From Hawaii to Vermont, volleyball unites duo

Despite being three years apart, Jaeden Cruz, ’22, (left) and Gabby Ratte, ’19, share one distinguishing trait: both members of this year’s volleyball team are from Hawaii. (PHOTO BY BRANDON BIELINSKI )

Gabby Ratte, ’19, found herself in a dorm room a few thousand miles away from St. Michael’s at the National University of Ireland in Galway when she received unexpected news while she studied abroad last spring semester. Incoming first-year volleyball head coach Kim Lissina messaged Ratte that she was no longer going to be the only player on the team from Hawaii.

Lissinna recruited Jaeden Cruz, ’22, to be a part of the volleyball team, and now the Hawaiian duo of Ratte and Cruz are the only Hawaiians to attend St. Michael’s.

“I was shocked when I heard that (the team) was adding another player from Hawaii,” Ratte said. “I definitely did not expect to hear from coach while studying abroad in Ireland, but I was excited to reach out to Jaeden.”

Ratte, the team’s senior captain, is from Kula on the island of Maui. Cruz, is from Makakilo, a district of Honolulu, on the island of Oahu.

“Gabby and Jaeden come from a place where volleyball is part of the culture,” Lissinna said.

One part of the culture of volleyball in Hawaii are
the cheers they do.

“They have been teaching the girls cheers for sidelines to help keep up the energy up during games.”

“What we do in Hawaii when we’re on the bench is we do cheers, and I noticed no one was cheering,” Cruz said. “I started cheering and everyone was looking at me. My team loved it and they want me to teach them the cheers we do.”

Since coming here Ratte has been a leader on the team bringing her Hawaiian influence. Instantly she became one of the best scorers on the team – Ratte was the third-leading scorer last year with 94 points.

Ratte believes she has also influenced the team in their defense strategies. Back in Hawaii volleyball teams tend to have a scrappy defense, which means the team never lets a ball hit the ground.

“We’ve encouraged this idea of a scrappy defense,” Ratte said. “I’d like to say it’s improved on this team over the last couple years.”

For Cruz and Ratte, playing in the Northeast has been an adjustment.

“Northeast volleyball is not as intense,” Cruz said when comparing volleyball in Vermont to Hawaii. “It’s a different level. I didn’t think I was good enough. But after getting into it, I’m confident because how volleyball at home raised me.”

Ratte agreed. “It’s a lot more common in Hawaii to specialize in one sport and playing it year round,” Ratte said. “Where Jaeden and I are from, the dedication to one sport is a lot more common, so the expectations are a little bit higher.”

Neither athlete had St. Michael’s in their sights at first.

Ratte, attended Colby-Sawyer College for her first year, but ended up wanting to change to an elementary-education major and to still play volleyball. She found St. Michael’s and said the college was a great fit from the start.

Cruz was on her way home to put in her deposit for University of Hawaii, when Coach Lissinna called her Lissinna saw
her in a teammate’s recruitment film, and knew she wanted Cruz to play during her first year coaching at St. Michael’s.

“She was just talking me into it,” Cruz said. “And I was like wow, this is so surreal. It was just lucky.” The students have also bonded over similarities in their dialect.

“One day in practice we were unsure if we had finished a drill and Jaeden said ‘Are we pau?’” Ratte said. “Without thinking I said, ‘Not sure I’ll ask.’” Pau is “done” in Hawaiian, but no one else on the team had any idea what it meant.

“I like having those little slang words where I know what she’s talking about but no one else on the team does,” Ratte said. “It’s really cool that we understand each other on another level.”

Having Ratte as a teammate has made the transition into college a lot smoother for Cruz.

“We’re not from the same island, but we can relate to each other a lot. And she’s older than me so it’s really nice to go to her for anything, like when I miss home or I need help.”

The volleyball team hosts So. New Hampshire in its home opener on Thursday, Sept. 27 in the Ross Sports Center at 7 pm.