By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Maxine Block is well on her way to meeting a goal to become well-rounded, especially after polishing her game during the summer with the Moku O Keawe team, which placed sixth at the USA High-Performance tourney in Iowa.
The 5-foot-8 Pahoa middle blocker sharpened her skills under the tutelage of Tino Reyes, the Moku O Keawe and UH-Hilo coach, learning the best way to help a team is to keep the ball in play, whether hitting, passing or serving.
A summer earlier, Block played club ball with Hi-Intensity, coached by Carla Carpenter-Kabalis, the UHH and NAIA Hall of Famer, picking up golden intangibles, such as playing with a positive mindset and always looking to improve in all facets.
“It was the perfect mix for me,” Block said. “Coach Tino is a very technical coach. He has a mathematical mind in volleyball and he’s all about stats. He’s all about simple repeatable movements and most important is to keep the ball in play.
“I learned so much from coach Carla, especially the mental game. She’s so smart and it’s intimidating. But she has a motherly quality you feel, a warmness when you enter the gym. But you know you’ll work hard.
“She really stresses to be the best at everything, to master every skill. She’s told us to better the ball on every ball touch. She also wants us to always support and encourage our teammates. She always stresses that.”
Like any block of clay, she has been influenced for the better by a village. She credits her parents John and Jenny Block for shaping her thinking much in the same way, and Eric Cockcroft, Eden Scanlan and Leimomi Flores, her first three volleyball coaches.
Block attends charter school Hawaii Academy of Arts & Science, a close neighbor of the Daggers, where Cockcroft is a teacher. He also coached a Parks and Recreation team that Block decided to join in eighth grade. Scanlan is Pahoa’s coach and Flores an assistant.
Her sisters, freshmen twins Genevieve and Madeline, also attend HAAS and are members of the junior varsity volleyball team. Cockcroft intends to keep Na Naia at the JV level next season, sparing Block the dilemma of choosing to play with her sisters or transfer to Pahoa and compete with the Daggers.
“She’s come a long way since we had her on our club team in the eighth grade,” Scanlan said. “She’s improved a lot. She used to be timid. Now she plays with more confidence in herself.”
Flores pointed out that Block leads by inspiration, constantly pushing herself and setting the tempo for the Daggers, who have a 4-7 record in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation.
“She’s got a great attitude,” Flores said. “She wants to play volleyball in college and wants to succeed. She’s motivated and that pumps up the team. She knows what she wants.”
Block was a swimmer, getting into the sport in the sixth grade, after her family moved to Pahoa during the previous summer from Long Beach, Calif., and once she found volleyball she’s gone full-steam ahead.
“I’ve always loved the water. I was a naturally good swimmer and placed in almost every P&R race with the Pahoa Dolphins,” she said. “I was a freestyle and backstroke sprinter. All the pressure is on you. It was intense but challenging. You always wanted to beat yourself.
“The twins were trying out for the volleyball team and my mom pushed me to try out. I liked it because it was more than just yourself. It was the opposite of swimming. Coach Cockcroft made it simple, but it was intense and exciting and I got to hit the ball. That was fun.”
Block worked hard and improved enough to land a spot on the High-Performance squad, a highlight for the HAAS junior with a 3.4 grade-point average.
“That was one of the best experiences of my life, so far. I was surprised I made the team. On the tryout day, my hitting was off,” she said. “When I got the email, I was almost jumping 10 feet in the air. I was so happy. It meant the ladder was there for climbing. It was a big opportunity to advance my game.
“I did and everybody noticed that. I noticed it myself. On that region team the pace is lightning fast. You’re playing with the best players on the island and want to be as good as them. Everybody is the epitome of competitiveness.”
Pahoa last reached the state tournament in 1997, before the Hawaii High School Athletic Association introduced statewide classification eight years later. The school’s previous state trip came in 1986, long dry spells between celebrated seasons.
Ka‘u (10-2), seeking its first BIIF title, Konawaena (10-2) and two-time league champion Hawaii Prep (9-2) look like safe bets to gobble up the Division II state tournament spots, again.
“It’s not about the record. It’s about the improvement of our team,” Block said. “I want everyone to want it. Sometimes I do get frustrated, but I have to let it go. I make mistakes just as much as my teammates. I have to better the ball, like coach Carla said, and be positive toward my teammates as much as I can.”
Flores’ description of Block’s great attitude didn’t come by accident.
“My parents are a huge and strong foundation for me,” Block said. “They’ve always taught me to have a good head on my shoulders. My mom says to be well-rounded in everything, not just volleyball or off the court, but at school and also to your parents, family and represent yourself as best as you can.
“My dad’s my best friend. Whenever he has to reprimand me when I make a mistake, he never attacks me, like ‘Why did you do that?’ He says, ‘You know you should do better.’ He lights a path that I couldn’t see.”
Block speaks in easy aphorisms, her strength showing in English. She wants to become an English teacher. The twins will likely head in a different direction, stronger in the opposite field.
“Since I play volleyball, you have that team environment and social correlation. Social relations are important throughout life,” she said. “That’s why I want to become a teacher. There’s so much interaction and I’m social, so teaching would be the best choice for me. I love to teach and I love people.
“Genevieve is great in science and Madeline is great at math. They don’t have that passion for writing, reading and language arts that I do. I got that more from my dad. The twins are more of my mom.”
Her parents are in shipping and her mom runs an import and export shipping business. And the family’s support runs strong at Pahoa home games.
“My mom is Filipino,” Block said. “We have a lot of rules based off culture, definitely respecting your elders is a big one. Cooking and cleaning is an important part of the day and life.
“My mom also makes the best adobo I’ve ever tasted. She sells it at the concession stand at our home games. It keeps me healthy.”
Block is good
She’s got a fitting last name for volleyball, although blocking is rather low on Block’s favorite to-do list of priorities.
“Passing is most important to me. Coach Leimomi always stresses that you can’t do anything without good serve-receive passing,” Block said. “That’s first on my totem pole. Then it’s my offense because you always want the opportunity to hit than block. It’s more fun to me. It’s an amazing feeling to get a block, but it’s a bonus for me.”
Block is already sending out letters to schools, hoping to land a scholarship somewhere, preferably on the West Coast or one of the four Pacific West Conference Hawaii schools: UHH, Chaminade, Hawaii Pacific or BYU-Hawaii.
If she goes to a school with uniform names on the back, the public address of “block by Block,” would have a nice ring to it.
“I’m happy with the last name Block,” Block said. “It would be cool to see my name on the back of a jersey and hear that. Hopefully that will happen later on.”
Getting blocked was previously a problem, especially on swings from the middle. Block also hits the ball from the left and right posts for the Daggers, as well as from the back row.
“I always used to hit it straight down the middle and would get stuffed like a turkey. The defense would camp on me,” she said. “Coach Tino taught me to hit angle in the middle.”
Then Block drifted back to her summer days, toiling to improve and become well-rounded. She smiled at the memory.
“We would practice hours and hours, over and over. I think that practice was vital to my game today,” she said.
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In the spotlight
Position: Middle blocker
Accomplishment: USA High-Performance team