Lions on hunt for Division II volleyball title repeat; Wildcats lay in wait

  • Makua Lani's Kaipona Benson, right, led the Lions to their first BIIF Division II volleyball championship last season and was voted player of the year. (Tim Wright/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

There will be no sneaking up on anyone this time for Makua Lani.

Last year, the Lions, in their second year of play in boys volleyball, won the BIIF Division II title.

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A title repeat will be a little tougher with the loss of three starters. Middle blocker Tristan Charles graduated, and outside hitters Elliot Veisauyadra and TJ Heath both transferred.

Veisauyadra went to the Kealakehe mainly to play baseball, and coach Ryenn Sotelo doesn’t know where Heath went.

The Lions host Hilo at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Kailua Park Gym to open the BIIF season.

“We’re a different team, but our goal is the same, to repeat,” Sotelo said. “We’ve still got the brothers (Kahoku and Kaipono Benson) and our libero (Jeremiah Hernandez).

“We’re not a rebuilding team. We just need reps. Most of the kids played soccer and went to states. We didn’t have a lot of time to practice together as a team.”

The Lions will also play at Konawaena’s 2nd annual Wildcat Invitational, slated for Friday and Saturday at Ellison Onizuka Gym.

With Makua Lani’s emergence, Konawaena sat home from the state tournament for the first time since 2015.

Senior outside hitter Jim Cacabingull is the only Wildcat who was on the 2018 team that last qualified for states.

Konawaena coach August Dias said 26 players signed up, but he estimated that 90 percent never played volleyball before.

“There’s no club team out here,” he said. “I ran one for the first time in a long time last year. We had boys from Konawaena, Ehunui, Makua Lani and Hawaii Prep. As far as Konawaena, basketball and football are big thing here.”

The Wildcats lean on Cacabingull in more ways than one. He’s one of the team captains and top offensive threats.

“His work ethic stands out,” Dias said. “I can leave him in a drill and he makes sure everybody is doing what they’re supposed to while I help out the kids who never played before. I don’t have to worry about him.”

Dias is optimistic about the tourney, which features Kamehameha, Christian Liberty, Kealakehe, and Hana from Maui.

“I want us to have progress every day, on our serve, passing, and communication,” he said. “I want us to have fun if we win and if we lose, we learn.”

Tevita Lavaka, a sophomore, started last year at middle blocker.

“His attitude is the best on the team,” Dias said. “He was the first one to call me during the offseason to work out. At practice, he’s always joking. He’s the funny guy on the team. He’ll boost team morale.”

Sophomore outside hitter Aiden Allred was promoted from the junior varsity near the tail end of last year. Dias likes his commitment to self-improvement and athletic ability

Senior libero Kevin Magana was a backup last season but returned as a different player.

“He took it upon himself to get better,” Dias said. “Now, he’s more confident, and he’s running the back row.”

Sophomore middle Gabe Eastman is brand new to the sport. And like most of the rookies, he’s quick to catch on.

Jorge Ruiz Valdovinos is a senior opposite.

“He’s probably our most vocal leader,” Dias said. “He makes sure the team is doing everything correctly. He’ll push the team to the limit.”

The Wildcats held a volleyball camp over the weekend. They practiced drills and had team-bonding exercises to get ready for their tournament.

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“It’s always fun to play Makua Lani,” Dias said. “A lot of their boys played for the club team. I was really proud of them winning the championship last year. Some of my boys played together with them on the club team. They like trying to one-up each other.

“Our team goal is to make the BIIF playoffs and get back to states. We’d like to battle for the championship. Hopefully, we’re there.”

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