By Tiff Wells.
Fans of a school see the athletes perform on game night and that’s about it. They read up about them in articles, watch videos on social media or peruse the player bios on the schools’ websites. But how do we really get to know about these players? By having them answer the questions first-hand, of course! With college sports underway, just how are UH athletes getting ready? What are they thinking? What do they like? In this Q&A, we go from the beach to the Taraflex with men’s volleyball redshirt senior outside hitter Colton Cowell.
Q: You were a 2x MIL Player of the Year (2014 and 2015) as well as a league champ at King Kekaulike High School. Appearing in nine matches as a true freshman in 2016 and then redshirting in 2017, how tough were those first two years for you and how did they help you grow?
The first two years in the program were very humbling. I understood my role and I knew that as an undersized athlete, opportunities would be increasingly limited if I did not put in significant time and effort into training and academics. I learned to focus on factors that I felt I could control, such as my grade point average, performance inthe weight room and effort in the practice gym given the fact that I did not statistically contribute much during the regular season matches.
Q: Two appearances at the USAV Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship (2017: 4th-place. 2018: 2nd-place). Playing with then UH teammate Brett Rosenmeier, what was the best experience about competing at the 2018 World University Beach Championship in Germany? Just how tough is playing beach and what’s the biggest difference between beach and indoor?
I felt grateful for the opportunity to compete internationally with one of my best friends representing the United States and most importantly the State of Hawai‘i. Beach volleyball is incredibly difficult and I feel that it largely contributes to the development of many talented athletes throughout the country. The biggest difference, in my opinion, is that there are many intermittent variables that factor into beach volleyball such as wind, sunlight, rain, etc. in addition to the uneven surface levels of the court.
Q: To represent the state is one thing, but to put on your country’s colors is something else. Team finished fifth, you led the team with 47 kills and were one of the tournament’s top 15 best scorers. Describe the experience of playing with the U.S. Pan American Cup team in Mexico during the summer of 2019.
I was in a position that I never even thought would be achievable for the majority of my athletics career. The most significant moment to me during that time was hearing the national anthem fill the gymnasium before our first match. I was filled with appreciation for the journey that led up to that moment, and I still remain excited for what is to come.
Q: What are the feelings you have when you put on that Hawai‘i jersey ? What does it mean to you to be a Rainbow Warrior?
I feel a strong sense of gratitude and purpose. I want to give back to the community that gave me everything. Being a Rainbow Warrior reminds me that every single day I represent the historic legacy of those who came before me and that it is my responsibility for that legacy to be continued by those who come after me.
Q: To be named Academic All-Big West in 2019 and then a UH Scholar-Athlete award winner in 2020, just how tough is it to remain focused in your studies while competing in collegiate athletics?
Balancing academics is always an obstacle that student-athletes face. However, the men’s volleyball program prioritizes excellence in academics and I feel that this team collectively puts significant attention to academic performance. For me individually, I understand that academics will largely affect my future, and I do my best to efficiently balance my time throughout each day.
Q: You were named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team in 2019 as the team finished the season 28-3 and were National Runners Up. What will you remember most about that team? What goes through your mind when the team is on the road and more often than not have a larger crowd than the team you’re playing at?
The 2019 team was very machine-like. We enjoyed our time together and developed an incredibly strong bond. That team refused to take our foot off the gas at any given moment, and every player, whether they were physically on the court competing or standing on the sideline in support, was fully engaged and locked in to the task at hand. When we traveled for road matches everyone was on time for meetings, video sessions, food and team-oriented activities. I feel that everyone was held accountable because there were many different types of leaders that were each very successful at contributing to the teams overall level of success. We are fortunate to have the most incredible fans in men’s volleyball. Even when we were competing away from the Stan Sheriff Center we almost always had what felt like a home court advantage because the cheers and support from our fans filled each arena we played in.
Q: The team is 15-1, ranked second in the nation and coming off the split of the BYU series from the week before. Take us through that week in March when you folks were already in California preparing for the conference opening series at CSUN, only to find out those matches and then the rest of the season was cancelled?
We landed in California and noticed that the NBA had cancelled their season. This was a very large red flag for us and following that announcement there was a very ominous energy about the upcoming matches against CSUN. Ultimately the news that our season was postponed indefinitely was processed very differently by each individual player. It was difficult to see the team that had just overcome such an incredible opponent the match before and the confidence that carried over get sapped in such a short period of time.
Q: What’s going through your mind as the team is flying home with no more season to play? You’re a redshirt senior; what led you to come back for another season and not turn pro?
I feel that having been injured for much of last year, I have more to prove to this program, university and state. I feel that as a team we all feel that there is unfinished business needing to be taken care of in regards to this year. We want to win a national championship, and deliver it to the people of Hawai‘i. I believe that this is our time.
Q: Named AVCA All-America second team and All-Big West first team for this shortened 2020 season. The year has been a different kind of year to say the least. When facilities were closed, how did you stay in volleyball shape and how did you stay mentally focused? How tough was/is it to train when there are so many question marks about the 2021 season?
I took time during the pandemic to fully heal the injuries that I was dealing with for nearly all of the 2020 athletic year. Once I felt that I was capable of increasing my training capacity I focused mainly on intent. Whatever method of training I engaged in, it was going to be performed at maximum effort, and I feel that this allowed me to increase my threshold and break through previous plateaus. Mentally, I read several books, including “Legacy” by James Kerr and “Mindset” by Carol S. Dweck. In truth, it was not difficult for me to train because the most fulfilling aspect of being an athlete to me is trusting in the process. I did not allow for thoughts of uncertainty to exist within my mind for extended periods of time.
Q: Many volleyball players dream of playing in the Stan Sheriff Center. You have been able to call this place your home for your collegiate career. To play in one of the volleyball meccas (from the capacity crowd to the chants during a serve), what does it all mean to you? Just how tough is to hear the coaching staff say “pull driver” when you’re at the service line and the noise level is loud?
The Stan Sheriff Center is the pinnacle of competition in Men’s Volleyball. I will be forever grateful having had the opportunities to train and compete within the SSC arena and I cherish the memories that were made there with my brothers. I look forward to more opportunities to compete this year as this team steps out onto the Teraflex. And yes in truth, it is extremely hard to hear the conversations between players and coaches as they are drowned out by the roar that fills the arena. You can physically feel the cheers of support from the fans, and their energy fuels this team’s will to win.
Q: All UH teams log a ton of airline miles every season. What are the must have items in your carry-on bag when you board the plane? When on the road, do you have a go-to spot for a meal?
I always have my iPad in my carry on in case I need to take care of academic assignments or watch practice film/scouting reports on our opponents. Noise cancelling headphones are essential for me as I often sleep for the majority of the flight, and just in case I feel the need I will bring whatever book I am currently reading at the time. Last but not least, I will bring a Hypervolt and a lacrosse ball to loosen up muscles that tighten up during the duration of the flight. My go-to spots for food when traveling are typically In-N-Out Burger, Chick-fil-A, Shake Shack and Whole Foods.
Q: Finally, take us through a typical game day, both here at home and on the road.
Typically on the day of a match, I start my day off with a shot of Apple Cider Vinegar and two full glasses of water. I stretch and shower and then order an extreme mess omelette from Sweet E’s Café or wherever the team happens to be eating on the road that day. Following that I usually try and remain off of my feet until the team’s serve and pass. After the serve and pass I will eat a smaller meal typically consisting of fruits and vegetables and a ton of water, and the team will watch film. Following this I actively participate in my pregame routine, which consists of a nap, and upon waking up I listen to music and prepare my jerseys for the match that evening. I enter the arena, eat a quick snack, hydrate again and boom! Game time!
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