HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL
Kea sisters set it all up
Getting to both Kamehameha's and Punahou's matches is a challenge for their parents
Setters come in all sizes and modes, but the best have one common thread.
There is no statistical category for emotional consistency. If there were, the Kea sisters would be right at the top.
While hitters can have afford a zany emotional frequency, Kealohilani and Pihana Kea bring a steady, simmering fire and ice-cold composure to the floor for their teams. The results are staggering.
Kealohilani, a senior, is an anchor for a Kamehameha squad (17-1) that is ranked No. 1 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10. She has already made a verbal commitment to play at Pepperdine next season. Pihana, just a sophomore, will be the glue once again when second-ranked Punahou faces No. 3 Iolani tomorrow with a state tournament berth literally on the line.
Buffanblu coach Jim Iams, who knows a thing or two about great setters, doesn't see inexperience or youth in his setter. He sees, uh, an underrated household item.
"Setters have to be sponges on the court. Pihana takes responsibility even when it's not her fault. If the play doesn't go well, she takes responsibility. She takes the load," said Iams, who coached at the NCAA and international level for decades.
Pihana, who transferred to Punahou as a freshman, carries a 3.0 grade-point average.
"She wasn't able to play, but she's handled it very well. We're very pleased with her," Iams said. "She really has a setter's mentality, and that's very important. She's been very consistent in her demeanor."
Kealohilani, meanwhile, has set the bar quite high for her younger sister. Kamehameha won the state championship last year with Kealohilani as their distributor. The Warriors have a lethal, rich arsenal of hitters, and she's learned each and every one of their preferences.
"She works really hard to get the ball to our hitters just how they want it," Warriors coach Chris Blake said. "She's really even-keeled, really consistent. She just doesn't get flustered."
She was at her cool best last week when Kamehameha swept Punahou to claim the Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship. She had 17 assists and delivered the ball to everyone at her disposal. Blake also likes Kealohilani's versatility.
"Defensively, she takes pride in her blocking. She gets great posts," he said, noting that she blocks on the right side. "She goes up against the best outside hitters. (Lauren) Minkel. Liz (Kaaihue). Leinani (Keanini)."
It was destiny that the two sisters, side by side on the hardwood and the beach courts for years now, ended up at rival schools. Being at different programs means Pihana starts this year instead of being relegated to a backup role behind her older sister.
"What (Pihana) is doing as a sophomore, that's a credit to Jim Iams and the staff. We saw her develop over the course of this season," Blake said.
Of course, the sisters didn't just show up at their school gyms and turn into all-state level setters. Their games began long ago under the watchful eyes of Connie and Tracy Kea.
WALLS is not just a place to catch waves. The beach spot near Honolulu Zoo has a volleyball culture of its own, and the Kea family honed its love for the sport on the sand.
"The parents are players," Blake noted. "Tracy didn't play formally, but is a lifer for the game. Connie played in the back row for McKinley.
By the time Kealohilani was 10, she pined to play for a team. A fourth-grade teacher at Waikiki Elementary School was her first official coach. After playing for Kanalii Volleyball Club, she joined Jammers VC at 12.
By then, Pihana was also engrossed with the game.
"I was shagging balls, hitting with my dad on the side," she said. Two years later, she also joined the Jammers, who are coached by veteran Debby Yee.
Fundraisers for mainland trips became a way of life. Tracy, who works in remodeling for Hawaii Kai Construction, and Connie, who works at the Halekulani Hotel, have been there each step of the way. Car washes. Chocolate bar sales. Passing out lineups at UH matches. Matson barge cleanups. Concession vending at UH football games. The kids tagged along, too, except for concession vending at the Sony Open.
All of the work has been worthwhile. The Jammers usually travel twice a year to mainland tournaments. That kind of commitment by their parents has given the Kea sisters opportunities to reach new levels. Kealohilani, who turned down offers from St. Mary's (Calif.) and Minnesota, is very appreciative.
"A lot of people aren't fortunate enough to get a full scholarship," said Kealohilani, who has a 2.9 GPA. "I'm thinking of majoring in business."
The ILH schedule, with matches often slated at the same time and day, makes it a challenge for Connie and Tracy. Connie, a team mom with the Jammers, can actually relax a little when her kids play. She applies face paint and leads the parents section into a frenzy at Kamehameha matches. Tracy makes it to Punahou matches to see Pihana play, capturing every moment on video.
When they get home, there is footage to study, but not a whole lot of trash-talking.
"We just leave it on the court," Kealohilani said.
Pihana, who had 21 assists in the loss to her sister's team, agreed.
"We're usually really tired by the end of the day," she added.
On Sunday, a time of respite from school and practice and commutes through traffic, they still have time for the game. The sand, the ocean and a volleyball. Once a setter, always a setter, always in her element.