By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
A shining philosophy has always brightened the path for Daniel Rasay, who has experienced the very best of volleyball success — winning a national championship with Hawaii in 2002 as a setter and with Stanford in ’10 as a volunteer coach.
The 2000 Konawaena graduate and third-year coach at Menlo College is on a similar journey. He’s guided Menlo, an NAIA school in Atherton, Calif., to a 13-6 overall record and the California Pacific Conference regular-season title.
The Oaks, who are 7-0 in the Cal Pac, are two wins away from a perfect conference record. The women’s team travels to UC Merced (7-17, 4-5) on Friday and close the next week against William Jessup (5-21, 3-4) at home.
“It’s been great. A lot of what we’ve been working on the past two years has come together,” Rasay said. “Being a tight-knit group, we’ve pulled through tough situations where in the past we struggled. We’ve got enough talent and a cohesiveness on the team to pull out close matches.”
That type of philosophy built on teamwork and improvement is what landed Rasay his first job at Mills College, a Division III school in Oakland, Calif., at 24 years old, despite lacking any collegiate coaching experience.
After playing for Hawaii from 2001 to ’05 and graduating with a marketing degree, he worked for a year in his hometown. Then he saw a job posting at Mills College online and applied. To his surprise, he got the job.
“I was in the right place at the right time. I coached a little club ball, helped out at Kealakehe High and coached at camps with Guy Enriques (Kamehameha’s boys volleyball coach) for five or six years. They liked my philosophy as a coach. It was a fit for them. I was surprised and happy. I felt like I was pretty lucky to get the job.
“My philosophy is No. 1 to work as hard as you can to improve, both physically and mentally, and being goal-oriented — knowing what you want to accomplish. I believe in developing the whole person, learning things that you need in life, like communication and working with others, building life skills from a game of volleyball.”
Being only a few years older than his players presented its own set of challenges for Rasay, who coached at Mills College from 2007 to ’09.
“There’s a built-in respect for somebody older,” he said. “It took longer to earn that respect. But after a while, they knew that I knew the game and that’s where the respect came in.
“I left Mills to go to a school a little more focused on athletics. In searching for a job, I had not come up with anything. Earlier, I sent an email to John Kostay at Stanford, asking for a volunteer position.”
Chris McLachlin, the Hawaii volleyball TV commentator, was an assistant at the time, and recommended Rasay. The Cardinal won the national title in 2010, when McLachlin’s son Spencer and Rainbow Wahine coach Dave Shoji’s sons, Kawika and Erik, were on the team.
Hawaii’s national championship in 2002 was vacated by the NCAA, which ruled Costas Theocharidis had professional experience.
Stanford’s glory season at least proved validation upon reflection and a different perspective as a coach, something that still stirs a good memory in Rasay, who endured a tough financial sacrifice as a volunteer.
“What I preach as a coach was the same thing John was doing, work hard toward a goal and being champions before we won a championship,” he said. “At UH, being part of that team, the joy we had was amazing. The enjoyment at Stanford was seeing the joy on the players’ faces.
“It was tough not making any money. But it was really great. I got to work at a Division I school and learned a lot. I’ve brought that part of me as a coach to Menlo.”
Rasay has two players from Hawaii on his roster, sophomore outside hitter Courtney Calicdan and senior hitter Mika Mendoza. Both are from Moanalua High on Oahu. He’s always looking for more Hawaii talent.
“I use my networks and Oregon (where Enriques holds his summer camps) as much as possible. Most of the players are from the area,” he said. “But I would like as many as I can from Hawaii, wherever I can find talent.
“Menlo’s a little on the smaller side. It’s a good community, a family feeling where everything is tied together. I like that and 50 percent of the student population is in athletics. It’s a good, strong athletic feeling, and there’s good support for the athletic program.”
Menlo, a private institution with a $23.5 million endowment, has roughly 650 students and the school sits on 45 acres in Atherton, 25 miles southeast of San Francisco. In 2010, The Princeton Review named Menlo a 2011 “Best of the West” college.
Rasay is adding recognition for the Oaks, who have made it to the NAIA national tourney before, but have never advanced far. Menlo is on a 10-match winning streak, and looking to stick more stars on a successful season. The team had an 11-12 record, including 7-3 in the Cal Pac, last year.
“Menlo has made it to the first round of the national tournament, but I don’t think they’ve made it out of the first round,” he said. “The past five weeks we’ve been playing really good volleyball. I hope we win the next two games, and finish the regular season undefeated and go the conference tournament and win that to make it to the national tournament.”
To submit a collegiate athlete with Big Island ties for publication, email email@example.com.