Wednesday, Arizona’s volleyball team boarded a six-hour flight to the sunny, beach-filled Islands of Aloha.
Jane Croson, though, was grounded in the Old Pueblo. She will be all weekend.
Hawaii is the junior outside hitter’s old stomping grounds. The last two years, she played in 42 matches at Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, where the Wildcats will play three days in the Outriggers Hotels and Resorts Volleyball Challenge.
One of those matches came two years ago, when Croson had seven kills to help Hawaii sweep the UA 3-0. Now a Wildcat, she won’t get to see that match from the other side.
Which is fine, because missing three matches is a whole lot better than missing 32.
Rainbow Wahine head coach Dave Shoji, who recently became the winningest coach in Division I women’s volleyball history, granted Croson’s release from Hawaii and waived the standard one-year sit-out period on the condition that she didn’t travel to Honolulu.
“We’ve known for a long time,” UA head coach Dave Rubio said. “We thought it was in the best interest of her not to travel, but the team will still do well. Losing someone of Jane’s quality is hard, but we’ll soldier on. It will be good for them to handle adversity that may come with that.”
For Croson, an All-Big West first-teamer, adversity is what led to her transfer in the first place.
Last year, Croson was suspended indefinitely for breaking team rules. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Shoji as calling it a “serious offense,” without elaborating. It wound up a monthlong suspension, spanning seven matches.
After spring ball in March, Croson informed Shoji that she intended to transfer, a decision which he told local reporters “baffled him.”
“She was afforded every opportunity to succeed here. … It was a little bit of puzzlement as to why she wanted to do this,” he said then.
Croson said she just wanted to be closer to her home in Lakewood, Calif. So she transferred to the UA in July.
“I was just really homesick,” she said. “I’m really close to my parents, and I wanted them to come watch me play more. Since I was in Hawaii, they didn’t come watch me play as often as I wanted to.”
Croson’s parents have seen all six of her matches at McKale Center, where she has helped the Wildcats to a 5-1 start.
“She makes us quite a bit better,” Rubio said. “I feel pretty fortunate that we got her, and the team has really taken to Jane. She’s a little quirky, but she’s got a really nice personality; she’s fun, and it’s been really pleasant to have her on board.”
Outside hitter Madi Kingdon added: “Something we worried about was cohesion. With a new player, it’s always difficult, but she fits in well. She’s a great addition, she’s a great player, and she fills out the second outside hitter spot really well.”
She’s second to Kingdon with 65 kills, a total she can’t add to until Arizona comes back to McKale for the Wildcat Classic on Sept. 20.
“I just need to focus mainly on volleyball and to be a better person on and off the court, and do well in academics, because I know I struggled a little in Hawaii,” she said. The suspension “was definitely a life lesson because after that it was depressing that I didn’t get to play and had to take time off. I was upset with myself, I knew I had to step up and grow up, and I learned my lesson.”
So she’ll stay in Tucson while her team competes in Hawaii. In the meantime, you might find her at Mama’s Hawaiian Barbecue on Speedway — she loves the chicken katsu. If Croson misses anything, it’s the food.
And, well, the beaches.
“There’s no beaches in Tucson,” she said, smiling, “so that’s a bummer.”