Chip off the old block: Kaleinani Kabalis resumes volleyball love affair at Hilo High as head coach

  • Kaleinani Kabalis, right, played two seasons at juco powerhouse Western Nebraska Community College before eventually finishing her college career at Northern State in 2012. In becoming the Hilo High girls coach, Kabalis is the third daughter of Carla Carpenter-Kabalis — an NAIA and UHH Hall of Famer — to join the coaching ranks. (Western Nebraska Community College Athletic Department/Courtesy Photo)

Kaleinani Kabalis is joining the family business of coaching volleyball after she was named the Hilo High girls coach.

She has lived her life for volleyball, lost that love briefly, regained it and wants to teach it and that passion that comes with the game to her Vikings.

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Kabalis is the third daughter of Carla Carpenter-Kabalis to join the coaching ranks, following eldest sister Kahala Kabalis Hoke, who’s in her ninth year at Chaminade, and younger sister Kuulei Kabalis-Bianconi, a volunteer coach at Chaminade.

When Kaleinani got the call and told her mom she would be following in her footsteps, the volleyball matriarch laughed and told her to win some BIIF championships.

Carpenter-Kabalis, who’s in the NAIA and UHH Hall of Fame, was the interim Vulcan coach in 2006 and coached at BIIF schools Waiakea, St. Joseph, and Hilo, where she coached Kaleinani in her freshman year in 2005.

The next season, Kaleinani transferred to Moanalua and played her final three seasons for the Na Menehune, following in the footsteps of Kabalis Hoke, who played all four years at Moanalua.

Kaleinani played two seasons at juco powerhouse Western Nebraska Community College. She had double knee surgery and then landed at Washington State, where she spent a year. She played her 2012 senior season at Northern State University, a Division II school in South Dakota.

Kuulei joined her sister at Western Nebraska for one season. It was a year well spent for the two and stoked the program’s upward trend.

In Kaleinani’s first season, the team finished third at the Juco national championships. The next season was better with a runner-up finish. After she left, Kuulei’s final season resulted in a national title.

Kaleinani replaces Drew Fernandez, who coached the Vikings to the BIIF championship in 2016 and 2018.

“People from the community told me I should apply,” she said. “I want to teach the girls what I know, that high level of intensity.”

Most of all, Kaleinani wants her players to have a passion for the game. Hopefully, it leads to college scholarships and great life experiences.

“I put my whole life into it,” she said. “You’ll get a reward if you work hard and get what you want from volleyball.

“My whole life was spent training for volleyball. My mom wanted me to get a full scholarship for volleyball. That was the goal, and that’s what happened. I’d like to steer our players to that goal, get them into college.”

Her life mirrored that journey. She didn’t find a comfortable fit at Wazzu and lost her love of the game.

She took a year off and then decided to go to Northern State to focus on academics. The coach knew about her and contacted her.

Kaleinani joined the Wolves and the program’s achievements shot skyward like a rocket. The Wolves finished 19-11 in 2012, and they were 25-6 in 2019.

Of course, the obstacles in her life were only meant to go around, over or through, like her knee surgeries.

They robbed the 5-foot-7 outside hitter of her jumping ability. At least she got good rehab tips from her father, Sodie Kabalis, a fitness therapist.

She learned a championship mindset at her time in Nebraska, struggled at Division I Wazzu, and tolerated the snow and cold in South Dakota.

In her senior season in 2012, tragedy struck the family when her brother Kamalu Kabalis was in a motorcycle accident.

Kamalu is still bed ridden, can’t eat or talk. But his complexion is back to normal, a silver lining for the family to rally around.

“He looks different from two years ago until now,” Kaleinani said. “He looks like himself. He’s doing good and gaining weight.

“When that happened, I told the team I have to help my parents and was gone for four months. I told my parents, I have to finish my senior year. I went back up and had the best time playing volleyball. It was fun being around my team.”

Last season, the Vikings had the unfortunate task of facing Kamehameha in the BIIF semifinals and were swept.

The Warriors will likely be the title favorites again because they return a pair of All-BIIF first team picks in middle blocker Taina Kaauwai and setter Sierra Scanlan. The 6-1 Kaauwai, blessed with athleticism, is the scary one.

“I know exactly who she is,” Kaleinani said. “My mom and I train her. Most of the Kamehameha players are on our club team.”

Kaleinani noted that she didn’t think she’d return home. But she’s back home and in love with volleyball again.

She’s also aware of how fast time flies. She’s a mom, too, and the next generation is right around the corner. Her 2-year-old is already displaying the game’s traits.

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“She’s pretty athletic,” Kaleinani said. “She jumps everywhere.”

Just like mom.

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