This year's Hawai‘i Pacific University volleyball team is "the best team I've ever been on," said outside hitter Elizabeth Culpepper.
The senior from San Luis Obispo, Calif. is one of the reasons the Sharks are a force in the Pacific West Conference. In a recent win against Concordia University Irvine, Culpepper notched an impressive 14 kills.
"Our team is really good this year," she said. "I'm so proud that these are the girls who get to represent our school."
"We're in the gym late at night. We sweat and bleed and cry these nights at these games that are so worth it, to feel part of something bigger than you.”
It feels especially great to play in front of the home crowd.
"Volleyball is a very energy-driven sport. We need energy. We need people to come and cheer because home games are our advantage," she said. "I personally thrive off big crowds. When you're down and the crowd gets going and everyone is excited, it can make all the difference."
Culpepper said she's noticed new fans coming from the Waterfront Lofts to St. Andrew’s Priory gym, where home games are played. "With Aloha Tower Marketplace, it's actually so nice to have so many people living there and in Downtown."
Sports can be a great way to bring the community together, she added. For those who may be away from home for the first time, going to games can be a good social experience.
Culpepper, who participates in recruiting trips and talks to incoming freshman, said sometimes, new students may keep to themselves and "look at pictures of their family and dwell on being far away … because they are not living in the moment."
"They're not experiencing all of this beautiful island and what it offers us. You have to willing to try to have fun here. You have to get out there."
|Elizabeth Culpepper goes for the kill.|
"It's hard to move away. It's hard to move across an ocean. It's hard to move out of your parent's house. But you have to let yourself be happy."
One thing that makes her happy is student teaching. As an Elementary Education major, she's had the opportunity to student teach in several local classrooms. Currently, she's with sixth-graders.
"I'm actually loving upper elementary. I want to do something to help people. Teaching has been a really good opportunity to do that."
She finds her experience with HPU's diverse student population has helped her with teaching. For example, when she encounters sixth-graders starting to form opinions about the world around them, she's reminded of her own experiences meeting people with different viewpoints. One of the reasons she chose HPU was its multicultural environment.
"Gaining these points of view has been very helpful in my growth as a global citizen," she said. "It's helped me to see outside of myself and take a step back from my own opinions and think about theirs. That helps me to grow as a person."
Culpepper also hopes to see growth in the local fan base. She invites everyone to home games at St. Andrew’s Priory (224 Queen Emma Square) to proudly cheer on the Sharks.
"It's just a little short walk away. If you want to watch some really great volleyball, you should come on down," she said. "You won't be disappointed."
See schedules at www.hpusharks.com.