A year ago, Kaipono Benson didn’t know much about setting a volleyball, but he worked on self-improvement, a blueprint his Makua Lani teammates followed.
The 6-foot sophomore became the quarterback for the Lions, who produced a fairy-tale season winning the BIIF Division II title in the program’s second year.
It’s something of a time-honored tradition that when awards are handed out the older one gets his due first and the youngsters have to wait their turn.
But the league’s coaches recognized Kaipono’s value as an all-around threat, a quarterback setter who ran the offense, an ace server who piled up points and a steady presence.
He turned the apple cart upside down and was named the BIIF Division II player of the year, in a vote by the league’s coaches, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today.
“I’m super stoked. I really didn’t expect this being my first year at setter,” he said. “It’s fun to beat my brother. I’m super proud.”
His brother is Kahoku Benson, a 6-4 junior middle blocker, a constant workout partner and teammate for life.
Kahoku, sophomore hitter Elliott Veisauyadra, Hawaii Prep seniors Kala Thurston and Stormer Horton, Christian Liberty sophomore Josh Rusthon, and Konawaena senior Sergio Cancino also landed on the first team.
“It’s great that they got honored. They all put in a lot of work and effort. Them being recognized is well-deserved. I would say without them I wouldn’t be player of the year,” Kaipono said. “My brother played a big role. He was our middle, our main power hitter. I could run plays with him and it was really fun. He was always supportive. If I got discouraged, he would get me back up and focused on the game. We did a lot of workouts together.”
YouTube is a wonderful learning tool. Don’t know how to tie a Windsor knot? YouTube has got that covered. But there’s something about seeing something up close.
“I’d do setting drills by myself, setting against a wall,” Kaipono said. “We’d go play beach volleyball and I would watch other guys set and ask them how they got there and what drills they did. My brother helped me become a better setter and we basically became a dynamic duo.”
The Benson brothers get their athleticism from their parents (Kapono and Kimberly). One was a surfer, the other played soccer.
“I’ll probably play soccer next year,” Kaipono said. “It’s a really good cross-training sport instead of sticking to just one sport. I’m sure my brother will play soccer as well.”
Thurston is the only repeat selection. The rest are first-time picks.
Makua Lani’s Ryenn Sotelo was named the BIIF coach of the year.
Sotelo passed the praise to his assistants Roddy Yomes and his sister Missy Yomes, a former UH Wahine.
“Roddy and Missy are well-known volleyball coaches,” Sotelo said. “It’s always about the kids and as coaches that’s what we want to see, these kids excel.”
It’s more likely than not that the Lions will continue their magical run next year. They lost just one senior in Charles, a middle blocker, and it’s wide open at states.
State champion St. Francis is shutting down its school. Kapaa, the runner-up, has seven seniors on its roster.
Sotelo knows Makua Lani’s success was no fluke, pointing out that the Lions beat HPA three times, including for fifth place at states.
He’s just hoping his players continue to work hard and come back next season hungrier than ever.
“If they do stick together, the sky is the limit,” he said. “We could go to states again and do very well.”
Kaipono Benson, Makua Lani, S, 10
Kahoku Benson, Makua Lani, MB, 11
Elliott Veisauyadra, Makua Lani, OH, 10
Kala Thurston, HPA, OH, 12
Stormer Horton, HPA, OH, 12
Josh Rushton, CLA, OH, 10
Sergio Cancino, Konawaena, OH, 12
Player of the Year
Kaipono Benson, Makua Lani
Coach of the Year
Ryenn Sotelo, Makua Lani
Makua Lani: Tristan Charles, Laukoa Fruean, Jeremiah Hernandez
Konawaena: Darren Poopaa, Randy Hao-Duarte
Ka’u: Andre Carvalho,
Pahoa: Carlo Daquioag, Jordan Darao, Kailyr Gibson, Duke Palma, Keanu Muck, Jayden Broad-Melander, Maluhia Kuahiwinui
HPA: Umi Kealoha, Matija Vitorovic, Iosua Tufaga, Kukila Lincoln, Hunter Ellis
Christian Liberty: Terrcin Allen, Chase Cobile, Jerry Becker
Honokaa: Elijah Aguilar, Keison Falk, Diesel Martinez
Kohala: John Nicholas, Isaiah Salvador