Senior outside hitter Isaac Kneubuhl will be key if Kamehameha is to win its second straight state title this year.

No bull --
Kneubuhl’s good

By Marc Dixon

After finishing runner-up the previous three seasons, the Kamehameha boys volleyball team finally broke through and captured the state championship last year.

Losing top player Rickey Estrada to graduation will hurt. Kamehameha coach Pono Maa called him the "heart and soul" of last year's squad. But even with some fresh faces the Warriors are not worried, thanks in part to senior outside hitter Isaac Kneubuhl.

In preparation for yesterday's match against Punahou, the last team to beat the Warriors in a state championship match, Kneubuhl and Co. warmed up by watching Rap Reiplinger's "Rap's Hawaii."

And while it is doubtful that Aunty Marialani, the Puka Shell Tour Guide or Willie Maunawili had any valuable volleyball advice to offer, the selection of the video, coupled with the Warriors' two straight-set victories last weekend over Lutheran and St. Louis, proves the defending champions can be as intense on the court as they are relaxed off of it.

"This team has a lot of confidence, there's no lack of spirit or intensity with us," said Maa. "In fact, sometimes I have to calm them down."

According to Maa, returning starters Willie Melemai, Jordan Miyashiro and Adam Tuifaga provide the supporting cast necessary to get Kamehameha the possible repeat.

"When we get Adam completely healthy, we'll have Adam, a Junior Olympic All-American, and Willie, a real strong middle, plus we return Jordan Miyashiro, our setter and an all-state player last year, and Jarrett Day, who could have been a starter last year," said Maa.

But the consensus among the players and the coaches is that the main man will be the 6-foot-1 Kneubuhl.

"Isaac is someone who has been with us since his freshman year," Maa said. "He had a lot of potential and we noticed he had a clear vision of what he wanted, he was thinking state championship from the first day."

Kneubuhl's concentration on volleyball actually started long before ninth grade. Playing since age 4, when his father introduced him to the sport on the beach, the Pukalani, Maui, native admittedly eats and sleeps volleyball, training and playing year-round.

"After the season, I do as much as I can. I continue to train, lift weights and do my jump program," said Kneubuhl. "During the summer I go home for a week or so to see my family, and then it's back to club play for the summer before we go to the mainland."

The year-round program for Kneubuhl has certainly paid dividends. According to his coach, Kneubuhl is a complete player.

"It's like the slam dunk in basketball. While a lot of other guys just want to play around the net and get the big hit, Isaac has developed all of his skills," said Maa. "You need more than just the dunk or the big hit to be a complete player."

Being multi-dimensional allows the 180-pounder with the 34-inch vertical leap to do more than just drop the hammer. Besides being the Warriors' exclamation point in most rallies, he is Kamehameha's principle passer. However, while his coach commends his passing and the crowd erupts with every big spike, Kneubuhl's favorite part of the game is defense.

"Nothing is better than the big block," he said.

His coach agrees.

"He understands the value of playing within the system and he has the rationale of just being a piece in the puzzle, yet he's so talented that he still stands out," said Maa. "We count on him for a lot of things, and although he stays within the system, it's nice to have him available to pull us out if we do get into trouble."

Maa will look not only for Kneubuhl to pull his team out of trouble but also to make sure that trouble is always lurking around their opponents. As the leading hitter last year Kneubuhl will be the first option to get Kamehameha through a tough schedule.

"Iolani is a good team, so is Maryknoll," said Maa. "Damien played us tough in the preseason and Maryknoll is real scrappy."

Last year, Kamehameha ran through the regular season undefeated. If the Warriors manage to do the same this season, they will only be halfway to their ultimate goal.

"I expect to win the championship again," said Kneubuhl. "That's what we were after last year and that's what we're after this year. We want to prove everything that we can at this level and represent the best for our school."

Following this year, Kneubuhl has his sights set on collegiate volleyball, and although the thought of playing for the reigning NCAA champion Hawaii Warriors is tempting, Kneubuhl thinks his future is on the mainland. With a 3.9 GPA, first-team all-state volleyball accolades and last year's state tournament MVP trophy, Kneubuhl has several suitors.

"Cal State Northridge is bringing me up for a visit, and I've been contacted by NYU, San Diego and hopefully I'll be talking to Santa Barbara pretty soon," said Kneubuhl. "But first things first, we've got to take care of business here."

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