For Rainbow Wahine outside hitter McKenna Ross, playing for UH is all about ohana.
McKenna Ross, it seems, was destined to wear a University of Hawaii uniform. Her father, Jason Ross, played both football and baseball at UH in the 1990s. Her aunt, Nohea Tano, was a Rainbow Wahine volleyball standout for three seasons (2001 to 2003) after transferring from Washington State.
Today, McKenna is carving her own path as a UH student-athlete. The 5-10 sophomore outside hitter from Aliso Viejo, California is a steady performer for the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team, contributing 26 kills, 50 digs, 6 blocks and 5 service aces so far this season. The Rainbow Wahine are currently 6-5 on the year and begin conference play this Friday against UC Irvine.
Sports has always played a big role in the Ross family. McKenna’s older sister, Kayla, earned a gold medal as a member of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team (affectionately known as the “Fierce Five”). Younger brother Kayne is a two-sport standout at Aliso Niguel High School.
“Sports in our family is huge,” says Jason Ross, whose post-UH career included six seasons playing for the Atlanta Braves organization. “We’re big believers in sports being a great opportunity to learn life skills.
“My wife [Kiana] always wanted our kids to be volleyball players. She just loved volleyball. Kyla got into gymnastics and took off in that route. McKenna was in softball for a while. But we signed her up for volleyball and she just loved it. What I love about McKenna is her sheer determination and work ethic. I’m very proud of her.”
ESPN 1420 sat down with McKenna and talked about her role as a Rainbow Wahine volleyball player and continuing her family’s tradition of athletic excellence.
ESPN 1420: Heading into conference play, how would you assess your team’s performance so far?
McKENNA ROSS: I think we’re doing pretty good. We’ve been good at fighting [through tough matches]. We just need to learn how to come out strong and with fight from the very start of each match.
ESPN 1420: When you joined the team last season, Dave Shoji was the head coach. And now Robyn Ah Mow-Santos is the coach. What’s been the biggest difference between the two?
McKENNA ROSS: They’re both really amazing coaches. I would say Coach Rob is more demanding. She knows what she wants, and she expects it when she asks for it the first time.
ESPN 1420: And how would you assess your own performance so far this season?
McKENNA ROSS: I would say that I’ve gotten better at having confidence in myself. I think I’ve also gotten a little better at serving, receiving and defense.
ESPN 1420: It’s been somewhat of an adjustment for you, hasn’t it? You arrived at UH a defensive specialist, but you’ve been asked to play the outside hitter position.
McKENNA ROSS: It hasn’t big too big of an adjustment because I was a hitter in high school and in club [ball]. It haven’t had to change my approach significantly.
ESPN 1420: What got you interested in volleyball?
McKENNA ROSS: My aunt [Nohea Tano] played here. And my Mom’s from here, so she’s always loved watching volleyball. My Mom got me involved in the game. She’d register me for clinics during the summer. And then, as I got older, I played both softball and volleyball and my parents wanted me to choose one. I chose volleyball because I liked the fast pace. Softball is a lot slower.
ESPN 1420: Did you ever consider joining your sister Kyla in gymnastics?
McKENNA ROSS: I did gymnastics with her when I was little. When we moved to California, I continued [gymnastics] a little bit more. But my sister switched to a more elite level gym and I just stopped. I don’t know why. (Laughs)
ESPN 1420: And your younger brother plays sports, too?
McKENNA ROSS: Yes. He plays football and baseball in high school. He’s good!
ESPN 1420: Future Rainbow Warrior, maybe?
McKENNA ROSS: (Laughs) Maybe!
ESPN 1420: Your father played both football and baseball at UH, and your Mom is also from here. How much of an influence were they in your decision to join the Rainbow Wahine?
McKENNA ROSS: They were a huge influence. When I was growing up, my Dad always talked about how amazing his college experience was.
ESPN 1420: And your aunt is former Rainbow Wahine great Nohea Tano.
McKENNA ROSS: Yeah. She’s been such a huge help. When I came out here for my [recruiting] visit, she brought me here and introduced me to the team. She’s been great. She helped me build my confidence and to learn to push through adversity.
ESPN 1420: Okay, finish this sentence: “The best thing about being a Rainbow Wahine volleyball player is…?”
McKENNA ROSS: The culture of Hawaii. Definitely! I love Hawaii. I never want to leave! (Laughs)
ESPN 1420: Do you have a favorite moment as a Rainbow Wahine?
McKENNA ROSS: So far, I would say it was winning the Big West Conference [last season].
ESPN 1420: How do you balance your volleyball, academics and your social life? That’s a lot to juggle.
McKENNA ROSS: Well, we have a lot of help. Academically, we have tutors and advisors at the Nagatani Center. They really help us stay on track. With volleyball, we have set times for practice. And socially, it helps that my teammates are my really good friends. We’re always together.
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Why do you wear 21? “I always wore 21. But when we got to choose numbers, there was no 21 available so I just chose the closest number to it.”
What was the last movie you saw? “I have no idea. I don’t really go to the movies.”
Who’s your favorite musical artist? “Beyonce.”
What’s your favorite food? “Lasagna.”
What’s the best advice you ever received? “My Dad told me to have confidence in myself.”