By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Ashia Joseph graduated from Waiakea in 2011 and wanted to play collegiate volleyball at Cal State East Bay, but no scholarship spots were open so she moved on and landed on top of a mountain.
The 5-foot-8 setter spent two seasons at College of Southern Idaho and things couldn’t have worked out any better. The Golden Eagles won a record 10th National Junior College Athletic Association championship in November.
Then guess who came knocking on Joseph’s door?
East Bay, a Division II school in Hayward, Calif., offered her a scholarship. But it wasn’t a full-ride deal. She didn’t want to sell herself short, not after having better offers on the table.
“East Bay was the first visit I took,” said Joseph, who is a kinesiology major and visited in January. “Honestly, I wasn’t open to going there. My goal was to get a full-ride. Even though, other schools offered me a full-ride I really liked the school.
“I went to practice with them and when I was setting I felt like I was playing with the team forever. I connected with their middles. That’s when the coach (Jim Spagle) offered me a full-ride. It was like, ‘You know what? I really do like this school.’ But I waited to commit until I visited Tennessee State.”
Tennessee State is a Division I school, unlike the Pioneers, who are in the California Collegiate Athletic Association along with Cal State Bakersfield, which also offered Joseph a scholarship.
Joseph’s other goal was to play for a Division I school, but after talking to her mom Sydnie Feliciano and her old coach at CSI, Heidi Cartisser, she figured happiness should trump a secondary preference.
So she’s moving on to East Bay, where she’ll meet up with old friend Rachel Shimizu, a 2012 Waiakea graduate and Pioneer swimmer. The two played water polo together for the Warriors. Adding to the Big Island vibe is Madison Hauanio, a 2013 Kealakehe graduate, who signed a swimming scholarship.
CSI is known for two things: winning national championships and feeding players to bigger schools. Joseph is one of nine Golden Eagles to sign or commit to play volleyball at the next level, including junior college Player of the Year Keani Passi, who signed with the University of Hawaii.
For all those diehard Big Island fans of Rainbow Wahine volleyball, Joseph offered a glowing scouting report on Passi, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter, who could help fill the void with Jane Croson’s departure.
“You’ll be hearing a lot about her,” Joseph said of Passi, who’s from Pearl City on Oahu. “She’s a straight power hitter. When you look at her, you can tell. She’s hit players in the face and their nose would start bleeding.”
The Golden Eagles finished their season with a 32-1 record, avenging their only loss to Western Nebraska with a three-set sweep in the national championship. Here’s more good news for Rainbow Wahine fans: Passi showed all-around ability, drilling 12 kills and picking up 12 digs.
CSI is an annual powerhouse; East Bay not so much, at least on the D2 level. The Pioneers jumped up from Division III in 2009 and became postseason eligible in 2011. They were 16-11 that year and 12-17 last season.
The longtime monarch of the CCAA volleyball kingdom is Cal State San Bernardino, which has reached the West Regional final the last 13 years. The CCAA is part of the West Region, which includes the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and Pacific West Conference.
UH-Hilo is a member of the PacWest. UH-Hilo and East Bay aren’t scheduled to play each other during the upcoming season. The two would maybe only meet if both qualified for the regional; the Vulcans last advanced in 2011.
“East Bay is not as prestigious as CSI. When I mention Cal State East Bay, people say, ‘What is that?’ But they have good teams in the conference,” Joseph said. “Hopefully, we can do well. Maybe the good thing is it’ll make me worker harder than I always have. My goal is to start and be a more consistent player, and to have a winning season, and at least make it to the regional tournament.”
The mention of the words “winning” and “postseason” in the same sentence sends Joseph back to the mountain top of her volleyball journey.
“During the championship game, I was setting in the back row and a free ball came over. I set to Keani and she came from the back and hit one in the other setter’s face,” Joseph said. “We were all hugging each other. We won the first two and we knew things we going in our favor. We knew it was really going to happen.
“That final point was crazy. We were leading by maybe 10 points and it took us five points to win. Every time we were ready to run on the court. When it finally happened, everybody was crying on the court. It was nice. We lost to Western Nebraska earlier and all the other times we played them. It was the best thing ever to finally beat them.”
The Golden Eagles received their national championship rings in May. There’s a big X on it, representing the school’s 10 titles. Five diamonds on each side and the words “National” on the top and “champion” on the bottom.
But it’s the inside inscription that Joseph cherishes most. The etched words are “One love,” the team’s motto. It’s all about team chemistry, the key that powered CSI and something Joseph felt at East Bay.
“Each year our coach (Heidi Cartisser) makes the team have a mission statement,” said the soon-to-be Pioneer, who leaves for her new adventure next month. “We say that before every game and practice. We say that one thing to bring everyone together.
“Last year, the mission statement was ‘ohana.’ We were not as close as a team that year. We were close this year. Our ‘One love’ and team chemistry helped. CSI has winning as a standard. Hopefully, we can hold that as a standard and tradition at East Bay. We have to work harder to keep it there. I like that idea.”