By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
On a recent practice, Waiakea senior Mamane Namahoe was the vocal commander for drills, shouting instructions to his volleyball teammates, who all worked in coordinated unison.
That fills part of veteran coach Ecko Osorio’s long list of expectations, getting leadership from the player who will make the biggest impact when the Big Island Interscholastic Federation season kicks off next month.
Namahoe, a senior outside hitter, is a two-time All-BIIF first team selection. Last season, he had a proficient and well-balanced effort with 20 kills and 12 digs to spark Waiakea over Kamehameha in five sets for the BIIF Division I championship.
He’s one of 11 seniors on Waiakea’s roster of 14 players. The Warriors are not only stocked with experience, but also in the height department with several players over 6 feet, including Namahoe and fellow starters Tony Dollwet and Bronson Napolean.
The fourth returning starter is Dillon Rellez, a 5-11 left-handed hitting opposite. He may not be as tall as the trees on Waiakea’s front line, but he compensates with outstanding jumping ability and big-time power. He’ll be a reinforcement along with Maikai Gahan; both are on the Warriors basketball team.
No. 2 seed Waiakea (9-2) plays No. 3 Kamehameha (7-4) at 7:30 pm. today at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in the BIIF Division I basketball semifinals for a berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
They’ll miss the Warriors preseason tournament, opening the door for others to get playing time. Keanu Esser takes over at setter after sharing the job last season. Kama Paio, a 6-3 senior transfer from Hawaii Prep, landed on the All-BIIF Division II first team last year. He’ll offer a presence at the net and additional firepower.
“He’s got long arms, and Kama’s a good blocker who can pass,” Osorio said. “He’s quick to the ball and presents a nice offensive weapon.
“Mamane is an all-around player and he’s a really smart hitter. He’s got good ball-control. He’s got good technique he learned when he was really young.”
Osorio also sees the guys off the bench providing a boost, especially with his menu of front-row options for blocking or attacking purposes, always a luxury to lengthen the offense with Namahoe, who’s got a partial scholarship to Hawaii, and Rellez at the pins.
“We’ve got several 6-footers,” Osorio said. “Kamalu Kaaa is 6-3, Ty Nishimura is 6-1, Kyle Kua is a super quick middle and Makai is 5-11 and has good hops. We’ve got a deep front line.
“We’ve got good senior leadership. You can see the effort. They all want to work hard and they know it could be a special team. They’re trying to push each other as much as they can. Mamane is super focused. Basically, we’ve got leadership from a couple of seniors who got together and wanted to make sure everyone works hard.”
Ohlen Sugihara and Keala Spain will battle each other for the libero job, the first link in any offense’s attack. Without a clean first pass, it’s next to impossible to set the middle or the right-side, a rarity for Waiakea last season.
In the BIIF championship, Rellez banged down 17 kills, helping to neutralize the production from Kamehameha outside hitter Evan Enriques, who clobbered 46 kills.
What made the biggest difference in that 15-11 last set was efficiency. Kamehameha had nine unforced errors; Waiakea had just five giveaway points. The public-school Warriors were the more experienced ballclub and played much cleaner ball.
But that was nearly a year ago. When Rellez returns, he’ll join a loaded team with depth, maybe one better than last season’s edition, especially with the versatile Paio and a bunch of hungry seniors. Also, Namahoe, an impact starter as a freshman, has yet to win back-to-back BIIF titles.
Since 2008 when Kamehameha won the last of its three straight league crowns, the title has gone back-and-forth between the two East Hawaii rivals. And there’s nothing like friendly but fierce competition to sharpen each other, especially considering the road blocks at states.
Last season, Waiakea fell to Kamehameha-Kapalama, the Interscholastic League of Honolulu runner-up, in three sets in the quarterfinals. On the other side of the bracket, Kamehameha-Hawaii was swept by eventual state champion Punahou.
“We want to be competing for a state title,” Osorio said. “We know that we can. It’s just a matter of covering all the details and bringing effort every day at practice.”