Allen To Be Inducted Into Hawai'i Circle Of Honor
SPOKANE, Wash. - They called him "A-Bomb."
Maybe it was for his 42-inch vertical or his three All-America honors or the countless University of Hawai'i offensive records. Nevertheless, from 1986-89, Gonzaga University assistant volleyball coach Allen Allen terrorized opponents on the court, and will be inducted into the UH Sports Circle of Honor this weekend.
"This honor is a little overwhelming," Allen reflected. "I am proud to be recognized for something of this magnitude. I mean, there are fewer than 100 members in the Circle of Honor of the thousands and thousands of athletes that have passed through Hawai'i. I am very grateful for this honor."
The Circle of Honor began in 1982 to honor individuals and teams that contributed to the growth, history and tradition of Hawai'i athletics. This year's class will be the 31st enshrinement with Allen, Kanoe Ka'aihue (women's volleyball) and Maureen O'Toole-Purcell (swimming/water polo).
This honor easily could not have bestowed Allen; originally he wanted to go to Hawai'i to play football. Growing up on the Samoa Islands Allen wanted to play football for the Oakland Raiders.
"Coming up my dream was to be a Raider," Allen laughed. "Raised in a third world country meant we only had electricity at certain times. I was lucky my village would have electricity on Sundays and I could watch American football on the only black and white. We would pick teams to cheer based on color, the light or the dark.
"So when I moved to the United States when I was eight, I saw an NFL film on Oakland. I fell in love with them because they were the dark and the light I grew up watching. I thought I was going to stay on the path to football, but the man upstairs had other plans for me."
In high school Allen was a star on the field. During his senior year at Castle High the school added men's volleyball as a sport. Allen decided to check it out because he needed something to do during the football offseason.
"The coach asked me to come and try out," Allen explained. "I was athletic enough to be good. So I joined the team. Later in the year the US men's national team came to Hawai'i to play an exhibition match against Japan. I went with my team and I was blown away. That was how you play volleyball."
Allen then had to make the decision. Would he attend Hawai'i on a football scholarship or go for volleyball.
"It was really tough," Allen said. "I could go be an outside linebacker or tight end like Dave Casper of the Raiders, but my heart and passion was with volleyball. It was all I wanted to do. I was playing every day."
Allen entered Hawai'i as a freshman in 1985 and redshirted that year. That season Allen witnessed a team that was not focused on winning and individuals who had their own agendas. Although there was talent on the team Allen knew he would work as hard as he could to change the culture in the program.
"The team was in disarray," Allen admitted. "After I redshirted, the team was better. But it was my freshman year playing that coach recruited a bunch of guys from Hawai'i. I think he had about eight of them. Those guys along with myself, were the new core. That's when things started to change."
Allen's sophomore year was his best at Hawai'i but it did not reflect on the win-loss record. He was a second team All-American, but the young core was still learning and making freshman mistakes.
"We were a young team that needed to stay the course," Allen shared. "Our coaches kept us fighting and I wanted to be the leader of this team. There were some tough times, but the best players were working the hardest. We had something special starting and the more we got after it the more we realized it."
It was Allen's junior and senior seasons when the team made a big splash. In 1988 as a first team All-American, Allen the Rainbows to the WIVA Championship Finals. They had beaten Pepperdine University 3-2 but fell one match short of the Final Four, losing to the University of California Santa Barbara 3-1.
Not making the Final Four was tough to swallow, but Allen could not have been prouder of what his team was accomplishing.
"It was special because we were a bunch of public school kids," Allen praised. "In those days if you were not from a private school it was assumed you could not play volleyball. We carried that chip on our shoulder and it gave us an edge."
Allen carried that edge until his final match as a senior in 1989. Hawai'i got its inaugural No. 1 rank that year and Allen was named a first team All-American for the third time. It was also the season Allen realized how much the program had transformed since he first started attending Hawai'i.
"When I first started playing, we had only a few hundred people at our matches," Allen recalled. "It was family and friends mostly. Into my junior year and during my senior year we packed the house in Klum Gym. Every match began to be televised and seating was standing room only."
His senior season would end in heartbreak with a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Stanford University in the WIVA Championship Finals. Despite never making it to the Final Four, Allen would never trade a moment of his career for anything.
"It changed my life," Allen reminisced. "My memories from those days will always be with me. These were the teammates that battled with me. These were the fans that supported me. I knew in my heart volleyball gave me the most joy and I love this sport."
Allen wrapped up his career with numerous honors and awards. He finished as the school career holder for kills (1,483), kill average (4.83), kill attempts (3,151), blocks solos (112), digs (739) and dig average (2.41). He was also the school's first three-time first-team All-American honoree and the program was 70-28 during his time.
However, all he did for the program paled in comparison to what it did for him.
"My junior year my dad passed away," Allen said. "The following match there was a small ceremony to honor him and fans packed Klum. Capacity was 3,000 and there were way more than that attending. All that support was so encouraging. All the pain was worth it for moments like that. I felt like I was walking on water."
Now 23 years removed from his days at Hawai'i, Allen carries those memories and learning lessons with him at Gonzaga.
"We had an assistant coach named Tony Crabb who was also an assistant on the 1984 men's Olympic team," Allen explained. "He was tough on me. He constantly challenged me and showed me the stats of the best players in the country, telling me I could do what they did. He planted the seeds for me as a player and a person. I try to mimic that in the way I coach."
Allen says it's the hardest teachers you learn from and remember the most. As he continues his coaching path with the Bulldogs, Allen will share his experiences and expertise with new generations of volleyball players.
"Hopefully my story can encourage a kid that I coach or that will be watching this weekend to reach their dreams," Allen said. "As for now, I am focused on doing what I did at Hawai'i here at Gonzaga with coach Dave Gantt. I see a lot of similarities in the program and we are close to having our squad on the same path we did at Hawai'i. I can't wait."
Until then, Allen will take time during conference season with the Zags to receive his honor. He knows it is significant for his family and community to witness the ceremony.
"I am proud my whole family and especially my kids get to see me accept the honor," Allen said.
Ceremonies begin Friday at 11 a.m. with a press conference at the Stan Sheriff Center's Ed Wong Hospitality Room.