By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hawaii Prep senior Noah Schenk spends part of his volleyball offseason playing with his Kuikahi club team on Oahu, gaining experience and adding new weapons to his arsenal.
“He’s dynamic in hitting. He’ll be at outside hitter for us, but plays middle in club. We have that flexibility with him,” Ka Makani coach Sharon Peterson said of her 6-foot-2 power hitter. “He has knowledge of the game and will be one of our primary passers. He’s got a jump-serve and it’s really good at times. He can roll the ball, tip it. He’s got all the shots. He’s probably our most versatile player. He brings all phases of the game to the court.”
Schenk’s multi-pronged skill-set, including big-time firepower, is in stark contrast to the rest of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II level, which has an open door to the title after so many big guns left.
Pahoa is the defending BIIF champion, but graduated its entire starting lineup, including three main links in outside hitter Nick Fisher, setter Joseph Lefiti and libero Anthony Mesa-Serrano.
The Daggers have reached the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state tournament five of the last six years, finishing runner-up last year. It’ll be long odds for a third straight trip.
But stranger things have happened, like last season when No. 4 seed Ka‘u upset No. 1 HPA in five sets in the BIIF semifinals. However, the Daggers swept the Trojans in the championship; Ka‘u then lost to Campbell in five sets in a state play-in match.
The Trojans graduated their main source of offense in Donald Garo Jr., who was the BIIF player of the year in 2012 as a junior. He pounded 20 kills in the BIIF championship loss against Pahoa.
Last season’s BIIF player of the year was HPA outside hitter Jevin Ching, who’s now at Pierce (Calif.) College. He’s not the only impact loss. Kama Paio, a 6-4 athletic middle blocker, transferred to Waiakea.
At least, Peterson’s squad will have several warm returning bodies with the close of the winter season.
Kenji Stinson, fresh of HPA’s first ever Division II state championship in basketball, is the only other returning starter. The 5-11 senior will move from setter to outside hitter to keep the offense firing at the opposition in every rotation.
Tucker Higgins, who’s a swimmer, saw action last year and the 6-4 junior will add to the block, which might turn into a huge strength with 6-7 Evaldes Vegertas and 6-6 David Ovbagbedia, the school’s foreign imports.
The two seniors, from Lithuania and Nigeria, respectively, are transitioning from basketball to volleyball as rookies. They may know little about their latest adventure, but if anyone can school them in a crash course it’s Peterson.
In her previous life at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, the NAIA Hall of Fame coach used to take in greenhorns, and polish them until they became productive. That all added to her legacy of seven national championships, making Peterson the most accomplished coach in school history.
“They were a little hesitant trying something new,” she said. “But I hope they stick with it. They’re good athletes. They wanted to do it for the school, which is really nice. It’s not their favorite thing yet, but hopefully they’ll start to enjoy it. We enjoy having them. They’re real troopers out there.”
Sione Moniati, who logged minutes as a defender last season, will get a shot at setting. Either that or the senior will be one of the main ball-handlers. There’s also junior Michael Ho and freshman Chris DeSalvo looking for time on the court.
“We’re young and inexperienced. Saturday will be our first chance on the court. We didn’t have the luxury of getting on the court in the preseason,” Peterson said. “It’ll be exciting and challenging. Every day they’re improving and working hard. I don’t think we’ll be great at the beginning, but we’re growing, learning and improving.
“Everyone (in Division II) is in the same boat, restarting with a new group. It’s perfect timing. It would be hard if other teams had big returnees coming in. But we’ll find out soon once the season starts.”