Best of the BIIF, girls volleyball: Ahuna No. 1, but no Top 10 complete without honoring Peterson and those clutch Cards

  • Kaiulani Ahuna, a 2015 Kamehameha graduate, was a two-time BIIF player of the year and played at UC Riverside.

OK, it’s BIIF volleyball’s turn now for its Top 10 players since 2000.

To those who argue that volleyball should have been unveiled first, ahead of BIIF basketball, there’s a great slam-dunk case for that.

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Former UH-Hilo coach Sharon Peterson, now the coach at Hawaii Prep, will go down in history as the Big Island’s and possibly the state’s greatest coach.

To be more accurate and technical, she already is on the Big Island, and it’s not even close.

It’ll be nearly impossible for anyone to come within a mile of her success: seven national championships, a 511-251 record for a .672 winning percentage after 25 years at UHH.

Peterson also competed during BYU-Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific’s foreign player powerhouse era, when the Seasiders and then Sea Warriors relied on Chinese and Brazilians national team players to win a combined four Division II national titles in five years.

There’s also the argument that volleyball is the bigger sport on the Big Island because of the prestigious Haili Tournament, run by Lyndell Lindsey, a former Vulcan under Peterson.

Former UHH coach Jimmy Yagi piloted the Vulcans Basketball School for decades, and it touched the lives of many youngsters, including current Vulcan coach Kaniela Aiona.

But Peterson’s tentacles are just as long and impactful, and she recruited local kids. One of her greatest players is Carla Carpenter-Kabalis, who’s in the UHH and NAIA Hall of Fame like Peterson.

Carpenter-Kabalis’ daughter is Kahala Kabalis-Hoke, Chaminade’s coach. Both mother and daughter run club teams called, to no one’s surprise, HI Intensity, a factory for future collegiate players.

Then Peterson showed her love for volleyball when she became the Hawaii Prep boys coach in 2003 and changed the direction of that program.

She has led Ka Makani to 10 HHSAA Division II state appearances, including the school’s first BIIF title in 2012. She led HPA to BIIF titles in 2012, ‘17, and ‘18.

Peterson is also the HPA girls coach and has led the team to 14 straight state trips and placed second at states in 2013, runner-up to Konawaena. She led HPA to BIIF crowns in 2010, ‘11, and ‘13.

What she’s done at the BIIF level could be considered more impressive than during her tenure at UHH, where players were fresh-out-of-the-box ready.

She’s had to teach so many of her Ka Makani players the basic skills, like passing, setting, and hitting, and then get them to play as a team.

It’ll be almost impossible for anyone to pass her achievements: seven collegiate national titles, and six BIIF championships and counting.

Well, enough of that history lesson on volleyball and let’s tackle the Top 10 BIIF girls since 2000: (Players still in college, like Kamehameha’s Nani Spaar at Santa Clara, are not eligible.)

1.) Kaiulani Ahuna, a 2015 Kamehameha graduate, was a two-time BIIF player of the year and played at UC Riverside, where she set the school record with 34 kills in the Idaho State Tournament.

She led the Warriors to four BIIF championships but saved her best work for the Rainbow Wahine, who visited Riverside in 2017 and got lit up. In a five-set loss, the 5-foot-10 Ahuna knocked down 21 kills and posted a .302 hitting clip.

Ahuna is the first Highlander to produce 30-plus kills on consecutive days and the only player to earn national recognition from the American Volleyball Collegiate Association.

Ahuna played one year of pro ball in Europe before returning home to serve as an assistant at UH-Hilo.

2.) Sarah Mason, a 2003 St. Joseph graduate, sparked the Cardinals to a runner-up finish to state champion Kahuku in her senior season and was named BIIF player of the year.

The 6-3 Mason was a product of hard work and extreme dedication in the weight room. During her time at St. Joseph and Oregon, she was a skinny, lanky player.

When she transferred to UH in 2005, Mason had transformed her body into a compact physique of muscle. She was a two-time All-WAC player and a West Region player as a senior.

Mason played with All-American setter Kanoe Kamana’o, but Mason was the most powerful weapon during her two-year tenure.

3.) Zoe Leonard, a 2015 Kamehameha graduate, will forever be linked with Ahuna, two childhood friends, and UHH assistants.

As the daughter of UHH coach Chris Leonard, she has arguably the best hands of anyone in the history of the Big Island. Though a setter at Kamehameha, she switched to libero at Dartmouth, where she was an All-Ivy second-team pick and led the Big Green with a career-high 320 digs in her senior season. Her career 936 digs are 16th in the school record books.

4.) Marley Strand-Nicolaisen, a 2013 Ka’u graduate, was the engine for small-town Division II Ka’u and led the Trojans to their first BIIF title in her senior season when she was named BIIF player of the year.

The 6-foot former middle blocker, who eventually moved to outside hitter at UHH, has a similar story to Mason. Though she never had a physique like Mason, Strand-Nicolaisen added strength to her game and improved her passing to become an effective six-rotation player for the Vulcans.

She was named to the All-PacWest first team in 2016 and is the last impact homegrown player for the Vulcans.

5.) Lindsey Lee, a 2004 St. Joseph graduate, is without a doubt the greatest Little Giant in the history of BIIF volleyball. At 5 feet 4, she was a middle blocker for the Cardinals and was named the BIIF player of the year a senior.

At Division I Fairfield in Connecticut, Lee was the conference rookie of the year and made the first team as a freshman. As a junior, she was the conference offensive player of the year and again a first-team league pick.

She finished her Fairfield career as the leader in digs (1,647) and digs per game (3.88) and was the fifth Stag in history to record 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs.

6.) Chelsey Buyuan, a 2010 Waiakea graduate, was easily the second-best Little Giant in the history of BIIF volleyball. At 5 feet 6, she led the Warriors to consecutive BIIF titles and was twice named the BIIF player of the year.

Her ball-control skills were so good, Buyuan landed a scholarship to HPU, where she played libero. She was named to the All-PacWest third team as a junior.

She absolutely shined in a four-set state tournament loss to Punahou as a junior. Against the eventual state runner-up, Buyuan slammed 18 kills, hit a healthy .385, and picked up 12 digs.

7.) Ashia Joseph, a 2011 Waiakea graduate, was a teammate with Buyuan during Waiakea’s glory years. She was the BIIF player of the year as a senior.

Joseph was an all-around standout at Waiakea, where she played volleyball, water polo, and paddled canoe. As a senior, she landed on the All-BIIF first team at goalie for water polo.

The 5-8 setter played at junior college powerhouse College of Southern Idaho, where the team won the national title in 2012, the school’s 10th championship.

Then she transferred to Division II Cal State East Bay, where Joseph finished fifth in career assists with 1,865 in two years.

8.) Leeta Grap, a 2012 Hawaii Prep graduate, is the school’s biggest volleyball star. She led Ka Makani to consecutive BIIF championships and is a two-time player of the year.

She’s also a product of the Peterson-Carpenter-Kabalis pipeline. Grap played club ball for HI Intensity and landed a scholarship to Division II Western New Mexico, where the 5-11 outside hitter was named to the all-conference first team as a senior.

Grap was also a star on the soccer field at HPA, where she helped the team qualify for states all four years, won three BIIF titles, and was named BIIF defensive player of the year at sweeper in her senior season.

9.) and 10.) Jazmin Paakaula and Ashley Hanohano, 2004 St. Joseph graduates, will be linked together forever as part of the original Cardinal Trio, which includes Lee.

Paakaula was an outside hitter, and Hanohano, now the Waiakea coach, was the setter on the St. Joseph team that won consecutive BIIF title in 2002 and ‘03 and put tiny Hilo on the map when Kahuku visited Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium for the state tournament.

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The Cardinal Trio all landed scholarships to Fairfield, a dream that began when they were 12 years old playing for the YMCA Na Opio Junior, a team coached by Rachelle Hanohano, that won a national championship.

St. Joseph lost in three sets to Kahuku for the state crown but created lasting memories that defined Big Island volleyball.

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