My family and I used to go to New York City almost every year since before my freshman year in high school," she recalled. "We really enjoyed the city so when I was researching colleges, I knew I wanted to be in the city. Even though NYU doesn't have a traditional campus, I thought I would really enjoy my time here."

Photo: Junior Alyssa Poentis of NYU

Quincy Marting heard about Washington University when his older brother was applying for college. "At the time I just knew about it as a smart school, but when it came my turn to apply, I found out they had a football team," he remarked. "Wash U offered a unique combination of football and academics. After speaking to Coach Kindbom on the phone, I knew the culture of the team was one I was going to flourish in."

"Coach K told me he wanted someone who dreams of championships and someone who competes," Marting added. "On the academic side of things, I love challenges and wanted to be an engineer. Little did I know then how much I would be challenged the next four years, but it excited me. On my visit, I heard about players going abroad, something I ended up doing my junior year. I knew that the coaching staff had our best interests in mind on and off the field."

Photo: 2016 Washington University graduate Quincy Marting

Andrew Skalman echoed Marting's desire to compete on the field and in the classroom. "I knew I wanted to go to a school where I would be challenged both academically and athletically. My first contact with the school was actually through a recruiting website," he said. "I still remember going into my college counseling office during my junior year and looking up WashU in the one of those 'Guide to Colleges' book. I won’t lie - I had never heard of the school before that initial e-mail, but after seeing how prestigious WashU was as an academic institution, I knew this was a place I could see myself spending the next four years of my life. I really liked how genuine Coach K was and how he cared about my future as not only a football player, but as a well-rounded student athlete."

Photo: 2014 Washington University graduate Andrew Skalman

Skalman was so impressed with his experience that he helped Josiah Situmeang, who was three years younger and attended the same high school, make the decision to join him at Washington University. "The Midwest and Wash U aren't well known in Hawai'i. When I tell most people that I go to Washington University in St. Louis, they immediately think it's in the state of Washington," Situmeang commented. "After hearing about the school from Andrew, I ended up choosing Wash U because of the opportunities it presented, allowing me to continue to play football and study on the pre-med track at an academically challenging school. A visit to the school cemented my decision, as I loved the people, team, campus, and Midwest culture."

Photo: Washington University senior Josiah Situmeang