Last fall, as the 50th state’s favorite daughter, Michelle Wei, prepared to take on the world’s best female and male golfers, a young woman three years older than Wei entered her final season of high school competition – one more fall of digs, sets, and spikes before joining Wei in the continental United States and wrecking havoc on NCAA volleyball competition.

The woman is Fairfield freshman Lindsey Lee. If you don’t know her, you should, because Lee has indeed wrecked more havoc in this young season than any Stag in any sport this fall. The best part is, this pearl from the Pacific didn’t come alone. She brought with her two teammates from her two time league championship team at St. Joseph High School.

For Lee, setter Ashley Hanohano ’08, and outside hitter Jazmin Pa’Akoula ’08, winning was all they knew about upon arriving at Fairfield.

The three stars not only carried their team to the state tournament every year, but also brought home the small Catholic school’s very first girls conference championship in any sport in its 137 year history. They drew crowds so large that the team had to move out of its small school gym and into a bigger county facility.

“During the state tournament we played in front of 3,000 people, and they were all cheering for those girls. Everyone wanted to be like them,” says Hanohano’s mother, Rachelle, the head coach at St. Joseph.

Interestingly, the younger Hanohano and Pa’Akoula were voted captains by their teammates immediately upon arrival at St. Joseph.

They led the team to the state tournament that year without Lee, who had not yet come to St. Joe’s. When Lee transferred in, the team was taken to the next level.

Says the elder Hanohano of the 5’5″ Lee, whose leaping ability could be called Jordanian, “I won’t have another athlete that can duplicate what she’s done. Players like her come around once every ten years.”

True to form, Lee has transformed a Fairfield team that went just 7-23 last year to the MAAC contender that it was in previous years, when it won three straight championships from 1999-2001.

Through the first 15 games, including an invitational tournament the Stags hosted last weekend at Alumni Hall, they have already surpassed last year’s win total with a record of 8-7. Leading the team in nearly every category, Lee was named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week two weeks ago and followed it up by winning the Defensive Player of the Week. Pa’akaula earned back-to-back Rookie of the Week awards.

“If the team’s offense is struggling, they’ll turn it up on that end,” says head coach Jeff Werneke. “If the team’s defense is struggling, that’s where they’ll step it up. Heaven forbid they put it all together at the same time.”

All this makes Werneke’s job a lot easier. After seeing his team fall from greatness last year despite having a talented four member senior class, this trio and the three other rookies who accompanied them have been just what the doctor ordered. In this case, the doctor ordered it well in advance – in fact, the order was placed when Lee and her fellow queens of the court were just 16 years old and playing for their club team, also coached by Rachelle Hanohano, at a national tournament in Las Vegas. For Werneke, it is etched in his memory as one of the greatest discoveries of his coaching career.

“A couple of other coaches and I were going to get some food, and as I was about to walk out of the gym, out of the corner of my eye I saw this girl jump right out of the gym,” he says. “So I told the other guys to go ahead, and just sat there and watched as [Lee] made her 6’2″ opponent look foolish.”

What Werneke has now is a product of what he saw that day: three newcomers who know each other like the backs of their hands.

“We have chemistry that took years to develop,” Lee says. “I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am today without them.”

As for the record breaking potential these ladies bring to North Benson Road, Werneke says that the number of Fairfield records that will stand when the St. Joe’s women are gone, is “up to them.”

That sits very well with all three players. In fact, the three all came up with a similar phrase that could be the motto of this team for years to come: “the sky is the limit.”

So it appears that although Wei may be the favorite daughter of the state, these three up-and-coming stars are also the favorite daughters of their coach, and of their high school. If all continues to go so smoothly, they’ll quickly become Fairfield favorites as well.

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