UHH volleyball: Five recruits ‘have the talent to make impact’

Not every UH-Hilo volleyball recruit will have an impact like Emily Wade, who smashed eight kills and hit .615 against Western Washington in the NCAA West Regional last season.

The 6-foot-3 middle blocker had a sensational freshman year for the Vulcans, who finished 23-8 and reached the postseason for the first time since 2011.

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Wade, who made the All-PacWest first team, was the last parting gift from former coach Gene Krieger, who’s now at San Diego Christian.

It’s UHH coach Chris Leonard’s turn to show his recruiting chops, and he landed a well-balanced, five-member 2020 class, three hitters, a setter and a libero.

He signed Camilla Chun, a 5-10 outside hitter from Farrington; Nicole Logan, a 6-2 hitter from Huntington Beach, Calif.; Chloe Culanding, a 5-8 opposite from Virginia; Tani Hoke, a 5-4 libero from Maryknoll; and Teia Magaoay, a 5-6 setter from Tracy, Calif.

Leonard doesn’t offer empty promises, like a guaranteed starting spot. The only thing offered is the opportunity to compete for a spot.

“They have the talent to make an impact,” he said. “But we’ll let the pieces fall where they may once they come in.”

Hopefully, the best attribute each recruit has is a good deal of patience.

Bria Beale will return for her senior season and landed on the All-PacWest first team. It’s highly unlikely that she’ll be on the bench.

Amber Tai and Taira Kaawaloa hared the other outside hitting post will also be back for their senior seasons.

Alexandria Parisian, at 6-1, offers height and power at the opposite spot and will be a junior.

Kendall Kott, a 6-0 setter, landed on the All-PacWest second team after a solid freshman season.

Kaila Lizama finished her senior season at libero after waiting for her turn to start.

It’s more likely than not that Hoke has the best shot to crack the starting lineup. She’s been well-trained and played club ball under Gabby Matautia, who played at Temple, and Kolby Kanetake, a two-time All-American at UH Manoa.

“We have high hopes for Tani, and we have other defensive specialists,” Leonard said. “Our outsides are solid passers.

“Right now, we’re getting more emails with the COVID-19 than prior to that.”

Leonard is well-versed in recruiting because he’s been at UHH for seven years and a club coach at Pilipaa, where he took his teams to the top mainland tourneys, where he built contacts.

He’s had to make sure to find the right fit recruit for UHH. Unlike Chaminade and Hawaii Pacific, there’s no nightlife or Waikiki Beach for UHH to dangle as attractions.

“We have to find players who want to come and thrive in this type of environment,” he said. “Hilo is different from Honolulu, which is a huge city and a 20,000 student campus. We’re more community focused and have a great fan base.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down everything, Leonard was able to scout the Las Vegas Invitational in February to get a head start on the 2021 recruiting class.

It’s a little tougher now that he can’t crosscheck those recruits in person and there’s little video.

UHH’s 2021 recruiting class will be huge because Beale, Tai, Kaawaloa, and middle blocker Ashton Jessee will be gone.

Sometimes, hidden gems come from old contacts. That’s how Leonard snagged middle Kamilla Marinas, who started a few matches when injuries hit.

“Somebody I know from Waianae called me and said, ‘You should take a look at her.’ She’s been working really hard and played a high level,” Leonard said.

The California Collegiate Athletic Association announced it canceled fall sports for 2021. The CCAA is part of the West Region, along with the PacWest and Great Northwest Athletic Conference. If CCAA players enter the NCAA portal, it could be a game-changer like when Beale transferred to UHH from UC Irvine.

Beale was brilliant in the loss to Western Washington. She had 15 kills and hit .303.

Unfortunately, no one else had double-digit kills or hit above .150. The Vikings had more talent and hit .344 to UHH’s .127.

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Leonard is hoping his first recruiting class addresses some of those issues.

“The hope is we got kids who we can plug in and play,” he said. “We want to have kids who know our system and know how to compete either as starters or players off the bench. I used to tell the team that the toughest competition they would face is at practice. The new recruits will help us do that for sure.”

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