THERE'S a gem of a program being developed at Aiea High School. Na Alii girls' volleyball coach Blythe Yamamoto has installed the "Ruby System".
Ruby a gem of
a system for Na Alii
It has confused refs and opposing coaches, but helped put Aiea into the junior varsity championship match earlier this month.
The system has a setter who never leaves the front row (except to serve) and a defensive specialist (the "Ruby'') who plays all six rotations in the back row, opposite the setter.
The program was created by Mollie Kavanagh, a coach who has excelled at every level of volleyball and helped developed over 200 collegiate and national team players. The "Ruby'' is named for one of her former high school players, scrappy - but short - defensive specialist Ruby Guervarra.
"There are three jobs in this 4-1-1 system,'' said Kavanagh, who lives in California. "Four attackers, one defensive specialist and one setter. At the JV and most varsity levels, a block isn't necessary so the system eliminates the wasted efforts of a player who is too short to block in the first place.
"It's simple. Players are always in position to pass, the setter is always in position to set from the front right position and the attackers just attempt to get the ball over and force the opposition to play the ball.''
It's a perfect system for the 5-foot-5 Yamamoto, a redshirt freshman on the 1989 University of Hawaii Wahine team.
"We've used it mostly at the JV level for ball control,'' said Yamamoto, in her fifth season at Aiea. "It gives the setter and the DS more repetitions at their positions, and I think it's made our defense stronger.
"Our kids are short anyway, so it's not like we lost a lot by trying this. It's actually taken the pressure off the setter and DS because they know exactly what their roles are.''
YAMAMOTO, who played at Punahou, has found success with it. Her junior varsity team finished 10-2, losing to Castle in the OIA title match.
Three of her JV players have been pulled up to the varsity for this week's state tournament in Hilo: setter Tara Higa, hitter Nhikki Sakura and "Ruby'' Robyn Chung.
Chung's older brother Chris is the one who introduced Yamamoto to Kavanaugh's system. Chris Chung is a senior at UC Irvine and one of four Hawaii prep products on the Anteaters men's volleyball roster playing for former Wahine assistant Charlie Brande.
"What I like about the system is that it keeps the ball alive, allowing for more touches and, therefore, allows the players to get better,'' said Chung, who has worked with Na Alii the past few summers. "My aim in coaching is to teach the kids as well as allow them to learn and love the sport.
"That's why this system works so well. Correct repetition is the key to learning and success.''
Chung knows first hand about repetition leading to success. The 1996 Aiea graduate first tried to walk on at Loyola Marymount but was cut.
He continued to train with the hopes of getting a shot at playing in college. With encouragement and tips from Kavanaugh and Yamamoto, Chung made UCI's traveling squad as a 6-foot defensive specialist.
"Blythe helped me get into better condition,'' said Chung. "Mollie has helped me reach my goal of playing in college.''
The goal for Aiea (10-3) is to at least make it to the quarterfinals. Na Alii opens pool play Thursday against Kohala.
It is the second appearance in the state tournament in three seasons for Na Alii (10-3), the OIA West co-champs, and just the third for the program in the 31 years of the state tourney.
"We're not exactly known as a power but we're working on it,'' said Yamamoto.
Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.