By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Kamehameha depended on Evan Enriques to be the center of attention in every volleyball match, and the 6-foot-1 outside hitter usually delivered, swinging away and playing with relentless energy, which soon became not only his but the team’s trademark as well.
Last season, the Warriors finished runner-up to Punahou for the Division I state championship, falling in five sets, a thriller that highlighted Enriques’ hitting talents and his squad’s reliance on him.
He knocked down 42 of Kamehameha’s 53 kills. He took 110 swings, one day after recording a career-high 112 swings in a semifinal win over Moanalua, when he clobbered 35 kills, added 20 digs and roofed his way for five blocks.
The Warriors had a seasoned supporting cast, but four of those starters graduated, including three ball-handlers: libero Ryan Thomas, and setters Daniel Aina Jr. and DJ Grant-Johnson. Israel Trusdell, a middle blocker, also departed.
Kaipo “Bear” Woolsey, the other returning starter, moves from middle to right-side hitter to offer a little offensive balance, and hopefully open up hitting lanes for Enriques, who jumped into the weight room over the summer and improved his vertical by two inches, touching 10 feet, 7 inches.
“Bear is our No. 1 middle by arms and tails and we can always throw him back in the middle, but he can be more effective on the outside,” coach Guy Enriques said. “If he can fill that role, he can add a dimension that last year’s team had.”
When not setting, Aina and Grant-Johnson alternated as right-side hitters. Even when Kamehameha’s passing was on the money, Woolsey didn’t see a lot of sets in the middle, the equivalent to football’s fullback, a job with limited opportunities.
No doubt, Woolsey, who played football for Kamehameha in his last go-around as a senior, is looking forward to putting down a few more kills. He made the All-BIIF Division II first team at defensive line, and was All-BIIF Division I second team for volleyball last season.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s the first time I’ve played outside in my whole life,” he said. “We’re a young team and I want to bring leadership and try to set an example. I know I won’t get every set and put away every ball. But I’m going to try as hard as I can, and hopefully everybody picks up on that and plays as hard as they can.
“We have to gel as a team and that’s really important because we’re so small and young. Our ball-control will be really important. That’s our bread-and-butter, serving and receiving.”
Woolsey may have a bright future as a volleyball analyst someday. He neatly summarized his team’s outlook with his last three sentences.
Aina’s jump-serve was a deadly top-spin sinker, which often led to wobbly passing and sets to the outside, where the Warriors could stack their block. There’s no one on the roster with a comparable serving weapon, at least not yet.
And on the flip side of the first-touch coin, opposing teams will be on a search-and-hunt mission, serving the Warriors tough to see who can pass. Likewise, if passes are shaky then sets — it’s a chore to set the middle when the quarterback is scrambling — will go to the outside, another reason for Woolsey’s job transfer.
In Evan Enriques’ mind, those are issues to be ironed out at practice. The junior outside hitter and reigning BIIF Player of the Year is relentless, not only in his playing style but also in his thinking. There is no reverse gear in his car.
“We have to potential to be better than last year,” he said. “I see a lot of chemistry, especially with the carry-over from last year. A lot of players experienced going to the state finals and got a taste of that. That’s what pretty much drives us.
“We’ve got a lot of new players. One of our goals as a team is to work those people into the rotation and build the chemistry from last year.”
Father and son think the same. Guy Enriques also knows the best way to get better is to play top-caliber competition. That said, he’s no fan of the BIIF’s decision to scrap the power-packed Red and Blue divisions for the old round-robin format.
“We have the potential to be as good as last year, but really have to work hard,” he said. “The key for us is practice. It has to be bigger than anything we do. Last year, we had four teams ranked in the (Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s state) Top 10 poll, Hilo, Waiakea, us and Hawaii Prep. We played each other twice, like the ILH (Interscholastic League of Honolulu) and would go battle every night. We may not get that competition here.”
Kamehameha will hit the road in search of ILH-type of competition. No surprise, ILH schools have won every state championship dating back to 1980. Roosevelt, of the Oahu Interscholastic Association, captured three in a row from 1977 to ’79.
The Warriors will play in the 16-team McKinley tournament in early March. Then a few weeks later, they’ll play in Iolani’s tourney. In April, they’ll return to Oahu for Kamehameha-Kapalama’s Challenge Cup, and were invited for the first time to Punahou’s tournament, which features two top teams from California.
In the state quarterfinals, Kamehameha beat older brother Kamehameha-Kapalama in four sets. Woolsey contributed nine kills to Enriques’ shoulder-carrying 35 kills. Woolsey is anxious to see all those old faces from states again.
“Personally, it hurt being so close (losing 15-13 to Punahou in the last set),” Woolsey said. “We have to turn that switch on and have everybody buy into that fire and desire, and play at the top of our games all the time.
“I’m looking forward to playing Punahou. It’ll be a real test for us, to play the best of the best, again.”
The Kamehameha coach is hoping his lineup is settled at that time. One important position battle will be for setter. Emmett Enriques, Evan’s sophomore brother, is a candidate along with senior Shannon Kanakaole and junior Logan Uyetake.
“Each brings different things. They’re inexperienced and haven’t run their own team or been the one in charge,” Guy Enriques said. “We need somebody to step up really quick.”
Meanwhile, it was well into the night after the inaugural Warriors Challenge at Koai‘a Gym, and most of the players were finishing dinner. Then Enriques turned to the subject of his team’s bread-and-butter, the first touches of the ball that often serve as a recipe for success.
“The key is our ball-control, our ability to serve and receive,” he said. “We have to beat teams with our serve and receive. If we’re better at serve and receive, when we step on the court, no matter who we play, we have a chance to win that match.”