Nov. 18 – Over two years in Hawaii, Mylana Byrd has developed a leadership role based on her attention to preparation.
Over two years in Hawaii, Mylana Byrd has built a leadership role based on her attention to preparation.
As the backup setter for the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team, Byrd spends most of her game nights preparing for her opportunities on the court while reminding her teammates to stay committed as well.
“That’s a big thing that I always emphasize,” Byrd said. “Stay warm, stay loose, stay ready.”
In pre-game practices, she directs the “B-side” to push starters towards the challenges that await them over the weekend.
Even before Rainbow Wahine reports to the gym, she takes the lead to organize the group and keep them on track for the day’s tasks.
“She’s like the mother of the group,” said UH coach Robyn Ah Mow. “She always asks me the questions in our group text: ‘Hey Coach, I just want to make sure we do this.’ It’s what keeps the girls engaged and doing what they need to do.”
However, preparing for the seniors’ day solo spotlight is another matter.
Byrd is honored after UH’s home final against Cal State Bakersfield on Sunday at the SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Byrd, a transfer from Alabama, had her first Hawaii retirement night a year ago when Brooke Van Sickle, Skyler Williams and Janelle Gong received the traditional send-off. On Sunday, she will have the stage to herself while her family travels from Texas for the celebrations.
“This feels like a very emotional moment,” Byrd told local media on Tuesday. “Seeing Brooke, Sky and Janelle was emotional. So seeing myself sounds like a lot, but it sounds exciting.”
Last year, the Rainbow Wahine had won the Big West Championship the day before the seniors night game. This time the award ceremony will take place as part of a tight title hunt.
The Rainbow Wahine (18-6, 15-1 BWC ) open the home stand today against third-seeded Cal Poly (16-11, 13-4 ), the team that conceded UH its only loss in conference play to date. After a break on Saturday, they meet CSU Bakersfield in their last appearance on their home pitch.
“This is an important weekend — not just for me, but we’ve been circling Cal Poly since we lost to them,” Byrd said. “So we’re all excited and ready to get up for this weekend.”
Byrd is nearing the end of a college volleyball journey that began with two seasons in Alabama after graduating from Episcopal High School in Houston. She played in 32 games with the Crimson Tide before entering the transfer portal after the 2019 season.
After a “roller coaster” of recruiting and commitment to UH (“It happened in about 24 hours,” she said), Byrd had to wait out the 2020 pandemic shutdown before making her Rainbow Wahine debut last season.
“You feel the aloha spirit and the calm, but there’s also an intensity once you get into the volleyball hall,” Byrd said of the move to the Islands. “I think that’s a big thing I’ve learned here, to just have patience and trust that things will work out, but still go ahead and pursue your goals.”
Byrd started in the first eight games of the 2021 season before Kate Lang took over hiring duties. Lang has held the starting job ever since, and Byrd continues to support her colleague from Texan.
“I feel like our connection as two setters really helps,” Byrd said. “I trust her and she trusts me, and we always have the back-and-forth communication.”
This includes game nights, where Byrd relays information she picks up during the game to the group on the floor.
“In the little briefing before a game starts, I always say: stay committed, stay focused, be ready to go in,” she said. “It’s just watching the game, but it’s watching your position. When you’re called out, what’s that special they need, what’s that spark?”
The 6-foot-2 Byrd grew up as a center blocker, and several of her 18-set appearances this season have involved the Wahine needing a block or touch at the net late in a tight game.
“Obviously everyone wants to play. My heart goes out to her, she doesn’t play that many games,” Ah Mow said. “But the person she is, the hard worker she is, the teammate she is, I think speaks for itself. And when she’s asked to come and play, she does what she has to do.”
While staying warm on the sidelines, she also helps keep the group loose by coordinating the celebrations on the bench between points and after the Aloha Ball. Byrd said the celebrations came “honestly out of nowhere,” although she credited Kendra Ham with the team’s Jack Sparrow-esque dance across the pitch after a recent game.
“I don’t know what happens at the back when they celebrate for points but I was privileged to see a video,” said Ah Mow. “Apparently she’s the one coordinating it all, so it shows she’s definitely a team player and cheers on her teammates.
As volleyball season draws to a close, Byrd also prepares for life after college. Growing up, she was inclined towards math and science, and she’s on track to graduate with a bioengineering degree in December.
She plans to stay over the summer and explore her options of continuing to play abroad and will take with her the experience of serving in a leadership role and setting an example of the importance of staying prepared.
“Looking back, I’m really grateful that I was recruited … to serve my two years here,” Byrd said. “I feel like I’ve grown not just as a volleyball player but as a person, and I’m happy with the people I’ve surrounded myself with.”
Tonight’s White Out and Food Drive Along with tonight’s match, dubbed the “White Out,” UH will also host a Food and Toiletry Drive in partnership with the Hawaii Food Vault.
The HFV is an on-campus organization that helps UH Manoa students who are dependent on basic needs. Fans are encouraged to donate non-perishable, unopened, unexpired food and toiletries at Gate 1 from 6pm to 7pm
HFV does not accept cash. Monetary donations can be made through the UH Foundation.
Visit hawaiiathletics.com for more information about the campaign, including a list of recommended fundraising items.