By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
A stack of lei was piled high on Kelia Parrilla’s head, and she could barely see on Sunday. Her eyes were also flooded with tears from an emotional farewell as the University of Hawaii at Hilo volleyball team’s only senior.
About a dozen family members, including her parents Harding and Beryl Parrilla, flew over from Oahu to watch her last home game. The Vulcans close their season against Chaminade on Nov. 16 in Honolulu, so her ohana has one final farewell party.
Google “Kelia Parrilla” and eventually there will be a link to her and the Kaneohe Canoe Club. Her dad is the head coach, and she paddles on the open mixed crew, along with her sister Kiana Parrilla, who’s a year older.
Parrilla, who’s been paddling since she was 12 years old, is a steersman and piloted her crew to a fifth place finish at the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association state championships in August on Kauai. She’s a 2009 Kamehameha-Kapalama graduate and also paddled in her senior year.
Her Warrior roots still run strong. She watched Kamehameha-Kapalama sweep Punahou on Friday at Koaia Gym for the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I girls volleyball championship, the school’s seventh in the last nine years. What made that win special was her two best friends, Koala Matsuoka and Lesli Akeo, are assistant coaches.
Parrilla played for the Warriors only in her season year. Well, actually she played volleyball for four years, but was on the junior varsity her first three seasons. (The Interscholastic League of Honolulu allows juniors to play on the JV level.)
“The Kamehameha varsity was very competitive,” she said. “I was on the JV as a freshman, sophomore and junior. I only paddled as a senior and wrestled from freshman to my junior year.”
She was accepted into UHH’s pharmacy school right before the summer when one of the 80 spots opened up. Parrilla said she chose pharmacy to help people, and that she’s always been interested in biology, so she found a fit.
Parrilla is a defensive specialist for the Vulcans, and doesn’t play much but still contributes a lot of value to the team, according to coach Tino Reyes.
“I wish I had her for another four years,” he said. “She’s a great kid. She’s a competitor and a great teammate. She’ll do anything to help the team, and she’s not too shabby in school either.”
Parrilla looked at her last day as a Vulcan in the UHH Gym with a big-picture perspective.
“It’s great to be part of a family, to have people support you,” said Parrilla, talking about her family and Vulcan sisters. “Being part of a team teaches you a lot of things — to work hard, persevere when things get tough. Those are things you can’t get unless you play a team sport.
“The best moment for me today is just being around and with my teammates and having my family here. That’s the most special thing.”
Meanwhile, UHH needed less than 90 minutes to send Pacific West Conference cellar-dweller Holy Names off to another loss and another historic three-set sweep.
Callie Aberle smashed nine kills on a .467 hitting clip, and Marley Strand-Nicolaisen added eight kills to power the Vulcans over the reeling Hawks 25-16, 25-15, 25-20, winning their fourth in a row.
Marin Gibson had eight kills, hit .375 and represented the only effective player for the Hawks, who hit .071 and made a bunch of errors (hitting, serving, ball-handling), a whopping 36 to UHH’s 20 giveaway points.
Everybody played for the Vuls, who hit .248 and fattened their stats.
After dropping their first nine PacWest games, the Vulcans have not only won their last four, but also posted a 5-3 record to close an eight-match home stand.
UHH (10-11 overall, 5-11 PacWest) next plays at Dixie State (14-8 11-5) on Wednesday. Earlier in the home stand, the Red Storm prevailed over the Vulcans in five sets.
The cellar-dwelling Hawks (1-25, 1-15) have lost four straight. They dropped their first 21 games and were swept 16 times during that skid; there’s no official stat for that dubious distinction, but likely a record.
Parrilla finished with one assist and three digs.
“It was a good thing to send Kelia out on a high note,” Reyes said. “Hopefully, she’ll remember this for the rest of her life.”