By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
This is not the way that Patty Vine-Snel wanted to go out.
Through volleyball, Vine-Snel has broadened her horizons and explored new frontiers. It’s taken her from Mexico to California to Hawaii. It’s helped her grow. Her senior season at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, however, has been a trying one. It’s been a year to forget. It’s tested her patience and made her question her resolve.
“It’s easily been the hardest year ever. I’ve played 13 years, and I’ve never been in this situation. I don’t know whether I want to cry, laugh or kill someone,” Vine-Snel said.
“It’s so sad to realize that 10 years from now they’re going to look back to this year and it’s probably going to be the worst at UHH, and I was part of it. I wish I would have made a difference. It’s devastating.”
Still, when Vine-Snel looks back on it all, she wouldn’t change a thing. The journey has made everything worthwhile.
Two other Vulcans, Melissa Chavez and Megan Medeiros, also will be playing their final college matches at 7 p.m. Saturday when UHH hosts BYU-Hawaii.
“Two very wonderful kids who I was happy to have with the program,” coach Tino Reyes said.
But it was Vine-Snel who became Reyes’ first recruit when he took over three seasons ago.
“I always wondered if he regretted it,” she said.
Reyes does have one regret regarding Vine-Snel, but it certainly doesn’t involve bringing her into the program.
“I wish we could have sent her out on a better note, but her coach kind of let her down with recruiting,” he said.
Vine-Snel grew up as part of close-knit family in Mexico along with her sister, Klaire. Like most of her high school teammates in Monterrey, she planned to continue playing with their coach in college. She passed up a scholarship opportunity in her home country though when her parents convinced her that playing in the United States would improve her job prospects.
She got in touch with Reyes after one year at Pasadena (Calif.) City College.
“One of the things I like about Tino is that he pushed me to be better on the court, but he also pushed me to be a better person off the court, which is way more important,” Vine-Snel said. “Sometimes I hated him, but I think my best coach was my last coach.”
Little did she know it when she left California, but another great relationship was about to form.
She was simply Patty Snel upon arriving in Hilo in the fall of 2010 with an ascent that quickly charmed locals. After an initial bout of homeliness in the dorms, she started hanging out with other UHH athletes and met Dirk Snel, then with the men’s basketball team. It didn’t take long before the pair became inseparable, and they married after Vine-Snel’s junior season.
“I always thought I’d graduate, get a job, have my own place and then be getting married,” Vine-Snel said.
“Life is never what you plan. It all worked out right.”
On course to graduate with a degree in chemistry in the spring and hoping to become a pharmacist, she’s anxiously waiting to hear back from graduate schools, including the University of Washington.
“I’m in mental breakdown mode,” she joked.
She gets first dibs at graduate school. The plan is for Dirk to get a job, but if she doesn’t get into pharmacy school, Dirk will try to go to graduate school and she’ll try and find work.
“We’ll take turns. If not Washington, then someplace in Colorado or Utah,” Vine-Snel said. “We want to have another experience like Hilo, a three- or four-year experience, before we settle.
“If I do become a pharmacist, I’m going to give back to the program. … a lot. I loved it.”
Though she comes off as polite and upbeat beat off the court, she says her Spanish personality makes her “loud and obnoxious.”
“I don’t curse ever, but when I’m on the court I curse like no other,” she said. “I just get transformed. Volleyball brings intensity out of in me.
“I could never coach, I’m not patient enough. I wouldn’t want to set a bad example for kids.”
The highlight of her Vulcans career came last season. Powered by star Hillary Hurley, UHH reached the NCAA Division II West Regional.
After playing her first two seasons at libero, Vine-Snel has spent this year at outside hitter, her position in high school. She’s second on the team in kills and first in digs, but the transition, not to mention trying to help fill Hurley’s shoes on a team dominated by underclassmen, has been tougher than she thought.
“I started realizing that a lot of the pressure is going to be on me,” she said. “They expected a lot from me, and I’m not strong like Hillary. I don’t feel like I’m good enough to turn to them and demand things (from teammates). I didn’t think it was going to be this hard. I thought it was going to be more fun.”
Slowed by inexperience, the Vulcans (4-16, 4-10 Pacific West Conference) are limping to the finish line. They’ve lost seven straight heading into Saturday’s finale with the league champion Sea Warriors (20-2, 15-0 PacWest), and they haven’t won a set since beating Notre Dame de Namur on Sept. 29.
After the most recent setback Monday at Chaminade, Reyes questioned whether his team had already “checked out” for the season.
UHH’s struggles are only part of the reason why Vine-Snel says she figures Saturday will bring a sense of relief. She’s got a lot to look forward to as well.
”Even how hard volleyball has been this season, I don’t think I can have regrets,” she said. “This will make the next years seem better. It will make Tino better and it will make me better. I pushed so much harder in school because of this season. It builds up character. I have no regrets.”