Breakthrough Season Luring Freshmen To Aiea Volleyball

Aiea girls volleyball’s return to the state tournament last November had another benefit besides bringing a good closure to the 2013 season. A return to winning ways last fall also helped lure a large number of newcomers to summer workouts recently, according to second year co-head coach Kory Toyozaki.

“We had a lot more freshmen try out this year, with 20,” she said. “We haven’t had that many (in past years).”

Numbers were an issue within the program last year, despite the varsity team going 8-6 versus OIA opponents, including a 6-4 season mark in the OIA’s West. (Aiea’s state tournament appearance was its first in four years.) Indeed, Na Ali’i’s junior varsity team numbered just six last year, while Aiea’s Blue Division team had just eight players.

The large and talented freshman class is plainly what the program needed. Toyozaki, who works with co-head coach Blythe Yamamoto, expects “two or three” of the first-year players to make the varsity roster in early August. Aiea graduated five seniors, but much talent is still found among the 2013 returnees, including Katelyn Nakasone, Lole Kalani-Liulama, Leleo Maeva, Marissah Martinez and Destyni Grace.

Nakasone and Kalani-Liulama are both seniors.

“Katelyn will bring experience,” Toyozaki said. “She’s a 4.0 student and a talented paddler. And Lole is amazing. She’s going to run our defense. She’s also come a long way in the classroom and is now looking at college. I think she can get a scholarship, she’s that good.”

Grace had a stellar freshman year as setter, earning OIA All-Conference honors, and is currently competing with the Hawaii High Performance Team while attending Aiea’s summer workouts.

“She’s a year-round player,” Toyozaki said. “She also attends a lot of clinics.”

Maeva was a starting outside blocker last season, while Martinez moved up to varsity from the Blue Team late in 2013. “Marissah is working hard this summer, that’s for sure. Leleo is one of our more experienced players there. Our other girls will look to her.”

Senior leadership was one of the key pieces in Aiea’s breakthrough 2013 season, and Toyozaki is hoping for more of the same this year, although she has only a handful of veterans in her current group.

“They got a taste of it last year,” she said of the returnees. “Right now, we’re trying to make them step up and be leaders. We have a lot of freshmen practicing with the varsity right now. I think we’ll come around this year. We’re excited. It’s an awesome group of girls.”