By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
When Brooke Bloomfield moved from Hilo to Sandy, Utah, with her family, she couldn’t have predicted that a reunion with her circle of volleyball friends was just around the corner.
She’s a 5-foot-6 freshman defender at Western Texas College, which advanced to the 16-team National Junior College Athletic Association Division I national championship, slated for Nov. 15-17 at Missouri State University.
When she gets there after a 12-hour bus ride, Bloomfield, who played at Hilo from 2009 to ’11, will see three familiar faces from her Big Island Interscholastic Federation glory days.
Leeta Grap (Hawaii Prep, 2012) from No. 8 North Idaho College, Ashia Joseph (Waiakea, ’11) from No. 3 College of Southern Idaho, and Kanoe Kaaa (Kamehameha, ’11) from Casper College will offer warm hugs and stiff competition at the national championship.
The schedule, at njcaa.org, will be released later in the week. Blinn College, from Texas, is the defending national champion but didn’t qualify. Joseph’s CSI has won a string of national titles from 1993 to ’98, 2000 and the last in ’05.
Back in Hilo, Bloomfield played with Kaaa and Grap on the Imua club team, coached by Kaaa’s mom, Napua, picking up valuable skills such as passing and back-row play.
That helped her land a scholarship at WTC, despite the fact she didn’t play her senior year of high school ball at Alta High in 2012.
Instead, she played on the Utah Juniors club team and caught Lady Westerners coach Sheldon Carvalho’s attention at the Las Vegas Classic, a popular recruiting showcase.
WTC defeated conference foe Midland College, of Texas, 28-26, 25-17, 17-25, 20-25, 15-8 to win the NJCAA Region 5 championship for the national tourney berth.
The Lady Westerners (26-8) couldn’t have asked for a tougher matchup. A month earlier, the Chaps (23-7) beat them twice in a pair of five-set marathons. It was by two points and three points, serving as motivation for WTC.
“It’s a great feeling to get to nationals,” Bloomfield said. “I knew our team could make it. We beat them 15-8 in the last set. I felt our team was ready and really wanted it.
“I started in the middle of the season. Our defense wasn’t doing so good and our coach needed me in the back row. I stepped up from there. My job is to pass and make sure the defense is on lockdown.”
Bloomfield’s old Hilo Viking teammate and another good friend is Waihilo Chartrand, who’s at Eastern Arizona. The Gila Monsters lost in straight sets to Arizona Western in the Region 2 championship.
It’s a rare feat that four former BIIF players have reached the national championship. Joseph and Kaaa are in their last season of eligibility, highlighting that it’s only a two-year window for juco players.
“It’ll be exciting and interesting. I’m really hoping to play against them,” Bloomfield said. “It’ll bring back memories playing against each other. I think it’s pretty cool that we’re all here.
“Hawaii is doing work on the mainland. Everybody is doing good. I just say bring it on. I’m really excited.”
Still, there’s no place like home for Bloomfield, who’s carrying a solid 3.0 grade-point average. She aspires to be an athletic trainer or find something in the sports field.
“I still miss Hilo, but everybody is in college playing ball now,” she said. “I miss my grandma (Laverne Toki). My brother, Elric Toki, is with her right now in Hilo. She keeps me updated about all my friends and sends me articles on them.
“The move really helped me. It’s a different environment and I had to push harder because there are a lot of better players. That made me push myself. Our coach said the key to winning is defense. We have to be on point with our defense and our block. We can put the ball down. My job is to make sure our defense is on point and play my best.”
It’s been a whirlwind for the Lady Westerners, who played four matches in nine days, traveling to Clarendon College and to the Region 5 tournament in Lubbock. That’s 182 miles and three hours on the first trip and 85 miles and 90 minutes on the last — each one way.
She hasn’t had a chance to call Joseph, Kaaa or Grap yet. But Grandma Laverne keeps her updated on all the good stuff, and so does Facebook.
“Ashia posted that she was going to nationals. That’s how I found out,” Bloomfield said. “I told her, ‘I’ll see you there.’ I’m very excited and I can’t wait.”
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