Firebrands left mark on ILH


POSTED: Thursday, March 25, 2010

They were one of the state's youngest and most successful girls volleyball programs.

Now, the Word of Life Firebrands are no more. When coach Lee Ann Satele stoked the program five years ago, there was no gym and nothing to build from. No feeder program, no middle school to draw from. It was bare bones.

Satele, a longtime club coach, developed a team that competed in the Division I state tournament, finishing fourth. WOLA then went into Division II and became a powerhouse there with Interscholastic League of Honolulu titles and high finishes in the state tourney.

With the school's closing on June 4, the Firebrands will scatter to the wind. It's an odd and disappointing twist for a team that would've returned virtually intact.

“;Next year had so much promise,”; Satele said Tuesday night. “;Our junior class was coming back, great juniors and sophomores. But now it's all gone.”;

Among them are Kainoa Ocasek and Crystal Powell. Ocasek, a powerful junior outside hitter, battled injuries last season. Powell was a 2008 Star-Bulletin All-State selection as an outside hitter, voted No. 8 in the Fab 15 by coaches and media during her sophomore season.

A few blocks from its Kakaako campus, Word of Life turned a warehouse into a gym a couple of years ago, bringing their work ethic to the weight room and hardwood. Now, they're free agents, so to speak, eligible to play for another ILH school or enter a public school. Though parents, administrators, coaches and student-athletes gripped themselves for the worst-case scenario, the news was still stunning.

“;We went to the meeting (Monday night). It was really sad and emotional,”; Satele said. “;Our junior class had been together for such a long time. They were looking forward not just to playing together, but to graduating together.”;

Word of Life's impact on the ILH was substantial. The girls volleyball program was a Division II force and the football team, under the leadership of Joe Onosai, was highly competitive with other D-II teams in the tough league.

“;As a small school, we were bold and now other small schools are being bold, too,”; Satele said. “;It's OK for small schools to win championships.”;