It was perfect timing for Kendall Kott and the UH-Hilo volleyball team, which went to the postseason in 2019 for the first time since 2011 with the freshman setter having a fabulous breakout season.
The 6-foot Kott, from Shingle Springs, Calif., set the school record with 1,274 assists on the season and was named to the PacWest second team, all the while as the only setter on the Vuls roster.
Luckily for the Vulcans, she never suffered an injury and created a good flow with the hitters, including Bria Beale, who landed on the All-PacWest first team for the second straight season, and first-time, first-team pick Emily Wade, who left the program.
“One of the things I really like about Kendall is she came in as a freshman and was basically our only healthy and eligible setter for most of the year,” coach Chris Leonard said. “That put a lot of pressure on her, and she stepped up and met that challenge. She came into an environment that was sink or swim, and she was a big part of our success in 2019.”
Kott was blessed with good genes from both of her parents. Her dad Bob is 6 feet 6 and played basketball. Her mom Angela is 5-7 and played volleyball in junior college.
“My mom was a setter and taught me everything from the get-go,” Kott said. “So very early, I was a pretty good setter and enjoyed it. I did play on the right side in high school, so I got to hit. I swam in high school and swam longer than I played volleyball, but it was a smart move to choose volleyball.”
Kott was no average swimmer either. She was a backstroker and set three records at Ponderosa High and likely could have landed a swimming scholarship.
Despite her height, she never warmed up to hoops but dabbled in gymnastics, ballet, soccer and beach volleyball. But volleyball was her strong suit. She was a two-time, all-conference setter when Ponderosa won consecutive league titles.
So, it turned out to be a wise move for Kott to pick volleyball and UHH, which is a nice match for her, too.
“My uncle and aunty (Ernesto and Edith Fistolera) live here,” Kott said. Her uncle owns Fistolera Paint and Supply, and they go to bat for their niece. “I really like warm weather and the environment. I used to go to their house once a week for home-cooked meals. They came to almost every game last season.”
The Vulcans (7-1) hit the road to play Hawaii Pacific (2-6) and Chaminade (3-5) in Round 3 of the PacWest Hawaii pod merry-go-round, starting at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at McCabe Gym.
One reason Leonard believes his Vulcans swept the Sharks twice and beat the Silverswords in four sets twice two weekends ago is because of the sharpened play from the increased competition at practice.
In Leonard’s seven years with the program, it’s the most depth at every position, including setter where freshman Teia Magaoay has been impressive. Magaoay’s addition allows the Vulcans to switch to a 6-2 offense, inserting 6-1 sophomore Cara Bolte, a transfer from Puget Sound, or 5-8 freshman Chloe Culanding at opposite.
It gives the Vulcans a different look with three hitters in the front row. Magaoay is smaller at 5-6 but brings a nice resume. She’s the niece of former UH-Manoa setter Barry Magaoay and is a three-time, all-league pick at Tracy High in California.
Magaoay was headed to Notre Dame de Namur, which shut down its volleyball program. In the tight-knit neighborhood of everybody knows everybody, Leonard played with Argonauts assistant Damien Hardy on Longy Okamoto’s club team, Kamalii Manaloa, back in the day.
Magaoay, described as a plus backrow defender with good hands and instincts as a setter by Leonard, came in with a strong recommendation. She also added to Leonard’s recruiting profile, which includes freshman libero Tani Hoke, who’s on track to break Mina Grant’s career digs record.
“There’s a lot of depth,” Kott said. “Everyone is really nice and gets along very well. Everyone is really good, and we have good scrimmages at practice. It’s high-level competition, and we push each other to get better. Everyone is a hard worker.”
The perfect timing gets even better for Kott, who welcomes her fianceé Michael Haug to Hilo on April 30. He’s in the Air Force, stationed in Nevada but will be in the reserves when he comes to Hilo. It’s been two long years of long-distance FaceTime calls.
He’s 6-1 and played hockey and baseball and did Taekwondo. Haug taught Kott a few moves, so she’s super versatile now. She’s can defend herself, show off a gymnastics or ballet move, swim like a shark at Kawamoto pool, kick a soccer ball, and if need be set, block, dig or hit a volleyball.