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Patience and purpose: Kamehameha Schools builds first high school beach volleyball team in Hawaiʻi

April 24, 2024

Wednesday afternoon practice starts with a huddle and head coach Lia Young Hunt asking her athletes how they are feeling after their first beach volleyball tournament the previous weekend. 

Still tired, but happy, seems to be the overall feeling. They raise their hands for a group “I MUA!” and get to work. After a warm-up, they take their places on the sand courts at the University of Hawaiʻi and begin drills.

For Hunt, the prevailing feeling is gratitude.

“Everything about this entire inaugural season has been so special and it has been filled with just incredibly special people and extraordinary kōkua from all levels,” Hunt said. “There’s been overwhelming support from poʻo kula Dr. Taran Chun, the KSK Athletic department, KS head volleyball coach Chris Blake, and UH Beachbows and head coach Evan Silberstein.”

KS Kapālama is the first high school in Hawaiʻi to field a beach volleyball team, with coaches and players alike recognizing the significance of this accomplishment. Some 30 girls came to tryouts in February but only 12 spots were available on the team.

“It's an incredibly difficult process for any coach,” says Hunt, regarding team selection. “My message to them was that you were all a part of this incredible experience and this historical event. You are forever written in the annals of Kamehameha Schools and you get to be a part of that and even if you're not on the roster, you should be very proud of coming out here and being a part of that.”

Kalei Watson KSK’24 is excited to play for Kapālama in her last year of high school. “It's so important to me. I mean, I can't get over it. And we're history makers - as a senior, it's super cool to be a part of because nobody else really gets this opportunity.”

Hunt says the team’s mantra is “patience and purpose.” Together with four assistant coaches, they emphasize focusing on the moment, practice after practice.

“I really look at it as an opportunity to collaborate with these amazing athletes and cultivate our future mana wāhine leaders. How they warm up has everything to do with the objectives that we want by the end of the day. And then we start the next practice the same way, including them in that discussion. It allowed us a really rich space for them to be a part of their success.”

That mantra is turning into success on the court. In their first tournament hosted by Outrigger Canoe Club, the Beach Warriors took the first flight at the 1’s and finished with a record of 3-2. Hunt is proud of the team’s overall performance.

“The girls just stepped onto the court, and they were dialed in, focused. It says a lot about the Kamehameha Schools culture. Just their focus and execution - and that's the ‘patience and purpose’ part. How we approached that opportunity was: we are enough, who you are is enough.”

For the players, too, this is more than just a game. Says Melahi Palencia KSKʻ27, “This team, it's like family to me even though we just started this year. I feel like we all get along really well. Even though the seniors are going off to college, we’ll always be a special group of girls.”

Watson reflects on the historic significance of this first season. “It's just so cool to be a part of women pioneering sports, seeing it start off with a staff of women and us being young mana wahine and going through this whole process together.”

Coaches and players alike look forward to watching their sport grow. “I hope that it could keep going and other schools across Hawaiʻi could start a program and get it going,” says Palencia. 

She hopes one day, her team will travel to play high schools in the continental U.S. Coach Hunt looks forward to developing more of “the celebration of grit, resilience, emotional quotient, intelligence quotient, empathy,” that is the sport of beach volleyball.

“We are cultivating leaders out here.” The coaching staff fosters an E Ola! learning environment on the courts, beyond the classroom.

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