Washington transfers making a difference
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
|Kalaheo's Jacob Reis hopes playing on a high school team will help him get a shot at college volleyball.
Eugene Tanner The Honolulu Advertiser
The three senior transfers from Washington state, which does not have boys' volleyball, are not just roster fillers. They have helped their respective teams advance to Thursday's opening round of the O'ahu Interscholastic Association volleyball tournament.
"I love it," Uelese said of belonging to a high school team. "It's like my dream."
For the three all of whom lived in Hawai'i earlier in their lives playing for a club team was the extent of their volleyball experience in Washington, which sanctions only girls' volleyball.
"Girls' volleyball is big in Washington," noted Reis.
For Reis and Uelese, they hope by playing for a high school team gives them exposure to play collegiately. Their coaches feel they are Division I prospects.
"He has great potential," Kalaheo coach Sivan Leoni said of Reis. "He's the type of player who won't make mistakes at a crucial time. He'll do something good for you."
Leoni, a former University of Hawai'i player, thinks Reis, a 5-foot-11 setter, is a match for UH coach Mike Wilton's team.
"Wilton likes athletic guys with ability," Leoni said.
Reis said he has received offers from small East Coast schools, but would prefer to play here or the West Coast.
McKinley coach Chad Giessman has high hopes for Uelese.
"He has Division I potential," Giessman said. "He has the talent to play any position."
But Melei said he is content with club ball after high school. He said he plans to attend Seattle University, which does not have a men's team.
Time to come home
Reis, who lived in Wai'anae until age 10, has the most experience of the three, having started playing at age 7. Also, it helped that his father, Clyde Reis, coaches the sport. The elder Reis, who played at Kamehameha during the 1970s and at Brigham Young-Hawai'i when it had a men's team, was an assistant at Wai'anae High before eventually becoming the women's volleyball coach at Division II Saint Martin's in Lacey, Wash., two years ago. The bulk of Jacob's experience comes from playing for a club team.
Reis said his coming here wasn't only about volleyball. He said he has family and friends in Wai'anae. Still, leaving home wasn't easy.
"My parents had to let me go," said Reis, who lives with an aunt in Maunawili. "It was hard for them. I'm the oldest, their first son. It was time for me to come home."
Reis was the last of the three players to move here. In fact, Melei and Uelese did not know Reis was here until their teams played against each other. They all stay in touch.
Uelese, a 6-2fl middle blocker, lived on the Big Island when he was 9 years old, but his father's military career sent him to Washington.
"I knew I had family here, so I came here to play volleyball," said Uelese, who lives with his aunt and uncle in Liliha.
Like Reis, Uelese was relegated to club play, usually playing on teams with adults. So playing with peers was a welcomed change.
"I love it," he said. "I never experienced playing with people my age."
Uelese also likes the aloha spirit.
"Everyone's more friendly here (than in Washington)," he said. "Everyone's always saying, 'What's up?' or 'Howzit?' "
Of the three, Melei is the only one with previous high school volleyball experience. He was the Governors' opposite hitter as a freshman three seasons ago before his family moved to Washington to find better employment opportunities.
Seeing is believing
Governors' coach Erica Tumaneng said she had heard rumors of Melei's return but was skeptical.
"I'll believe it when I see him," she said.
Melei turned out to be a crucial addition. Being left-handed, Tumaneng felt it would be advantageous to move Melei to setter. Because the setter moves left to right on the court, Melei can double as hitter, Tumaneng explained.
Melei took a crash course in setting from his sister-in-law, former University High and Nebraska setter Fiona Nepo.
"It was frustrating at first," Melei said of setting. "I didn't know what I was doing. But by the beginning of the season, I felt good. I knew what I was doing. I love setting now."
His move to setter had a positive effect. That allowed Tumaneng to move Henry Valentie, the team's setter the past two seasons, to outside hitter. She added that Valentie also is the team's best passer.
Like Reis and Uelese, parting from parents was hard for Melei, who lives with his sister in Kalihi.
"I'm close to my Mom," he said. "It's the first time I've left my parents. But I'm comfortable with my sister. At least I get to graduate here and play volleyball my last year."