By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — For most of his volleyball life, Kamehameha senior Evan Enriques has made his living as a dominant outside hitter, but to play at the college level he was given a choice: continue his favorite role or make a career change.
The 6-foot, 2-inch, 185-pound Enriques was given an easier choice from Stanford: a 50 percent athletic scholarship, or an 80 percent financial aid package to play libero, and pay much less than the school’s $62,000 annual tuition.
He picked Stanford’s financial package over scholarship offers from Hawaii, USC and UCLA, signing on Wednesday, the NCAA’s early signing period for seniors from the 2013-14 class. Enriques, who has a 4.037 grade-point average and will major in business economics, took official visits to all four schools.
The two-time Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I Player of the Year will play his final season for Kamehameha at outside hitter for a team coached by his dad, Guy Enriques, that could include his three brothers: junior Emmett (a starter last season) and freshmen twins Addie and Avery.
The BIIF season kicks off in March. Until then, Enriques, who added an inch in height and several pounds of muscle, will play club ball for Ka Ulukoa, an Oahu team run by Pono Maa, the former Kamehameha-Kapalama coach.
Enriques becomes the second Warrior to land at Stanford, following Chandler Kaaa, a 2009 graduate. The Cardinal have a history of recruiting blue-chip Hawaii players, snagging Rainbow Wahine coach Dave Shoji’s two sons, Kawika and Erik. Both led Stanford to the national championship in 2010.
The Shoji brothers are on the USA men’s national team, along with USC junior Micah Christenson, a 2011 Kamehameha-Kapalama graduate. He and Kawika are setters while Erik Shoji is a libero, a Stanford-to-Olympic path Enriques hopes to follow.
“Stanford coach John Kosty asked me where I see myself playing after college. I said, ‘Mostly libero.’ He said that’s what they would prepare me for,” Enriques said. “Those three make it look easy, but it’s a tough thing being on the men’s national team. I feel you have to take it one step at a time.
“If they have a need at outside hitter, I’m glad I have that option. But honestly I like to play outside hitter.”
Stanford also recruited a libero from Florida, who came up through the High-Performance USA pipeline and was Enriques’ teammate.
“The idea is to have a backup and competition at each position. That’s what it’s all about at Stanford,” Enriques said. “That’s good. I’d rather beat him out, knowing the competition and worked for it rather than just getting that spot.”
Stanford is a member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, a conference that includes the three other schools that recruited Enriques, who attracted attention at the USA junior national championships.
The best thing about the conference, besides the killer competition (the MPSF has won four of the last five NCAA titles), is that Stanford travels to play at Hawaii every other year. The Cardinal are scheduled to visit the Stan Sheriff Center in Enriques’ freshman season in 2015 and junior year in 2017.
The Cardinal’s financial package, put on the table during Enriques’ early October visit, was a huge lure. But the volleyball team revealed its interest when Enriques was offered the athletic scholarship at the same time, something unusual for a libero.
Men’s volleyball is only allowed 4.5 athletic scholarships. Stanford carried a roster of 21 players last season. In a football comparison, liberos are offensive linemen, doing important work but rarely recognized, at least not with valuable athletic scholarship money.
Enriques estimated that 10 months out of the year is spent devoted to volleyball. Club ball is November until the high school season. Then it picks up again and runs until July, in time for the junior national championships.
It wasn’t rare for Enriques to take 90 swings or top more than 100 attempts, especially when the caliber of competition stiffened at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, where the BIIF has won only one title by Hilo in 1969, the inaugural year.
Last season, the Warriors fell to eventual champion Punahou in the quarterfinals, and defeated rival Waiakea for fifth place. In 2011 during Enriques’ sophomore year in the state championship against Punahou, he put on a highlight show with 42 kills and 12 digs, but the Buffanblu prevailed in five sets.
“I’m hoping Emmett can carry a lot of the load. I don’t know if my shoulder can last that long,” he said in a half-jest, half-serious tone. “But I feel really good about this season. The best thing is we’ve got really good kids, junior middles Hanalei Lee Loy and Paki Iaia, and sophomore hitter Isaiah Laela.
“They’ve been in the system, and after we had that one run at states in 2011, this year we’re going to give it all we’ve got.”
He comes from athletic parents, Guy and Julie Enriques. His dad is not only the Kamehameha coach, but he played college basketball at UH-Hilo. His mom, who’s a real estate agent, played college volleyball at Oregon State.
Both are 5 feet 10 and gave their son more than athletic genes. The theme of the day was not a dominant outside hitter making a career switch and landing at Stanford. It was the gratitude he consistently pounded home.
“I appreciate this school and all the people at Kamehameha and others in my life who have helped me,” Enriques said. “I can’t make a list of all the people who have helped me. It would be too long. But they all played a part in getting me to Stanford. It was more than one person.”