All-BIIF volleyball: Enriques’ excellence keeps Ka’u at high level

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Kai Enriques carried the Ka‘u volleyball team on his back, putting up monster numbers in one match that summarized his dominance.

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Kai Enriques carried the Ka‘u volleyball team on his back, putting up monster numbers in one match that summarized his dominance.

The 5-foot-8 senior outside hitter didn’t lead the Trojans to a second straight BIIF title, but he accomplished the next-best thing, pushing the inexperienced squad to its full potential.

Enriques repeated as the BIIF Division II Player of the Year, in a vote by the league’s coaches, after the Trojans finished fifth at the HHSAA state tournament.

“It’s a big surprise. I didn’t think I’d get it again,” he said. “There were so many good players in Division II.”

Ka‘u senior setter/outside hitter Brian Gascon also repeated as an All-BIIF first-team selection, though he was listed as a middle blocker.

Hawaii Prep senior middle blocker Tucker Higgins landed on the first team. He was the only selection from the BIIF champion Ka Makani.

Honokaa senior middle Shyrome Batin, Kohala senior outside hitter Hana Caravalho, Konawaena senior middle Lena Santiago, and Pahoa senior hitter Torrell Thomas round out the first team.

Besides Enriques and Gascon, the only returning Trojans with experience were Anthony Emmsley-Ah Yee, an honorable-mention pick, and Joven Padrigo.

“We had a lot of first-year players,” Enriques said. “The biggest challenge was for everyone to stick together, and try to get everyone on the same level with the more experienced players.

“Actually, everyone caught on really quick. After that first game when we beat Keaau, I had a feeling the team could go really far this year. Everyone contributed to the team. The players on the bench pumped up the team. Everyone had to be a leader.”

Since statewide classification started in 2005, the league has never experienced as much parity in Division II as this year — one reason for diversity among the first team.

Ka‘u was the BIIF regular-season champion and got the league’s automatic state berth. That was a major score because it was a gauntlet survival through thorns for the other state spot.

Kohala was the No. 2 seed, and No. 3 seed HPA beat No. 6 Honokaa in the first round, the Cowboys in the semifinals and the Trojans in the BIIF championship to reach states.

Monster stats

Once on Oahu, Enriques put down Ruthian stats against first-round foe Hana, from the MIL, that ranks as one of the most dominant performances by a Trojan at states in the school’s history.

He slammed 41 kills on exactly 100 swings. That nearly matched his cousin and Kamehameha outside hitter Evan Enriques’ epic effort against Punahou in the Division I state final in 2012.

Back then, Evan Enriques clobbered 42 kills on a whopping 110 swings for the Warriors, who lost in five sets.

Like his cousin, Kai Enriques and the Trojans fell in five sets. It was a bittersweet feeling.

“I never realized how many kills I had. I was enjoying the game so much,” he said. “When I heard, I was pretty excited.

“But states was up and down. If we won that first game, we could have had a chance to go to the championship. But being there with the team and having fun was the best part.”

Like his cousins (Evan, Emmett, Addie and Avery Enriques) at Kamehameha, the Trojan senior isn’t the tallest outside hitter.

But Enriques finds a way to hit the ball to the floor. And an underappreciated part of his game is his ball-handling, which makes the jobs of everyone else much easier.

After the loss to Hana, the Trojans whipped Castle in two sets, and swept HPA in two games for fifth place.

Against the big Ka Makani block, Enriques had 18 kills on 48 attacks, putting his savvy hitting skills to work.

“I think my strength is ball-placement, hitting smart,” he said. “If the block is really big, I’ll look for a tool shot or tell the setter to send me the ball more outside, so I can hit a line shot.

“I try to visualize and see what’s on the other side of the net and have the block work more. If I put a ball down, it’s a good feeling.”

Off to Iowa

The good feeling won’t stop for Enriques, who has a scholarship package from Briar Cliff, an NAIA school in Iowa.

Toni Beck, a 2014 Ka‘u graduate, completed her freshman season for the Chargers, who qualified for the NAIA national championships.

Beck, who averaged 1.22 kills per set, got in all three matches at the national championships for Briar Cliff (19-15).

The Chargers will debut a men’s program for the 2015-16 season and Trevor Schirman, a 1986 Punahou graduate, will coach both teams.

Sharon Beck, the Ka‘u principal and Toni’s mom, urged Enriques to contact the Chargers and one thing led to another, and an opportunity opened up.

“I’m really grateful to go to college and experience what’s out there,” Enriques said. “Ever since Toni went to Briar Cliff, her mom has pushed me to strive for college and told me about the new men’s program. I tried for it and got it.”

Enriques has a 2.7 grade-point average and plans to major in sports science.

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He’ll likely be a libero, but then again his size hasn’t stopped him before from lighting up taller teams.

“I’m pretty excited, just to do something that I love and that’s to play volleyball,” Enriques said. “My passion is volleyball, just the feeling of playing. For me, it’s really exciting.”

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