By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The talent that Kamehameha graduated was substantial, but Harley Woolsey is here to tell you that the gains the Warriors have made might even be bigger.
Woolsey is not as tall as many of her teammates, but she’s been working to make up for it.
When the libero turned outside hitter hasn’t been trying to improve her passing, she’s been working on jump training to increase her vertical leap. Before, the 5-foot-4 junior said she was only able to get her hand above the net. But she recently saw a photo where she got her elbow to the net. The picture, to her, was worth four words.
“They better watch out,” she with a smile.
Coach Kyle Kaaa says it’s no stretch to call this his deepest team yet, and his first three each won the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I championship, with the 2012 team going undefeated in league play.
Woolsey and her teammates don’t dabble much in an offseason. They all play club volleyball — Woolsey and Maraea O’Connor at Hi-Intensity, and the rest with Pilipaa.
“I feel over the summer, we and some of the people on this team have trained and gotten better with every practice and game that we’ve competed in,” junior Kaiu Ahuna said.
Kamehameha does have some unfinished business on Oahu, but more on that later.
The strength of the team lies in its nine-member junior class.
“We’re all pretty well-linked together,” Woolsey said. “It’s great. You have both (high school) season and (club) season together and you can kind of click. During (club), you see each others’ strengths and weaknesses, so when you come to high school, you can put the strengths together and work each others’ weaknesses.”
Considering all the club work the team puts in, by the time preseason practice rolls around, Kaaa doesn’t have to sweat a lot of the small stuff.
“I believe club play is where most of the work gets done,” he said. “I see my role as putting the pieces together.”
He’s got a lot to play with, so his toughest job may be deciding who plays and who doesn’t.
“I have my work cut out,” Kaaa said.
He missed the Waiakea Girls Volleyball Invitational so that he could help his daughter, Acacia, get situated in college, but he marveled at the way Woolsey, the tournament’s most valuable player, was adapting to her new role.
“Her athleticism is so great, that she comes into the high school season as one of our top outside hitters,” Kyle Kaaa said. “For the past six months at club, she was libero. It surprises me how she can transition in and out. It’s just her great athleticism.
“She can jump, and she controls the ball when she hits.”
Not bad for a No. 2 option.
The No. 1 would be Ahuna, the air apparent to Shae Kanakaole, last season’s BIIF player of the Year.
The Warriors graduated two other first-team all-league performers at middle blocker and setter, but Kaaa envisions seamless transitions all around, starting with Ahuna, who also made the first team.
“Kaiu replaces Shae,” Kaaa said. “She’s gotten better at passing; definitely her serving has gotten way better from her work during the club season.
“She’s had those shots. We wanted her to go deep down he line, deep corner and she improves on that. She’s got the whole game.”
Another hitter in the mix is senior Anuhea Leite-Ah Yo, a player Kaaa said has fancy footwork thanks to her soccer background and moves the ball around well.
Acacia Kaaa was the setter last year, but junior Zoe Leonard and sophomore Kamalu Makekau-Whittaker are perhaps even better options in some ways because they offer more experience. Normally, Kaaa prefers to play one setter, but his talented options have him thinking he might go with a two-setter system when the Warriors open their season at 10 a.m. Saturday at home against Hawaii Prep.
Leonard, who played right-side hitter last season, is versatile and valuable because she also can play libero, but senior Kayla Flores returns to the spot this season.
“We expect great things from her this year,” Kaaa said of Flores.
At middle blocker, the Warriors are turning to junior Pua Wong to replace Bree Kaneakua, while senior Cashman Aiu, and juniors Ili Nakamoto and Keala Watson are battling for the second spot.
At opposite, Kaaa credited juniors O’Connor and Jeyci Kaili for their “good blocks and good offense.”
One goal this season for the Warriors will be to improve upon their two-and-out finish last year at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
At a preseason tournament at Kamehameha-Kapalama, Woolsey said the Warriors were playing well and primed to advance, but had to leave prematurely to catch their flight. The match against St. Francis went in the books as a forfeit.
Might that be the Warriors’ last blemish for a while?
“Hopefully,” Woolsey said.