HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kamehameha setter Caitlin Andrade will play volleyball at San Jose State next year.
Caitlin Andrade of Kamehameha aims for a fourth state title
No controversy here, these Warriors have their quarterback.
With the Manoa signal-caller carousel in a seemingly perpetual spin, the volleyball Warriors from the school upon a hill have no problem entrusting their state title hopes in the pillow-soft hands of experienced setter Caitlin Andrade.
Working her way into Kamehameha's starting setter position midway through last year, Andrade was credited with adeptly managing the Warriors' state championship offense, powered by former high school seniors and current collegiate players Bekah Torres (Pacific), Jordan Meredith (Boston College) and state player of the year Kanani Herring (Hawaii).
The Warriors graduated seven players from last year's team, including the Big Three, with Andrade and three-year starting middle blocker Alex Akana the only returning starters.
Despite the inexperience, expectations are high, and with a perfect 15-0 record (6-0 Interscholastic League of Honolulu) entering Saturday's match against St. Andrew's Priory, a fourth consecutive state title seems within reach.
"We try not to think about last year's team, one of the best I've ever been on, but we try to focus on this year and what's ahead of us," said Andrade, who, along with fellow team captains Akana and outside hitter Whitney Viveiros, organized an offseason team training program.
"Caitlin worked out a bunch (this offseason)," said Kamehameha head coach Chris Blake, who has been named coach of the year the last three seasons. "Her fitness and overall foot speed have improved and she's gotten a lot quicker."
Andrade's volleyball skill set boasts not only physical attributes but mental ones as well.
"She understands matchups well and sets the right people at the right time," said Blake. "She's been in our system for three years and is on the same page with the coaching staff."
Andrade's reliable in-game decision making comes from years of experience. Since age 6 she has played the setter position exclusively.
"You're the only person who knows where the ball's going to go," Andrade said of being a setter. "It's exciting to have that power, like a quarterback."
Foregoing the lure of the spike and that thrill of the kill, Andrade has embraced the role of on-court orchestrator, thanks in large part to her older brother, James, a volleyball enthusiast, who coached club teams in California and Hawaii.
"Caitlin always had a passion for the game," James said. "When she was young she'd sit in front of the TV and watch entire volleyball games with me and my father. Other kids would probably get restless, but she could sit through all five sets."
After a head coaching stint at Notre Dame high school in California, James, 36, came back to Hawaii and with his father, Bully, started Keahi Volleyball Club in 2001. Bully, a retired 30-year veteran of the Honolulu Fire Department, encouraged his fellow firefighters to enroll their daughters.
James agreed to coach; Caitlin agreed to play.
So with brother coaching sister, it became obvious who the team's setter would be. As James jokingly described, "I made my sibling the setter so I could yell at her more without feeling bad."
More seriously, James added "setters need to be on the same page with their coach, and I felt I could talk more candidly with her. Setters also need to be one of the more athletic players since they're chasing down balls, and Caitlin excelled at that."
ANDRADE PLAYED for Keahi until the club disassembled a few years ago, at which point she joined Jammers, a club known locally for attracting the island's most promising volleyball players. This past winter, former Hawaii middle blocker Lauren Duggins Chun served as Andrade's head coach.
"Her level of discipline in all aspects of her life is far beyond her years," said Duggins Chun, referencing Andrade's commitment to volleyball as well as her four-year status as an honor roll student at Kamehameha.
In keeping with her desire to learn from the best, Andrade enlisted the help of former University High standout and Nebraska alumna Fiona (Nepo) Fonoti, who holds weekly setters clinics.
"She's a little quieter than I was, but I think it works for her," Fonoti said. "She's definitely one of the top setters in the state."
In the eyes of Warriors opponents, Andrade is more than just a lingering reminder of last year's dominant Kamehameha squad. She's the veteran leader on a team this year that has yet to lose.
"From what I've seen this preseason, Caitlin has really stepped into a leadership role and looks real comfortable playing with the new players," Iolani head coach Jenic Tumaneng said.
Andrade has a chance to play a similar role next year at San Jose State , where she accepted an athletic scholarship from Spartans head coach Oscar Crespo.
"That was my goal, West Coast, Division I, preferably in the WAC, so I could come home," Andrade said. "It's not too far away, but just far enough."
IN THE MEANTIME, Andrade has her eyes fixed on a fourth consecutive state championship.
"Last year we had the best talent in the state," said Andrade, referencing former teammate Kanani Herring. "This year, we have talent and potential. We're getting better."
With volleyball playing such a prominent role throughout her life, one could suspect her passion for the sport to wane. But that's not the case with Andrade.
"I idolize Robyn (Ah Mow-Santos), she's a great role model," said Andrade of the Olympic silver medalist and former Hawaii setter. "I watched every game in the Olympics."
Every single game. And never once did she get restless.