By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Waiakea senior Ariana Kaleo landed a full-ride volleyball scholarship to Trinity Valley College in Texas, where she’ll be far from home, roughly 3,740 miles away, but quite comfortable.
For starters, the 5-foot-9 middle blocker has a smooth rapport with Cardinals coach Tosha Spain. Also, her cousin, Kamehameha pitcher Kaimana Moike, will be playing baseball at Lon Morris, located in Jacksonville, Texas, just 39 miles away.
Lon Morris and Trinity Valley, in Athens, play in the same conference, the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Region XIV. As for other connections, the two cousins went to preschool together and share the same quiet but friendly disposition.
Kaleo liked Spain’s easygoing manner when the second-year coach called her. After Kaleo sent a video, Spain called the next day after she received it, showing immediate interest.
“She was the first coach to talk to me and make me laugh,” said Kaleo, who finished with a 3.0 grade point average. “I liked that she expressed how much she likes volleyball and that their school has a 100 percent graduation rate.”
The Cardinals finished 17-22 last season. There are no Hawaii players on the roster, but one of the basketball assistant coaches is from Hawaii, so she’ll have someone to talk pigeon with.
Kaleo picked up volleyball through osmosis. Her dad, Aaron Kaleo, played basketball, baseball and football back in the day at Aiea High on Oahu. He’s a Hilo High girls basketball assistant coach, and was always in a gym, while Ariana tagged along.
“Wherever I went, she went. She was in the gym all day,” said Aaron Kaleo, who’s a police officer. His wife, Jessica, works at Hilo Bay Clinic. “As parents you always want your kids to do better than you. She’s our first child (of five) to go to college. We’re proud of her and to get a free education is awesome, too.”
The past Big Island Interscholastic Federation season encouraged Kaleo to step into a senior leadership role, after key players Chelsey Buyuan and Ashia Joseph graduated in previous years. The Warriors finished third in the league’s Division I standings behind Kamehameha and Hilo.
At Waiakea, she not only became a leader, but found friends in her teammates, allowing her to spread her social wings.
“I was really quiet as a child. I liked to listen more,” she said. “I’ve met some of my best friends though sports. When I made the team, my teammates were all welcoming. They wanted to help you and were really kind and supportive.”
On the video, Spain noticed Kaleo’s solid hitting from the middle, and might move her to the outside where she could get more swings. But what the video didn’t show was the way she thinks about others, her team-first attitude.
That’s a life lesson from her parents.
“My parents taught me how to treat others, to be someone everyone likes,” she said. “And to have backbone to stand up on your own, and also to respect others. Those are the key things you need to get through in life.
“It definitely helps in volleyball, to get along with your teammates and coaches, and even players not on your team. The other team and their coaches.”
She played club ball for Cuzins coaches Kendall and Zelda Kelson. She is the fourth player from Cuzins to get a scholarship, following St. Joseph’s Chynna Loeffler, Skagit (Wash.) Valley; Hilo’s Destynee Figueroa and Kamehameha’s Kalei Paige, Oteru (Colo.) College.
Kaleo also had a scholarship on the table from Colby (Kans.) Community College and drew interest from other junior colleges. Unlike most BIIF seniors, she didn’t put a profile on any websites.
She attended the Las Vegas Classic’s senior showcase in February. But the recruiting feelers didn’t start there. Kaleo credited Nona’z club coaches Dane and Jennie Maikui for putting in a good word for her at Trinity Valley, where she gets to spread her wings again.
“I’m most looking forward to going to school. I like learning new things,” said Kaleo, who then paused and thought for a moment what a full-ride meant to her. “It’s a big burden lifted off my family. I also made my parents and the rest of my family proud, too.”