Michael Fisher and Micah Ma’a are returning home – at least, for the weekend. The outside hitter-setter duo journey back to the Aloha State with the rest of the UCLA men’s volleyball team for a pair of matches in the place they know best.

(Photo by Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Michael “Fish” Fisher and Micah Ma’a are similar in two major ways.

For one, both are contributing heavily to the success of the No. 1 UCLA men's volleyball squad.

Fisher has come in off the bench to provide the Bruins with height, offensive power and a competitive spark that fires up the team. The junior outside hitter has posted 37 kills over 22 sets.

Ma’a has been one half of the setting duo that is the stalwart of the Bruins' 6-2 offense this season. With 84 kills and 220 assists, the freshman has become one of the brightest young players, not just at UCLA but also in the country.

The second similarity is that both can lay claim to having their hometowns in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Kailua, Hawaii – A quaint little town on the eastern shore of Oahu. It’s a place where one can always smell the ocean and is within walking distance of world-class beaches, a movie-esque town and the beautiful mountains. For Fisher, this is home.

As a teenager, Fisher attended Hawai'i Baptist Academy, where he immediately found himself a head above the rest.

(Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

“I was one of the tallest kids in the entire school; high and middle school,” Fisher said. “So head varsity coach Teoni Obrey kind of picked me out and really molded me into the player I am today.”

Hawaii being as small as it is, Fisher and Ma’a naturally competed against each other in high school.

“I remember playing him my senior year in the 'Iolani classic,” Fisher said. “(Ma'a's team), Punahou, had (former USC outside hitter and current UH transfer) Tui Tuilet, Kupono Fey and a bunch of other guys who were just good. And it was me, my little brother and then just a random group of guys. You would look at us and think, 'How are these guys on the same court as Punahou?'”

HBA ended up taking a set from Punahou School, but that was all it would get. Regardless, it was a major upset that HBA was able to take even a single set.

(Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

As Fisher progressed, he began to excel at the club volleyball level.

From the time Fisher was 14, he and the University of Hawai'i outside hitter Kupono Fey were teammates. Their club team did exceptionally well, especially during their 18’s year. Eventually, Fisher moved up to the USA A2 program, only a step under the junior national team.

Having no major familial ties to volleyball, Fisher has started his own dynasty.

“Then, in turn, (coach Obrey) has taken my little brother and sister and molded them into players,” Fisher said. “So I think we’re starting to become a volleyball family.”

(Courtney Tran/Daily Bruin)

Kane'ohe, Hawaii — Micah Ma’a’s home is a town that sits adjacent to Kailua. Despite their geographical similarities, the two towns have very different feels. Instead of Whole Foods, Kane'ohe displays its own brand of mom-and-pop stores as well as major chains where everybody knows your name – rather than first-generation Hawaii residents, many old, local families inhabit the gentle green valley.

(Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Ma’a, like his town, has had a far different story than his neighbor.

His father, Pono Ma’a, and mother, Lisa Strand Ma’a both played at the University of Hawai'i in the '80s.

Lisa helped lead the UH Wahine to their first national championships in 1982 and 1983 and Pono was a two-time All-American, the first member of the UH Warrior’s 1,000-kill club. He would further etch his name into the record books, setting single-season records in a trio of categories in 1986.

After college, both enjoyed fruitful professional careers on the court and the beach.

Ma’a’s older sister also saw high-level success in volleyball. Misty Ma’a was Hawaii’s Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2010 and went on to play at the University of Miami on a scholarship.

With a plethora of volleyball greats around him, Ma’a credited his family for getting him started in the sport.

“My mom was my first coach actually. She threw me on my older sister’s team when I was about seven,” Ma’a said. “I was the only boy so I was just a rascal and I didn’t really care much. But then it slowly became more important to my family and me. Then at about 10, we started our first club team with my dad coaching."

“Hawaii will always be my favorite place on Earth. No matter how special anywhere else I go is ... Hawaii is the place of my ancestors and my people.”

Micah Ma’a

Ever since those early beginnings up until his college days, Ma'a's dad was the only club coach he ever had, helping him to seven national championships on those teams.

But it wasn’t only family that helped the young Ma’a along. Being surrounded by great volleyball means you also meet great volleyball players outside of the family.

“Tui Tuilet and (Stanford libero) Evan Enriques always drove me to be much better at volleyball than I probably ever would’ve pushed myself,” Ma’a said. “They’ve always been like my older brothers.”

Ma’a spent most of his schooling years on the campus of academic and athletic powerhouse, Punahou. All the while Ma'a played, Punahou's volleyball teams would stack up to expectation.

Even though their high school matchup was years ago, Fisher still enjoys jabbing at Ma'a a little.

“I remember we played them in the 'Iolani classic and they stole a set,” Ma’a said. “Our coach was just irate; he was not having it. And Fisher still talks about it now like, ‘Oh dude, remember how we beat you guys in that one set,’ like he did all the work … But it was all good fun.”

(Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Westwood, California — When it came to choosing a college, volleyball opened the doors for both of them. But for Fisher, it was the influence of coaches that pushed him through.

Recruitment started during Fisher's sophomore year and consisted of schools calling to express interest.

Obrey pulled Fisher aside to give him the news, but Fisher wasn’t sure which opportunity to run with.

(Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

“I was like, ‘That’s pretty cool, I never thought I’d do that,'” Fisher said. “So I asked him, ‘What do you think, where do you think I should go?’ and he told me to go wherever John Speraw goes because he’s the best coach right now.”

At that time, Speraw was the coach at UC Irvine. But once Speraw took the job at UCLA in 2012, that’s when things turned very serious.

“I saw Fisher when I was in Irvine,” Speraw said. “Then I got the job at UCLA and he was the first guy we started recruiting.”

Fisher’s transition to college wasn’t an easy one, but the camaraderie of the volleyball team made it easier.

"In Hawaii, I was a big fish in a small pond, but you get up here and it’s an ocean basically." Michael Fisher

“In Hawaii, I was a big fish in a small pond, but you get up here and it’s an ocean basically,” Fisher said. “We’ve always just tried to make everyone feel like they don’t need to do anything to be a part of the team, you’re already in the family, you just got to go play volleyball."

As a freshman, Ma'a's college transition is still an ongoing process.

“It’s been easier than I’ve expected because of the fact that our team is super close,” Ma’a said. “When I moved up here I knew I’d miss my family – I knew I’d miss the weather and beaches – but the main thing was my family. But that void has been filled by my team … From day one, I felt like I had someone always by my side – well, actually, 17 of them.”

Speraw has tried to foster this type of welcoming environment since the beginning.

“I try very hard to break down old hierarchies,” Speraw said. “I try very hard to be respectful, teach and communicate with everybody as best I can. And I think the way you act, the way you behave and the example you set is ultimately the behavior pattern your team will emulate.”

Despite the thousands of miles now separating the pair of Bruins from their families, their love for Hawaii hasn't been dampened.

“I can’t imagine living anywhere else or growing up anywhere else,” Fisher said. “People in Hawaii are just so genuinely kind and they care about you – not that the people on the mainland aren’t like that, but it’s just a whole different feel when you’re in Hawaii. And growing up in a place like that is really special; I’m grateful that my parents raised me in Hawaii.”

Volleyball, a constant in Fisher and Ma’a’s lives, is just one of the many ties that bring the two together.

“Hawaii will always be my favorite place on Earth,” Ma’a said. “No matter how special anywhere else I go is, I won’t let myself say that it’s better than Hawaii just because Hawaii is the place of my ancestors and my people. And being Hawaiian is truly a huge privilege to me. I’m more than proud of being Hawaiian.”