Darlynn Okinaka had to travel nearly 4,000 miles to Iowa Central to make volleyball history at the junior college in Fort Dodge, a small town like Hilo but without the warm weather.
Last Thursday, the Tritons defeated No. 1 seed Illinois Central 23-25, 25-21, 25-18, 24-26, 15-12 to place third at the national junior college championships in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
It was the highest finish for the Tritons (22-4) in school history. They have qualified for nationals six times, the last trip in 2017.
Okinaka, a 2018 Waiakea graduate, followed her sister Kryssie, a 2017 Waiakea graduate to Iowa Central. Kryssie has the distinction as the last one-handed free throw shooter in BIIF basketball.
“It was great. I’ve been here three years,” Okinaka said. “We were fighting to get to nationals and finally made it. We didn’t just get to Top 4, we finished third in the nation. It was crazy, the farthest the school’s volleyball program has ever gone.
“We went all the way against the No. 1 seed. It was the best game we’ve played all season. To compete against a team we’ve never seen and then go crazy, and don’t forget the fact that they were No. 1 and we went in and did our job, and knocked them down.”
Okinaka partially tore her ACL during her sophomore year at Waiakea but played through the injury. In her freshman season at Iowa Central, she reinjured her knee, had surgery, and spent last season in rehab.
“The school’s training program was good,” she said. “They kept me responsible, made sure I had my priorities and came in every day to get back on track.”
As a freshman, she bounced between the varsity and junior varsity teams but always made the traveling squad.
This season, she still worked her way into shape and played in the 90-percent range with her knee, and was a backup libero.
But she still landed a scholarship to Ottawa University, an NAIA school in Kansas, where tornadoes take precedence over cold weather. Kansas averages 94 tornadoes a year.
“I had a good amount of playing time and highlights, and my coach (Sara Horn) put me out on recruiting,” Okinaka said. “I had a lot of messages, and Ottawa offers me a little more than half of the scholarship money to cover tuition and stuff like that.”
At Fort Dodge, the weather varies from 12 degrees to 84 degrees, so Okinaka misses Hilo’s warm weather. But what she misses more is the local food.
“We have potatoes and French fries,” she said. “There are no spam musubi, loco mocos or kalua pig. I’m not getting any of that here. I especially miss my poke bowls.”
“Right now it’s in the 40s. It can get to negative 20. My first year was one of the worst winters. It snows like crazy and the wind chill is cold. You definitely get used to it. It’s pretty to watch from inside, but if you go outside you have to bundle up, and it’s still cold. But it’s a fun experience.”
Okinaka goes from one successful program to another. The No. 19 Braves (31-7) are in the NAIA national tournament’s Final Four, playing No. 3 Westmont College on April 27.
Ottawa assistant Kenna Hall was in charge of recruiting Okinaka, who gets to make another fresh start at another college.
“She liked my foundation and platform,” said Okinaka, who’s a business major. “She really liked me to be a part of the program.”
Okinaka played club ball for the Haili Jrs., coached by Lyndell Lindsey and Jodi Kalawe, who works at Waiakeawaena Elementary with Kryssie Okinaka.
“I had a FaceTime call with Jodi, who works at the same school as Kryssie,” Okinaka said. “This was before we were going to nationals. She was saying how proud she was and how it’s a big deal. She and coach Lindsey have both been very supportive of me and my family, and been a big part of my life.”
When she gets text messages from home, the conversation is not “How cold is it up there?” but “What does it feel like to be third in the country?”
As Darlynn said earlier, it feels great.