By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Marley Strand-Nicolaisen made big plays and consistently conquered obstacles, like double blocks, to help Ka‘u make Big Island Interscholastic Federation volleyball history.
The 5-foot-11 senior middle blocker was dominant in her last and most important league game. She blasted 29 kills in a four-set victory over Konawaena for the Trojans’ first BIIF championship.
She was voted the BIIF Player of the Year for Division II, by the league’s coaches. It’s the third consecutive time Strand-Nicolaisen has been named to the first team.
“It’s an honor and I couldn’t have done it without my team,” Strand-Nicolaisen said. “Our team was probably the closest it’s ever been. Most of the players were returnees from years before and that played a big deal in it.”
Besides her 29 kills, she showed her well-rounded skills with three aces and three blocks against the Wildcats, who put up double blocks, but the ball still found the floor from all directions when Strand-Nicolaisen took a swing, putting down six kills from the back row.
Her production carried over to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state tournament. And the Trojans, who entered states with a 16-2 record, kept sending balls her way and she delivered.
Strand-Nicolaisen slammed 26 kills in a four-set win over Waimea in the quarterfinals. She pounded 12 kills, but the Trojans’ dream march ended in the semifinals with a straight-set loss to eventual state champion Saint Francis. She had a match-high 12 kills in a loss to Farrington for third place.
Joining Strand-Nicolaisen on the first team are two teammates: sophomore setter Kerrilyn Domondon and senior middle blocker Kaila Olson. Rounding out the first team are Hawaii Prep outside hitter Gabbie Ewing, Konawaena right-side hitter Courtney Kaupu, St. Joseph outside hitter Haley Thorsen and Kona setter Makani Wall.
“I’m happy for my teammates,” Strand-Nicolaisen said. “It’s the first time they ever made the first team. Kaila was our vocal leader. She really helped us. She was there to pick us up. Kerri’s main job was to get the ball up so the hitters could hit. At the end of the season, you saw a lot of improvement and she has the potential to be a really good setter.”
During the BIIF season, the Trojans only lost to Division I powers Kamehameha and Hilo.
The Warriors stacked the block on Strand-Nicolaisen, but she relied on her vision and hitting skills to knock down balls, which impressed Kamehameha coach Kyle Kaaa.
“She was one of the most dominant players in the BIIF because she is physically gifted and is a tactical player,” Kaaa said. “She can see a weakness on the other team and take advantage of it. When we played Ka‘u, we always put at least two blockers on her, but she still got her kills.”
The BIIF championship remains a strong memory for Strand-Nicolaisen, who signed a national letter of intent with UH-Hilo.
“It was an amazing feeling winning the BIIF title. I wish we could have done it all those earlier years,” she said. “The joy from winning was amazing. I was disappointed at states. I thought we could have gone farther. But I’m happy we won that first game. In past years, we’ve always lost that first game. We showed that this team could do stuff this year.”
She plans to major in biology at UHH. She hopes to enter the medical field. But before that, she’s got work to do with her club team, which will play in a Las Vegas tourney in February.
Strand-Nicolaisen is playing club ball for Hoopa, located in West Hawaii. Trojan teammates Kamalani Fujikawa and Toni Beck, a pair of junior outside hitters and members of the All-BIIF second team, are also on Hoopa.
“My club coaches, Grayden Hai-Kelly and Ainsley Keawekane, refined my backrow hitting and basic ground defense,” Strand-Nicolaisen said. “I became a more powerful hitter, using more torque. Before I only used to hit with my arm.”
She practiced during the summer with UHH coach Tino Reyes and the under-16 USA High Performance team that went to an Iowa tourney. She credited him with helping her backrow hitting. She also said Ka‘u coach Josh Ortega helped her, too.
“We knew him a long time. He helped add to the team chemistry,” Strand-Nicolaisen said. “He helped refine our basic defense. And defense is what wins championships.”
Kerrilyn Domondon 10 setter Ka‘u
Gabbie Ewing 10 outside hitter Hawaii Prep
Courtney Kaupu 12 rightside hitter Konawaena
Kaila Olson 12 middle blocker Ka‘u
Marley Strand-Nicolaisen 12 middle blocker Ka‘u
Haley Thorsen 12 outside hitter St. Joseph
Player of the Year
Marley Strand-Nicolaisen 12 Ka‘u
Coach of the Year
Joshua Ortega, Ka‘u
Kaila Avanilla 10 middle blocker Konawaena
Toni Beck 11 outside hitter Ka‘u
Maxine Block 11 middle blocker Pahoa
Kamalani Fujikawa 11 outside hitter Ka‘u
Georgia Pirie 12 setter St. Joseph
Chanelle Molina 9 outside hitter Konawaena
Tiana Reynolds 11 outside hitter Hawaii Prep
Christian Liberty: Faith Matsuura, setter
HPA: Nua Potts, setter; McKenna Ventura, middle blocker; Carina Verhulsdonk, defensive specialist/libero
Honokaa: Hunter Liftee, middle blocker; Monica Muskat, middle blocker
Ka‘u: Sky Kanakaole-Esperon, outside hitter; Christina Patrigo, outside hitter
Kohala: Jocelyn Campollo, DS/libero; Mohala Kaholoaa-Kumukoa, setter; Sariah Medeiros, rightside hitter; Shaylen Reyes-Galan, middle blocker, Hauoli Sproat-Lancaster, outside hitter
Kona: Rayne Izumi-Baltero, middle blocker; Kaua Mitchell, outside hitter
Makua Lani: Karissa Komo, middle blocker; Naia Iligan Willard, outside hitter
Pahoa: Christine Colobong, outside hitter