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BIIF volleyball: Hawaii Prep’s Peterson assembling pieces for another BIIF run

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald
    Senior hitter Gemma Palleschi is Hawaii Prep’s lone returning starter
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald
    Jenna Perry, a junior, takes over at libero for Hawaii Prep, replacing her sister Julia.

The eagle eyes catch everything.

Hawaii Prep coach Sharon Peterson sits on a volleyball bench and watches her Ka Makani players and rolls around ideas in her head how to make them better.

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During the Waiakea Invitational tournament, it was a case study of how Peterson’s master class of Volleyball 101 works.

Take senior outside hitter Rachel Chang, a rookie who resembles a piece of clay, for example.

Chang’s shot of choice in a loss to Kamehameha was a tool shot that deflected off blockers’ hands and bounced outside.

Like the comic strips, there was a thought caption above Peterson’s head. It read: blockers will turn their hands in to keep the ball in play and neutralize that shot. Rachel needs a counter shot, a cut shot, where the ball dives inside the block, or a tip shot that goes right over the roof.

When the BIIF playoffs start to draw near, expect Change to hit shots the defense won’t see coming.

Peterson’s players grow and get better, both on and off the court. That’s one of the biggest benefits of taking her master class or essentially making the team.

Peterson’s clairvoyance then turned to her setters, freshman Malia Camero and junior Mikela Darris. Their sets were getting uncomfortably too close to the net for the hitters.

The non-stop HPA coach, who’s also in charge of the boys program, figured a few thousand repetitions with assistants Lacey Hester and Russell Lee focused on proper footwork would improve the duo’s accuracy.

The constant molding, shaping and sharpening are part of the process that has propelled HPA to the HHSAA Division II tournament the last dozen years.

Despite a lack of ready-to-plug-in club players and inherited annual rosters sprinkled with rookies, Peterson’s Ka Makani will beat the odds and win a BIIF title every once in a while: 2010, ’11 and ’13.

That 2013 team finished runner-up to Konawaena for the state championship. That HPA squad was powered by Gabbie Ewing, who worked best with her own unique style, a credit to Peterson’s hands-off approach.

Ewing was a goofy-footed hitter, swinging with her right foot forward. The right-hander had to torque her body to swing away but was so athletic and explosive that the ball didn’t know the difference.

Ichiro Suzuki had an unconventional swing, sort of a softball slapper’s hack, but finished with over 3,000 hits in the major leagues. Gerry Lopez was a goofy-footed surfer and won the Pipeline Masters twice.

Somehow some way, Peterson figures out how to make her Ka Makani work together, even if all the pieces aren’t exactly perfect.

As usual, there are rookies who fill the roster: Chang, Camero, junior middle Morgan Davis, sophomore defender Cydni Alvarez, junior setter Kassadie Hurney, and junior hitter Amy Russell, a newcomer from Maui.

“It’s a rebuilding year for us. We’ve got a lot of new faces who’ve never played volleyball before,” Peterson said. “Hopefully, they’ll learn a thing or two.”

The M&M girls (Darris and Camero) will start at setter and the lone returning starter is senior hitter Gemma Palleschi.

Jenna Perry, a junior, will take over at libero, replacing her sister Julia. The sisters look alike and play in a similar fashion: steady with sound fundamentals.

Perry will help stabilize a back row that includes Alvarez and freshman Ava Koeppen.

Junior Kirra Brown and freshman Kaiulani Bento will start at middle blocker.

“Kaiulani has good height, and we don’t have a lot of height, so she’s not going to the junior varsity,” Peterson said. “With our two middles and Amy on the right side, we’ll have a stronger block.

“Gemma is our big gun. She probably has the most power and has been playing a solid game, passing, digging.”

Asked what she likes to teach her rookies, Peterson mentioned Karch Kiraly, a three-time gold Olympian, and former UCLA star.

“Karch said you can become an elite player without the ball, and you can work every day to make your teammates stars,” she said. “You can back up in transition, look to improve your footwork, anything that can help out each other.”

Palleschi has embraced that culture. She remembers starting out as a rookie and learning from the veterans. Now it’s her turn as a student-teacher.

“It’s cool when we get new players coming in,” Palleschi said. “I like how the team comes together and we help each other. We believe it’s a team effort.”

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The best part of Peterson’s master class is when she gets all of her Ka Makani players to start thinking the same mentally tough way.

“One of the things she tell us is that the body obeys the mind,” Palleschi said. “It all starts from up there.”