Shopping online from her home in Kaliua, Hawaii, Mia Heirakuji purchased a black parka that hangs down to her ankles.
After growing up in Hawaii, the freshman outside hitter needed to put together a winter wardrobe in preparation for the change in weather Philadelphia would bring.
“We literally wear shorts and T-shirts all year round in Hawaii,” Heirakuji said. “Being able to go to the beach any time of the year, it is a lot different.”
Three months after arriving in Philadelphia, Heirakuji is still adapting to her new environment.
“I’m not saying that Philly is not nice,” Heirakuji said. “I have never been to a city where people are honking at the pedestrians or won’t let them go. I know it’s cheesy, but like ‘Aloha’ spirit, everyone is just really nice, even if you don’t know someone they will try to make conversation.”
Heirakuji came to Temple after playing four years at Kamehameha Schools’ Kapalama High School. Her hometown of Kailua has fewer than 39,000 people, compared to Philadelphia’s population of more than 1.5 million.
Although Heirakuji misses her family and her two dogs Kea and Mochi, she said Hawaii only has so much to offer.
“Everyone says, ‘Why do you leave Hawaii? Why are you here?’ But everyone wants to experience something bigger than Hawaii,” Heirakuji said. “There are so many opportunities, especially for volleyball, but not just that, jobs and internships.”
During coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam’s recruitment of Heirakuji, he traveled to Manoa Valley District Park in Honolulu, Hawaii to see her play for her club team, Ka Ulukoa, at a two-day exposure camp.
After watching Heirakuji in person, Ganesharatnam wanted her on the team.
“Our philosophy and the way she plays are very similar,” Ganesharatnam said. “The style we play is very comparable to a lot of teams in Hawaii, so that makes it easier for her to adjust as well. And because of that, we thought she’d be a really good fit for us.”
With shorter players coming from Hawaii, the islands have adopted a defensive game. Temple’s roster, typically comprised of players of smaller stature, plays a similar style.
Heirakuji has played in 47 sets this season, earning seven service aces and two assists. The 5-foot-5-inch freshman also collected 18 digs on the year while playing in the backcourt.
“We work on defense more than anything at practice,” Heirakuji said. “I think being able to contribute to that, that’s one of my assets coming from Hawaii.”
Heirakuji is using her freshman season to learn from the play of her teammates, particularly sophomore middle blocker Janine Simmons, who helped Heirakuji’s transition.
“She was afraid, ‘I won’t have any friends because I don’t have time to do anything,’ and I just said, ‘Well it will get better in the spring because that is how it was for me,’” Simmons said. “Last year, the transition for me personally was really difficult, and I had a lot of help from the middle blockers. So, I know how important that was to have someone to talk to.”
Connor Northrup can be reached at email@example.com.