Comeback Season Moves Na Ali‘i Volleyball Team Up to DI

There’s just no substitute for senior leadership in longtime head coach Erin Okamoto-Coker’s view. As she reflected on her Aiea boys volleyball team’s turnaround this spring – more specifically, from the depths of its 2-9 season in 2013 – veteran play made a huge difference.

In addition to making the OIA White title game, Na Ali’i also earned a berth at the Division II state championships. Along the way, the team posted several wins over Division I programs and finished 9-8 overall.

“All of the seniors matured,” said Okamoto-Coker. “They have a lot more knowledge by the time they get to that level. The attitude changes, and you can see the difference in them.”

The effort did not go unrecognized last week when OIA West coaches gathered to vote on the league’s All-Star teams. Aiea placed Keali’i Leopoldo and teammate Kama Obrero on both the West’s First and Second Teams, respectively. Perritte Togafau, Aaron Vaiaga’e, Jantzen Shinmoto and Zachary Barte made Honorable Mention.

In Okamoto-Coker’s system, players are regarded as generalists rather than specialists. Both Leopoldo and Obrero played at multiple positions for Aiea.

“I could put Keali’i and Kama anywhere,” she said.

“All of the boys were very versatile.

“Keali’i really proved himself this year,” she added. “He comes from a long line (of talented volleyball players) in his family. His setting was his strength. He was the quarterback of our team, and he brought us together. He was well-versed at every position, and he ran every ball down.

“Kama worked really hard. I remember when he was a freshman I would want to put him in and he wasn’t ready. He’s matured so much from his freshman year to now.”

Aiea’s reward for its success this spring is a promotion to DI next season, along with Kapolei. (Pearl City and Nanakuli are slated to move down to DII for 2015.)

* Campbell also enjoyed a fine season, going 10-5 overall, and earning a berth in the DI state tournament. Campbell’s Eugene “Nio” Pouesi earned First Team honors, while fellow Saber Clifford Carvalho-Clark made the Second Team. Receiving Honorable Mention were Adam Amosa, Ryan “Kepa” Berengue, Ellery Vitug and Paulo “Filipo” Maugaotega.

Campbell’s Tracie Huddy Balino was chosen as the West’s Co-Coach of the Year (alongside Ernest Balignasay of Leilehua) in a vote of league coaches.

* Eleneki Fernandes was a First Team pick from Kapolei, which finished at 7-7 overall. Tali Coleman and Rawston Viela both made the Second Team, and Honorable Mentions went to Xavier Maugaotega, Donovan Kanaipuni and Kalanakila Christiansen.

* P-Jay Solomon earned Second Team honors from Pearl City. The Chargers, who went 3-8 in a rebuilding year, also saw Blaise Dela Pena and Taylor Canon earn Honorable Mentions.

* Ejay Tagabi was named to the Second Team from Waipahu, while Johnny Tuia, Storm DeAsis, Corey Antonio Jr., Tuinanau Misivila and Christian Ramoran earned Honorable Mention.