Tiani Bello and Nani Spaar started as freshmen for Kamehameha, which has watched Hilo and Waiakea grab the volleyball golden seats.
Hilo won the BIIF Division I title in 2016 and Waiakea took it last season. Both punched tickets to the HHSAA tournament the last two years.
Despite a wealth of experience and the talented one-two punch of Bello and Spaar, Kamehameha has been No. 3 in the Big Three rankings.
The Warriors are itching to return to their throne of prominence, which could be classified as a case of How the Mighty have slightly fallen. They went to states 12 straight years from 2004 to 2015, which included title runs from 2004-07 and 2010-14.
It’s not that Kamehameha took a gigantic leap backward. It’s just that in the Big Three race, the competition has been really competitive and someone is always stuck at home from states.
The Warriors will have a new-look. Gone are nine seniors including six starters: two middle blockers, two setters, a right-side hitter, and a libero.
Also, there’s a new coach. Guy Enriques, the longtime boys coach, is the new coach. His assistant is the old coach, Sam Thomas, who’s been the girls coach since 2014. Thomas is also the boys coach taking over last season.
“I’m helping Guy coach the girls and I expect him to help me coach the boys,” said Coach Sam, the leading dry humor comedian on the team.
Enriques was running his Oregon summer volleyball camps and left Thomas in charge at the Waiakea Invitational tournament.
Waiakea and Hilo both graduated all their top players, and no one has a one-two hitting attack like Kamehameha, which needs its ball-control to keep pace with Bello and Spaar.
Another difference is Bello, who has changed in mind, physique, and outlook. She’s 5 feet 8, an inch taller, improved her vertical to nearly 30 inches, and looks at her team’s outlook from an underdog’s perspective.
“I grew in my defense and am a lot better in serve-receive,” she said. “ I’m trying to be more of a leader. Before we had a lot of juniors and seniors. We’re on different club teams, but when it’s high school we come together as one team.
“Last year, Kiki Troy was our leader. She would tell us what to do. This year, I fell we’re all contributors. We all work together.”
A summer highlight for Bello was playing for High-Performance (the farm system for national teams) in Oklahoma, where U.S. players competed against international talent.
There, Bello faced 6-foot trees and had to develop and rely on secondary shots, instead of hammering away at tall walls. She also found motivation for college.
Her HP coach is the Cornell coach, so Bello has an incentive to knock down tall roofs, hit the books and spur the Warriors over their Big Three rivals.
“Great things could happen for us this year, but we’ve been No. 3 and looking up the last couple of years.”
Spaar was sidelined with a knee sprain and didn’t play on Thursday. She didn’t try out for the HP team. She is a verbal commit to Temple.
Bello, Spaar, Megan Baldado and Lokelani Kuamoo all play for Pilipaa, which finished 41st at the U.S. Junior National championships in Detroit.
Bello and Spaar have a friendly rivalry. If Bello is on pace for 20 kills, it’s a lock that Spaar is on a run for 25. But Bello pointed out that it’s all about the team.
“If I’m in the front row, she’s in the back and helping me,” Bello said.
Freshman Sierra Scanalan has settled in as the setter. Seniors Kananai Chan and Kaysha Kahai-Enos and sophomore Kipona Dougher will share time at middle blocker.
Seniors Mahina Kenoi, and Baldado, a junior, will split time at the left and right hitting posts. Sophomore Kendall Cabatu has locked down the libero job.
Even Spaar looks different. She’s now 6-1, also an inch taller. She’s got accurate aim on and off the court.
“My summer highlight was playing volleyball every day,” she said. “We had a lot of good games.”
Spaar didn’t need to mention it, but maybe her best games are right around the corner, and she’ll feel different as a BIIF champ.