Mau adapts to new life on the mainland

Kalei Mau could emerge as a viable outside hitter for the Gophers.

Minnesota freshman outside hitter Kalei Mau plays the ukulele on Monday, April 15, 2013. (Dane adding more, don't publish this with this on here!)

Photo courtesy of Jerry E. Lee

Minnesota freshman outside hitter Kalei Mau plays the ukulele on Monday, April 15, 2013. (Dane adding more, don’t publish this with this on here!)

Megan Ryan

Kalei Mau could be considered a prodigy in more ways than one.
She only started seriously pursuing volleyball in 10th grade and has since landed a spot as an outside hitter with the Gophers’ volleyball powerhouse.
Before her career on the court, Mau focused her attention almost exclusively on the pitch as a soccer player.
And her singing and ukulele playing has garnered hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, along with recording contract offers in sixth grade.
But of all her talents, volleyball might be her biggest — and the Gophers are excited to have pried her away from her home state.
Mau hails from Kahaluu, Hawaii, and said she has had to adapt to Midwestern sensibilities since moving to the mainland.
“I got here, [and] it was a total culture shock,” Mau said. “I can’t even hug people here. It’s so different.”
She said the changes have been ongoing, but right now she’s focused solely on impacting Gophers volleyball.
“I want to be one of those girls [who makes people say], ‘Oh, she’s from Hawaii, and dang, she hits hard,’” Mau said.
So long soccer
Soccer runs in Mau’s family — her father and his brothers starred when they were young.
She’s played since she was 3 years old and said she never expected to switch sports so late in her playing career.
But when Mau very quickly grew to her current 6-foot-1-inch frame, she said the intense growing pains — from back aches to torn ligaments in her knees — forced her to take a break from sports.
But in 10th grade, a friend recommended they try out for the high school volleyball team together.
“The sucky thing was, I didn’t get to play with my friends because I made varsity,” Mau said. “And I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’”
Mau quickly adjusted to the new sport. When she attended a camp run by Hawaii head volleyball coach Dave Shoji, he told her mom she had potential as a player and referred her to renowned club team Asics Rainbows — the same club former Gophers and U.S. Olympic setter Lindsey Berg joined.
Mau said to keep up with teammates in her gym, who had been playing since their youth, she employed a competitive strategy.
“I picked one person that I really wanted to be like,” Mau said, “and I strived to get better than them.”
Rainbows club director Luis Ramirez helped Mau with her college recruiting decisions, because she was unfamiliar with big names in volleyball like Gophers head coach and former Olympic coach Hugh McCutcheon. 
Though Ramirez only coached her for a short time, he said he was confident in her ability to move on to Division I.
“She had been a joy to train,” he said. “She [is] … a very hard worker. I know she’s going to do really, really well because she hasn’t even scratched the surface of her potential.”
Ukuleles and volleyballs
Mau enrolled in classes at Minnesota last spring to help her adjustment before the fall season. She said the move was especially hard because she had to be away from her grandfather, who had been diagnosed with cancer right before she left.
Still, Mau pressed on.
“We’re very proud of her accomplishment … and being independent,” her grandfather David Mau said. “And we’ve seen her mature dramatically in just a few months.”
While her family has noticed her maturation, Mau’s current teammates appreciate her giddy personality.
“She brings a lot of energy on and off the court,” said senior middle blocker Tori Dixon. “She’s definitely one of the crazy ones. … She definitely does her own thing no matter what.” 
Mau said the second team All-American Dixon inspired her to join the Gophers.
“I want to be one of those girls that I look up to [now],” she said. “When I first got here, I’ve never seen anyone hit the ball harder than Tori, and I wanted to be like her.”
Mau said that in practice she screams with excitement every time her hit manages to get past Dixon’s block.
McCutcheon said when Mau puts her mind to it,  her attack can be nearly unstoppable.
“She’s learning how to work hard,” he said. “She’s learning how to compete. And when she frees herself up, she hits a really heavy ball.”
Mau said she hopes to play as well as Dixon one day but realizes she still has several years of learning ahead of her — especially because it’s only her third year playing the sport.
Mau saw her first playing time at the Diet Coke Classic at home Sept. 6-7. 
She said she was surprised by how nervous she was to make her collegiate debut.
“I was, like, stage fright,” Mau said. “I go up and sing in front of so many people, and I was just shaking.”
Mau performed with popular Hawaiian bands when she was young. Eventually, a YouTube video of her singing posted by one of her sister’s classmates gained so many views that she received record contract offers, but her mother told her not to take them seriously.
In her brief time in college, she’s entered talent contests and even sang at the athletics department’s end-of-the-year banquet last spring.
Still, Mau said she’s never considered turning her hobby into a profession.
“I never thought about actually being a professional singer because … I don’t want to be so busy that I don’t have time for the people I love,” she said.
Instead, the teen has decided to focus on her time with the Gophers. 
“I just want to be remembered,” Mau said. “I didn’t come all this way to just sit on the side and observe.”