By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Shae Kanakaole kept growing, and each season the Kamehameha volleyball team improved right along with her.
The 5-foot-8 senior outside hitter was at her best in her final Big Island Interscholastic Federation game. She smashed 16 kills to spark the Warriors over Hilo in straight sets for their third straight league title.
She was voted the BIIF Player of the Year for Division I, in a vote by the league’s coaches. It’s the second straight time Kanakaole has been named to the first team.
“I’m really happy and it’s exciting for me,” Kanakaole said. “Without the team, I wouldn’t have gotten the honor. I’m happy that we had an undefeated season in the BIIF. I never had that before.”
The Warriors went 17-0 in the league, but lost to Mililani and Moanalua at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state tournament.
Joining Kanakaole on the first team are three teammates: outside hitter Kaiulani Ahuna, setter Acacia Kaaa and middle blocker Bree Kaneakua. Rounding out the first team are Kealakehe outside hitter Kanoe Kualaau-Hanakeawe, and Hilo outside hitters Amanda Loeffler and Evalani Toledo.
Each season Kanakaole’s role on the team expanded. As a freshman, she saw minutes at middle blocker and rightside hitter. In her sophomore season, she played on the right side. Last season, she moved to the left as a main anchor of the offense.
But in her final season, Kanakaole was a different player, a hitter with more shots and a presence with a team-thinking mindset.
“She consistently and often times effortlessly finished plays for us,” Kamehameha coach Kyle Kaaa said. “Although she finished many plays with thundering hits, Shae ended much more plays this year by tipping the ball or with chip shots. In the BIIF championship, Shae was also a hitting threat in the back row.
“Shae is also a great passer. It has been a pleasure to watch her mature into the player she is today. This year, she really worked hard at being more of a vocal leader on the court, and this is where I feel she made the most improvement.”
Kaaa was named the BIIF Coach of the Year, but a bigger moment for him was seeing his three seniors — Kanakaole, Kaneakua and his daughter Acacia — honored. He’s coached the trio since the sixth grade.
“It’s nice to see their hard work on the court recognized by the other coaches,” he said. “What most people don’t see is the hours these girls have spent off the court, in the weight room and on the track, to become better players.
“Acacia gave our team a balanced attack. She recognized that although we had good outside hitters, having a good middle attack would open up the outsides. Bree provided that middle attack Acaia could depend on throughout the season.”
The trio’s departure will leave a big hole, but at least there’s a nice building block, starting with Ahuna, an athletic hitter with an all-around game. Right-side hitter Zoe Leonard and middle Pua Wong, a pair of sophomores got honorable mention as well as junior libero Kayla Flores.
The four first-team Warriors were also a hit in the classroom as well. Kanakaole sports a 4.2 grade-point average.
“Being only a sophomore, Kaiu has the potential to be one of the best players to come out of the BIIF,” Kaaa said. “She brought consistent passing and hitting to the team. For all four Kamehameha girls, I am especially proud of the fact that they are all true student-athletes with GPAs ranging from 3.5 to 4.2.”
Kanakaole hasn’t settled on a college or a major. She’s looking at Whitman College, a private school in Walla Walla, Wash., and part of the popular Northwest Conference, and New Mexico Highlands University, a Division II school.
She wants to play in college. And she’s still sharpening her skills. She’s gearing up for club ball with Pilipaa, which will participate in a Las Vegas tournament in February.
“Right now, I’m working with club volleyball,” said Kanakaole, still intent on improving.
Kaiulani Ahuna 10 outside hitter Kamehameha
Acacia Kaaa 12 setter Kamehameha
Shae Kanakaole 12 outside hitter Kamehameha
Bree Kaneakua 12 middle blocker Kamehameha
Kanoe Kualaau-Hanakeawe 12 outside hitter Kealakehe
Amanda Loeffler 12 outside hitter Hilo
Evalani Toledo 12 outside hitter Hilo
Player of the Year
Shae Kanakaole 12 Kamehameha
Coach of the Year
Kyle Kaaa, Kamehameha
Hilo: Angel Alameda, defensive specialist/libero; Taylor Alicuben, setter; Chyrub Cabarloc, DS/libero; Leilani Smith, rightside hitter; Chelzie Ulu, middle blocker
Kamehameha: Kayla Flores, DS/libero; Zoe Leonard, rightside hitter; Pua Wong, middle blocker
Kealakehe: Vilana Akeo-Taetuna, rightside hitter; Kyra Calbero, setter; Kealoha Kam, DS/libero; Teria Kekuaokalani, DS/libero; Kelii Verhulsdonk, outside hitter
Waiakea: Kayleen Buyuan, DS/libero; Keiran Cardoza, middle blocker; Tanalei Louis, DS/libero