By Walter Villa
When it comes to volleyball, Misty Ma’a comes from Hawaiian royalty.
The 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter at Kamehameha (Honolulu, Hawaii) is the daughter of former pro volleyball players Pono Ma’a and Lisa Strand. Pono was a two-time All-American at the University of Hawaii. Strand led UH to its first two NCAA national titles.
Pono, who set the school record for kills while at Hawaii, has remained in the game, coaching a highly successful junior volleyball program. Strand has also stayed active, serving as a TV analyst for UH volleyball games.
Not only is the Ma’a moniker special on the island, the name “Misty” has obvious volleyball significance as well. Misty May-Treanor is one-half of perhaps the greatest beach volleyball team ever, along with Kerri Walsh.
Given all that, was there any doubt Misty Ma’a would play volleyball?
“I was raised around the game, and it became a part of me whether I wanted it or not,” said Ma’a, Hawaii’s Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2010 and one of the nation’s top college prospects. “As time went on, I became more passionate about volleyball.”
In a sense, the Ma’a family story is all about passion. Pono, a native Hawaiian, was a standout high school athlete when he took a recruiting visit to UH. On his first day on campus, he spotted the 6-foot blonde who would become his wife.
Strand, from Santa Barbara, Calif., was a freshman on the UH team at the time. Pono, who is 6-4, was so smitten that he turned down a baseball scholarship to Southern Cal and decided that his destiny included volleyball at UH … and Strand.
Pono and Strand have been together for 30 years, but it nearly never happened. On the day they met, a homesick Strand had made plans to transfer out of Hawaii and head back to Santa Barbara, where her family includes her identical twin sister, Kelly.
“But after three weeks at home, I realized I had made a mistake,” she said. “I had made a commitment to the team, and I knew I had to return to Hawaii.”
Pono and Strand eventually married, and when it came time for the couple to name their first child, they argued about the decision for months. Strand’s hospital bed overlooked the mountains, and there was a mist emanating from those peaks on the day of their daughter’s birth.
That’s where Misty got her name, and the fact that Pono knew May-Treanor’s family and played volleyball against her father was just a happy coincidence.
Misty Ma’a’s three siblings -- brother Micah and sisters Mehana and Maluhia – have mostly followed the family tradition of volleyball.
Micah, a 5-11 setter, is 14 and has played on four straight national champion youth volleyball teams. Mehana, 11, has also taken to the game. Maluhia, 9, has shown more of an interest in fashion design and hip-hop dancing but is starting to play the sport as well.
“It’s natural that when we are all playing in the backyard,” Pono said, “that she wants to join in, too.”
The intensity of those backyard games is the stuff of legend. The kids often bring friends over to play, and that just ramps up the competition level even further.
Pono and Strand have tried to get their children to tone it down and play without keeping score, but the kids always find a way to determine a winner.
“Whoever loses is really upset,” Misty Ma’a said. “It’s pretty typical for someone to leave the house and go for a walk to cool off. Sometimes we wouldn’t talk too much at dinner.”
Fortunately for Ma’a, she doesn’t lose often. Kamehameha has won six straight state titles and is a strong contender for seven in a row this fall.
But Ma’a has other interests beyond volleyball. She wants to study communications and has also done modeling for Project Runway -- even if it’s a subject she doesn’t like talking about too much.
“You just sound so conceited when you say you are modeling,” Ma’a said. “It’s not like I always wanted to be a model. It just came up.”
Still, Ma’a is serious enough about the potential career that she is considering playing volleyball for the University of Miami, in part because she can escape the spotlight of her family name in Hawaii but also for the vibrant modeling scene in that city.
Her parents were initially against her modeling.
“We always told her that beauty comes from within,” Strand said. “But she kept asking. She kept getting stopped and asked to do photo shoots. She does stand out – she’s 6-1 and a beautiful girl with a unique look.
“She said, ‘Mom, I really want to do this.’ So we went over some rules, what was acceptable and what was not.”
Pono marvels at his daughter’s maturity and independence. He said she’s handled her college recruitment as if she had been doing it all her life.
“I ask her if she needs help sending her transcripts to a college, and she will say, ‘No, Dad, I got it,’ “ Pono said. “When she’s had her modeling gigs, she takes the bus and gets there on her own. It’s kind of scary how little she needs us.”
Ma’a has been flooded with college offers, and each time a big batch of letters arrives from major universities, her siblings draw inspiration.
“The younger ones want to be recruited like that, too,” Pono said. “They say, ‘Come on, Dad, let’s go to the backyard. I want to hit 100 more serves.’ ”