Hilo grad takes volleyball team to NCAA Elite Eight


By KEVIN JAKAHI

Tribune-Herald sports writer

When Makamae Namahoe was at Hilo High, she was the dominant force every time her volleyball team collected another Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II championship during her prosperous four-year campaign.

Her freshman season, the Vikings finished as the league runner-up. The next three years, they won the BIIF title behind Namahoe’s versatile skills as a middle blocker — blocking, passing and pounding down big kills.

She experienced nothing but success and went to the Hawaii High Athletic Association Division II state tournament every season. (Hilo later moved back up to Division I in 2010-11.)

Then the 2010 Hilo graduate ventured off to college at Long Island University Post, a Division II school in Brookville, N.Y. The Pioneers finished with a .500 record the two years prior to Namahoe’s arrival; they’ve had 20-plus wins ever since, showing the 5-foot, 10-inch outside hitter’s impact.

That’s not all.

Namahoe made the All-Eastern College Athletic Conference second team the last three years. In her senior season, she’s second in kills (2.43 per set) and second in digs (3.71 per set). She moved from middle to outside hitter in her junior season.

The Pioneers last captured the conference title way back in 1988, before Namahoe, a food nutrition major with a 3.4 grade-point average, was born. They’ll have to wait another year. New York Institute of Technology defeated them in five sets in the semifinals.

But revenge was right around the corner in Bridgeport, Conn.

LIU Post got an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II East Regional and made school history last Saturday when Namahoe smashed 16 kills on a .483 hitting clip and got a double-double with 10 digs as the Pioneers swept New Haven in the championship, earning their first ever spot to the Elite Eight.

“It’s the first time since 2006, we’ve made it to the East Regional championship,” Namahoe said on Tuesday during a five-minute break from studying for finals. “We’ve never made it this far. When we lost to NYIT in the semifinals, we wanted to face them again. After we beat them, we carried that same mentality and fire and swept New Haven.

“It’s gratifying knowing we can compete for a national championship. It’s a nice to have a trophy to bring back to school. It still hasn’t hit me that we’re going to the Elite Eight. I came in Saturday with the mentality of having that aggressiveness. I was looking to hit high hands because New Haven has a big block. I terminated that goal and kept going. I’m hoping to keep that up on Thursday.”

The Pioneers also made history by sweeping all of their opponents — Franklin Pierce, NYIT and New Haven — in the East Regional. LIU Post is the first program since Dowling in 2010 to accomplish that feat.

Too bad, LIU Post didn’t get to play Dowling. The Golden Lions knocked off the Pioneers the last two years in the East Regional first round. (NYIT topped Dowling in the first round.)

The Pioneers (25-9) face West Texas A&M (34-3) at the NCAA Division II National Championship, which starts Thursday in Iowa. The winner plays the BYU-Hawaii/Ferris State winner in the semifinals.

West Texas A&M is ranked sixth in the NCAA Division II poll. It’s the Lady Buffs’ 13th regional championship and second straight time they’ve clinched a spot to the Elite Eight. LIU Post is unranked.

“We’ve done a lot of scouting on West Texas A&M. They’re very scrappy defensively and it’s hard to put a ball down on their side of the court,” Namahoe said. “They’ve got tall middles. They’re quick, athletic girls and they’re physical players. They’ve got a 27-game winning streak. We hope to snap that.”

The other side of the bracket is loaded. No. 1 Tampa (26-1) battles No. 3 Concordia-St. Paul (27-2), the six-time national defending champion. One survives; the loser goes home early. Tampa was runner-up last season and in 2010, and won it all in 2006.

“I’m excited to play any team at any time at this elite level. All of the teams are national contenders,” said Namahoe, who pointed out the team’s enthusiasm spread among the school’s enrollment of 8,700 students. “It snowed today. Coming off that important win, all my classmates, coaches, other athletes and students congratulated us, wishing us good luck.”

Volleyball

• Kassie Kagawa (2010 Waiakea), a senior libero at Western New Mexico, finished with five digs in a three-set loss to Colorado School of Mines in the first round of the South Central Regional last Thursday. The champion was the host Lady Buffs.

Her teammates, Chyler Imai (2012 Kohala) and Keirsa Pakani-Tsukiyama (2012 Waiakea), finished with a team-high 10 digs and one dig, respectively.

• Leeta Grap (2012 Hawaii Prep), in her last season at North Idaho College, had 11 kills in a four-set loss to No. 1 and eventual champion Blinn College in the quarterfinals of the National Junior College Athletic Association championship.

Football

• Peni Vea (2011 Kealakehe), a sophomore defensive back at UNLV, received honorable mention on the All-Mountain West Conference team.

He finished with a team-high 97 tackles, including 64 solo, and had two interceptions and two pass break-ups.

To submit a collegiate athlete with Big Island ties for publication, email kjakahi@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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