By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hawaii Prep outside hitter Gabbie Ewing was her volleyball team’s most outstanding and valuable player, and contributed much more than statistical production.
She took the majority of the swings, hammered the most kills and provided cohesion for HPA, which captured the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II title, the school’s third in the last four years.
The 5-foot, 7-inch junior led HPA with 520 swings, 247 kills and a .475 hitting percentage. Her hitting efficiency (kills minus errors divided by attempts) was .354, a stat that puts a higher value on making her swings count.
Ewing was voted the BIIF Player of the Year for Division II, by the league’s coaches, beating out her Hoopa club teammate and Konawaena standout Chanelle Molina, a 5-6 sophomore outside hitter.
“I’m excited, surprised and grateful,” Ewing said. “Chanelle’s a great player and one of my really close friends. I’m just really surprised. I worked hard for it, and she did too. Either one of us could have gotten it.”
It’s the second time Ewing has landed on the first team. As a freshman in 2011, she was an honorable mention in the power-packed Blue division. It’s Molina’s first time on the first team; last year as a freshman she was on the second team.
Joining Ewing on the first team are Ka Makani sisters Tiana Reynolds, a senior outside hitter, and junior setter Tehane Reynolds. The other first-team picks are Molina, Kona senior setter Makani Wall, Ka‘u senior middle blocker Toni Beck, and Pahoa senior middle Maxine Block.
“For us, Gabbie took a lot of swings, 529 vs. 376 for Tiana. Gabbie hit a lot of balls and I love her versatility to do a lot of things, tip, hit a roll shot, hit deep, line or angle,” HPA coach Sharon Peterson said. “She’s an intuitive player, really never hesitates and has freedom on the court and is not afraid to make mistakes. Her play really flows and she’s somebody who’s fun to watch.”
The voting doesn’t cover play in the BIIF postseason or the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament. But it was the league’s most successful season since statewide classification started in 2005.
Last season was historic, too. Beck helped lift the Trojans to the school’s first BIIF title. It was Block’s turn to make history. The Daggers defeated Ka‘u in the league’s third-place game, reaching states for the first time since 1997. Pahoa lost to Kalaheo in the seventh-place match.
Molina made her presence felt at the Division II state tourney on Oahu, where she sparked Kona over HPA in the first championship meeting between two BIIF teams.
She was named the state tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Ewing, Tiana Reynolds, Wall, Kona senior libero Ela Seier and freshman setter/hitter Celena Molina also made the All-Tournament team.
Seier and Celena Molina were voted to the All-BIIF second team, along with sophomore middle McKenna Ventura. Sophomore opposite Ihi Victor was honorable mention. Junior middle Kaela Avanilla, a second-team pick last year, was snubbed.
Seven HPA players received recognition. Libero Kawena Lim-Samura and setter Carina Verhulsdonk, a pair of seniors, landed on the second team while senior middle Seychelle Francis and junior middle Alaina Bradley were honorable mention.
“I’m happy for them. They all deserved it and worked really hard this season,” Ewing said. “They really improved throughout the season and I’m really proud of them.
“I tried to set an example, and I wanted the team to do its best. I knew we had the potential to go far and we did. I really tried to bring out the best in their games, and make them love the game.”
Despite playing club volleyball, Ewing is foremost a soccer player. She landed on the All-BIIF Division II first team as a freshman and sophomore. She’s versatile in soccer, too; Ewing was honored first as a defender and midfielder last season.
But basketball is the family sport.
Ewing’s aunt is Bobbie Awa, the Kona girls basketball coach. She grew up playing on the Kona Stingrays club team. She still plays basketball during the offseason, and her parents, Peter and Kathy Ewing, were athletes back in the day.
“I heard both were really good athletes,” said Ewing, who double-dribbled on that sentence. “My dad is still a great athlete. He played football, basketball, track and baseball in high school. He’s from Colorado. My mom (Awa’s sister) played volleyball, basketball and softball.
“I made my sport decision on what school I went to. If I had gone to Kona, I would play basketball and HPA I would play soccer. I’m more of a defensive player for basketball. I have no regrets. I love being at HPA. It would feel weird playing for somebody other than my aunty.”
Her parents, who both work at Warehouse Direct and save on gas money, have a lot of red Ka Makani gear. They’ll need to stock up on some Wildcat green T-shirts.
That’s because their youngest, Austin, will be a freshman during the 2014-15 school year. Like his sister, Austin is a permanent member of the Stingrays, playing for his uncle Donny Awa, the Kona boys basketball coach.
“I think he’s leaning toward Kona. He’s played for uncle Donny all his life,” Ewing said.
The athletic Ewing has a few technical flaws as an outside hitter. She sometimes hits goofy foot (with her right leg leading), and her neck bent and eyes targeted at the ceiling.
Ewing’s competitive spirit matches her athleticism, which leads to an all-out effort and sometimes without regard for consequences, like in the BIIF championship.
In the fourth set against Konawaena at Koaia Gym, Ewing chased down a ball, slid into the bleachers and banged her head. She eventually returned and served the last three points in the fifth set.
“She plays very free. She sees the ball and before you think what to do with the ball she’s already doing it,” Peterson said. “She doesn’t hesitate. I really like that about her play. She really pursues the ball, like the time she hit her head in the BIIF championship.
“That’s the type of player she is. She just goes. She doesn’t worry about things, even if she’s close to the bleachers.”
Peterson was not only the University of Hawaii at Hilo coach for 25 years, winning seven national titles, but also a star player back in her day. She was a member of the U.S. Olympic team in 1964 and ’68, and a participant of the 1966 World Games and the ’67 gold medal U.S. team at the Pan-American games.
She’s played with the best in the world, and handed Ewing a golden compliment, noting her Ka Makani standout not only makes her teammates better, but also makes the fit-as-a-fiddle coach feel youthful.
“Gabbie is a steadying force on the court. She was a co-captain with Carina. She would always present something to the team in each meeting,” Peterson said. “It would be on a piece of paper with a cartoon and a quote. It would always be something meaningful and really nice.
“If I were young, I would love to play with her. She brings out the best in people.”