Family affair: Kabalis sisters set for coaching debut for Hilo High at Kamehameha

  • Western Nebraska Community College photo Kaleinani Kabalis, right, played two seasons at juco powerhouse Western Nebraska Community College before eventually finishing her college career at Northern State in 2012. In becoming the Hilo High girls coach, Kabalis is the third daughter of Carla Carpenter-Kabalis – an NAIA and UHH Hall of Famer – to join the coaching ranks.

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Kamehameha's Taina Kaauwai goes up high to tap back a block during last night's DI game against Waiakea held at Keaau High school. Photo: Tim Wright

Before she became the Hilo High girls volleyball coach, Kaleinani Kabalis reached a level very few coaches in the state have achieved, and so did her sister Kuulei Kabalis, her co-head coach.

Kalei played one year for the Vikings before she transferred to Moanalua, which plays in the much tougher OIA on Oahu, following in the footsteps of her eldest sister, Kahala, who’s now the Chaminade coach.

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Kamehameha (2-0) hosts Hilo (1-0) in a Division I showdown on Tuesday night at Koaia gym.

Of course, everyone in the volleyball community knows the Kabalis girls are the daughters of Carla Carpenter-Kabalis, the NAIA and UHH Hall of Fame.

It’s a family affair at Hilo, where mom is the junior varsity coach and dad, Sodie Kabalis, is an assistant, along with mom, sister Kuulei, and former Viking coach Olino Kotaki and ex-UH-Hilo Vulcan Eden Scanlan.

So if the Vikings get off TikTok for two minutes and Google Kalei Kabalis, they’ll discover her background and Kuulei’s as well. Despite only one year at Hilo, Kalei and Kuulei are without a doubt the greatest pair of sisters in BIIF volleyball history.

At Hilo and Moanalua, Kalei made her mark as a 5-foot-9 outside hitter. She’s even in the 2018 Moanalua Hall of Fame, which includes a familiar name in Austin Matautia, the former Rainbow Warrior.

Kalei played two seasons at junior college powerhouse Western Nebraska. She later had double knee surgery and then landed at Washington State, where she spent a year. She played her 2012 senior season at Northern State University, a Division II school in South Dakota.

She also trained with the USA national team, the feeder system to the Olympics, as a libero, receiving lessons from the best coaches in the world.

Kuulei graduated in 2009 from Kamehameha, where she was an All-BIIF setter. She also went to Western Nebraska as a 5-6 libero, played with Kalei for a year, and won a juco championship in her final season. Kuulei played two seasons of Division I ball at Kansas State, where the the Wildcats twice qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

There’s a ton of volleyball knowledge in the Vikings gym from a USA national team libero (Kalei), Division I and juco championship (Kuulei), two-time Hall of Famer and Division II titles (Carpenter-Kabalis), Division II experience (Scanlan), plus tips from one of the best strength and conditioning coaches around in Sodie Kabalis.

As a bonus for parents who want ground-up training, Carpenter Kabalis and Hoke Kabalis run club teams appropriately named HI Intensity, one in Hilo and the other on Oahu. (HI Intensity shut down during the pandemic.)

Kalei recently married Maka Kahananui, and they share three daughters Kailei, 3, Aemi, 2, and Kolea, 2 months. She already knows the joke, “Three more, and she has her own volleyball team.”

“My hands are full,” she said.

There are no Vikings on HI Intensity, so that’s a good thing because Kahananui, Kabalis-Bianconi, and the rest of the staff can evaluate players with fresh eyes.

“We’re teaching the things we learned in college,” Kahananui said. “We went pretty fair, played pro, overseas. Some of my friends are on the Olympic team when I used to train with them at 14 years old. And we’re teaching them life lessons, communication, trust, values that they’ll need after volleyball is done.”

Kahananui forgot to add how to battle though adversity and mental hurdles when she had double knee surgery and found herself at Wazzu, which wasn’t a good fit for her.

She worked her tail off to earn all-league honors at Northern State in 2012, when the Wolves lost to No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul in the conference tournament semifinals. That season, the Golden Bears won their sixth straight Division II NCAA championship.

Her Vikings played club ball, worked out or practiced on their own. It was high intensity during the offseason.

“The team is pretty intense. The girls played with each other in club and some have played together on the team already,” Kahananui said. “This is their first real high school season. They didn’t get a taste during their freshman year. They were doing offseason training off and on the court.”

It’s early so there are no set starters, only candidates to start. It’s a diverse team with players from Hawaiian immersion schools and a versatile one with Vikings capable of playing different positions.

Two seniors Delaynee Figueroa and Tomaia Namakaleke-Swain and junior Eleina Young are the setters. Sophomores Kalikokupuna Kealoha, Julea Manarpac, and junior Trina-D Grube are the outside hitters. Sophomore Kamaleimahie Auwae, junior Kyana Gabriel, and seniors Nevaeh Silva and Makikayln Young are the middle blockers.

The back-row defenders are seniors Maile Kapahu, Victoria Wassman, Figueroa, and Namakaleke-Swain, and Grube. With so many candidates, practice is fierce to earn playing time.

“We’re still trying to figure out out our strongest lineup, to see what work or not,” Kahananui said. “We’ll see what happen Tuesday.”

Familiar Warriors

Kamehameha coach Guy Enriques is in the same boat as Kahananui, a lot of starting candidates and a lineup to figure out.

Some players are familiar names, like Taina Kaauwai, the 6-1 junior All-BIIF middle blocker, and sophomore outside hitter Maela Honma, the niece of former Honokaa basketball coach Daphne Honma.

“They played for HI Intensity when they were 13-14 years old,” Kahananui said.

Juniors Sarah Schubert, a two-sport standout like Honma, and Cammie Masanda, and Kili Helm, and Honma are competing at outside hitter. Kaauwai has one middle spot locked down, and senior Brooklyn Caan is a candidate at right-side hitter.

Junior Leisey Kelii is a libero candidate, as well as senior Tabitha Pacheco. At setter, the candidates are juniors Kaiyana Troy, Savanna Colliado, and Tacoma Kelson.

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“We look good in practice,” Enriques said. “It’s a weird season. By now, we would have played in one mainland and one Oahu tournament. We didn’t even have our own tournament.”

Ready or not, the first big Division I test starts now.

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