Volleyball teammates share bond through Hawaiian culture

Liberos Mia Heirakuji and Averi Salvador are from the same island.

Junior libero Mia Heirakuji (left) and freshman libero Averi Salvador played against each other in high school in Hawaii. | JAMIE COTTRELL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Mia Heirakuji and Averi Salvador are Hawaii natives, and it is apparent wherever they go together.

The two often talk about the laid-back lifestyle of the islands and reminisce about living by the ocean. From time to time, they even speak Pidgin English — a native Hawaiian slang — with each other. But if there is anything the two bond over most, it’s their love of Hawaiian food.

Heirakuji, a junior libero, visits her hometown of Kailua in the winter. When she is stuck in Philadelphia, her cravings for Hawaiian food start to creep up on her. Heirakuji misses eating the spicy ahi bowl, a dish that consists of rice, raw fish and seaweed.

The same goes for Salvador, a freshman libero. She couldn’t resist interjecting a “yum” as Heirakuji described her favorite dish.

Although Heirakuji and Salvador bond over food and Hawaiian culture as fellow teammates, the two were not always on the same side of the net. In 2013, their high schools played each other for the state championship.

It was Heirakuji’s senior season at Kamehameha High School and Salvador’s first year at Punahou School. The two high schools are known rivals on the island Oahu, Heirakuji said.

“They won,” Heirakuji said laughing.

“The win felt good,” Salvador said. “But it meant much more to the seniors who played.”

Any tension that existed from this rivalry no longer lingers. In fact, Heirakuji’s presence at Temple was a comfort for Salvador during her recruiting process.

Salvador never visited Temple as a prospect. Knowing somebody from the same region gave Salvador confidence she could make the move to Philadelphia.

Now that the season has started and Salvador has played in 16 sets, she is beginning to miss the food from her home in Aiea.

Heirakuji and Salvador’s coaches know exactly how they feel.

“I miss native Hawaiian food, like lau lau, kalua pig and poi,” said assistant coach Ren Cefra, who is from Honolulu.

When he sees a Hawaiian restaurant, he always tries to stop in, but for Cefra, it is just not the same as eating on the island.

Coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam said he also enjoys Hawaiian food when he travels to the islands for recruiting. Shrimp trucks are his go-to.

“One of the things that really allowed me to connect with the people [in Hawaii] is because my parents are originally from Sri Lanka, which is an island,” Ganesharatnam said. “Food is very flavorful in Sri Lanka, but in Hawaii as well, and the meals are not just meals. They’re family events.”

Family, friends and food are what come to mind when Heirakuji and Salvador think about Hawaii, and the team has made it clear that it wants to build a culture that resembles that family lifestyle.

“We love the fact that we can create an atmosphere here where the players feel comfortable and safe,” Ganesharatnam said. “I know family is very important to them, and I’m happy that we are able to create that family atmosphere for them.”

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