By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Kamehameha senior Shae Kanakaole keeps pushing herself in the classroom, where she holds a 4.2 grade-point average, the theme of Imua or translated to “go forward” on her mind.
The 5-foot-8 outside hitter hopes to do similar work with the volleyball team, which is riding atop the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I standings with a 6-0 record, tied for first place with Hilo.
The Warriors and Vikings (5-0) don’t meet until Saturday, Sept. 29 when Koai‘a Gym will also play host to Kealakehe (3-2) in a BIIF cluster of matches.
Kanakaole is asked too often to count if she’s related to Edith Kanakaole, one of Hawaii’s most revered kumu hula and whose legacy runs strong with the edithkanakaolefoundation.org website. She’s a great aunt to the National Honors Society student.
As a freshmen and sophomore, Kanakaole posted perfect 4.0 GPAs. She took honors English and trigonometry and jumped even higher on the academic mountain top.
“I just do the work,” she said. “I like to get A’s. I know I have to work for it. It’s just not going to come to me.”
That’s a lifetime message from her parents Kaniala, a supervisor at Helco, and Lea, a nurse at the Hilo Community Surgery Center.
“They tell me don’t take stuff for granted,” Kanakaole said. “My mom tells me to play my hardest every single game.”
Her hard work and production have led to honors in volleyball, too. Last season, Kanakaole landed on the All-BIIF first team, while helping the Warriors to their second straight league title, and an eighth consecutive appearance at the state tournament.
Seeded third, the Warriors lost to Kamehameha-Kapalama in the quarterfinals, and were eliminated by Baldwin in consolation action, much room for improvement in Kanakaole’s eyes.
“My goal is I want to win the BIIF championship and place in the top four at states,” she said. “The highest we’ve finished is fifth when I was a sophomore. I want to beat that.”
Kamehameha coach Kyle Kaaa took over the team when Kanakaole and his daughter, setter Acacia, were freshmen. He’s also a science teacher at the school.
“I had Shae as a seventh grader and she was pretty much straight As,” he said. “On the court, she’s very coachable, and she’s somebody who will make friends with anybody. She’s trustworthy and she and my daughter are great friends. She’s a great student and a great athlete. If you look at a student-athlete, that’s her.
“She’s our No. 1 outside hitter. She can play many positions and be really valuable. If we needed her to go to the middle or right side or libero, she could do that. With her skills, she would be valuable on any team.”
Kanakaole takes a good share of swings. Kaiulani Ahuna, a 5-9 sophomore, is the other outside hitter and freshman Jeyci Kaili starts on the right side, giving the Warriors a nice menu of offensive options.
But the senior spark plug would rather energize her team in other ways. She’s a sight to see when she soars high and drives the ball to the floor. Her other skills are just as noteworthy.
“I get happy when I get a good pass or dig,” she said. “A lot of people don’t recognize that passing and digging is the key to the sport.
“I like the energy when I play. When I was younger, I played soccer but the points were so scarce you hardly had a chance to celebrate. In volleyball, you celebrate every point.”
Over the summer, she played on the Pilipaa club team that went to Florida. She was too old for the Hilo squad that placed sixth at the USA High Performance tournament for ages 15-16 in Iowa. But she worked out with the team.
“She’s very athletic and a strong multi-tool player. She hits well, she’s quick and works hard,” said assistant coach Chris Leonard, who also coached Pilipaa. “She’s fun to work with. I’ve had her two years and she played club ball. She brings a lot of energy to the court, and she’s fun to work with and watch. As talented as she is, she’s also a good team player.”
Kanakaole put her recruiting profile on the website ncsasports.org. She’s looking at Fairleigh Dickinson in New Jersey, and Occidental College in Los Angeles, a pair of academically driven schools known for their liberal arts programs.
She doesn’t have a profession in mind yet. But at least the two Division III schools offer volleyball and play at a high level. Last season, FDU was 29-10 and OC went 22-9.
Kanakaole isn’t interested in following her mom’s nursing footsteps. She’s hoping something will catch her attention in a liberal arts class.
Wherever she lands, Kanakaole will be well served with her education from Kamehameha. Learning Hawaiian follows the mission statement of her great aunt’s foundation — to perpetuate the teachings, beliefs, practices, philosophies and traditions of the late Luka and Edith Kanakaole.
And what does Imua mean to her at Kamehameha?
“I like knowing that learning Hawaiian helps preserve and perpetuate my cultural,” Kanakaole said. “I have the chance to work with children at Punana Leo (a Hawaiian immersion preschool in Keaau) who all speak Hawaiian. We all have the same goal.”
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