Moanalua's Kabalis has elevated level of play
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Wes Nakama
When watching the O'ahu Interscholastic Association girls volleyball semifinals on OC-16 Thursday night, do not adjust your screen.
You do not even need "hi-def" TV to get the full effect.
That really is a 5-foot-6 1/2 opposite from Moanalua skying way above the net and pounding balls into the floor with the kind of explosive force you might remember from a Kim Willoughby or Lily Kahumoku.
Na Menehune junior Kaleinani Kabalis may come in a small package, but she packs some serious dynamite.
"When you look at her, she's not physically imposing," said Kamehameha coach Chris Blake, who watched Kabalis slam 15 kills against his Warriors in last year's state quarterfinals. "But she puts a lot of heat on that ball. When you combine that with her jumping ability, what you get is a really tough, dynamic player who is a lot of fun to watch."
Kabalis' made-for-TV game and personality will only add excitement to Thursday's 7:30 p.m. broadcast, which features OIA Eastern Division No. 1 seed Moanalua (12-1) against two-time defending league champion and East No. 3 seed Kahuku (11-3) at McKinley's Student Council Gym. The match will follow the other semifinal pitting East No. 2 Roosevelt (10-3) against East No. 4 Kalani (9-5) at 6.
Kabalis is trying to help Na Menehune win their first OIA championship since 2000, when her sister Kahala was a senior Advertiser All-State selection.
"We want to win the OIA," Kabalis said. "All we have to do is just relax, and we can do it."
Moanalua's only league loss came at Kahuku in the regular-season finale, a match in which Na Menehune coach Tommy Lake substituted freely.
Otherwise, Moanalua has swept through almost all of its foes and has answered every challenge when tested.
With three veteran front-row players in Kabalis, outside hitter Bri Amian and middle blocker Sarah Robinson, Na Menehune have a lot of weapons.
But the one who draws by far the most "oohs" and "ahhs" is Kabalis, the shortest of the three.
"Kalei can demoralize teams with her power," Lake said. "When she's playing well, she's almost unstoppable."
Kabalis was hitting bombs since her freshman year at Hilo High, but she has steadily learned to harness the power and has shown more of the all-around game she has been working on since she was 6 years old.
Her mother, University of Hawai'i-Hilo coach Carla Carpenter-Kabalis, had been coaching high school and club teams since then and Kabalis would tag along and bump, set, hit and block with younger sister Ku'ulei, now a sophomore setter for Kamehameha-Hawai'i.
By the time Kaleinani was 9, she was playing in leagues with 12-year-olds.
"She was at their level already," Carpenter-Kabalis said. "She couldn't play with kids her age; she was too advanced."
Kabalis actually was trained as a setter until her freshman year, but hours of daily one-on-one battles against Ku'ulei taught both of them how to hit and block. Under the tutelage of her mother, father Sodie Kabalis and family friend Budgie Baker, Kabalis improved her vertical leap to where she can now touch 9 feet, 10 inches — just short of a regulation basketball rim.
"Sometimes (when jumping), it's like I can see things in slow motion," Kabalis said. "I can make my decision (of where to hit) when I'm up in the air."
Her toughest decision came in the summer of 2005, when she moved to Salt Lake to live with grandparents Dante and Olan Carpenter. Kabalis felt homesick throughout her first semester at Moanalua, which was quite a contrast from quaint Hilo High.
"It was hard for her at first, but she's there because it's better for her academically and for volleyball," Carpenter-Kabalis said.
Her grandparents have become her biggest fans, but it's a club that is growing with every explosive spike.
"She's a competitor, but she gets along with everybody and is having fun all the time," Lake said. "The great thing here is she knows a lot of people from volleyball, so this has become her home away from home."
at McKinley — East No. 4 Kalani vs. East No. 2 Roosevelt, 6 p.m.; East No. 3 Kahuku vs. East No. 1 Moanalua, 7:30 p.m.
Fifth place — East No. 5 McKinley vs. West No. 1 'Aiea, 4 p.m.
Third place — Kalani-Roosevelt loser vs. Kahuku-Moanalua loser, 5 p.m.
at McKinley — Roosevelt-Kalani winner vs. Moanalua-Kahuku winner, 7:30 p.m.
at Farrington — East No. 2 Kalaheo vs. West No. 1 Radford, 6 p.m.; West No. 2 Wai'anae vs. East No. 1 Kaimuki, 7 p.m.
at Farrington — Kalaheo-Radford loser vs. Wai'anae-Kaimuki loser, 3 p.m.
at Farrington — Championship match, 7 p.m.
at Kalaheo — West No. 6 Radford vs. West No. 2 Leilehua, 5 p.m.; East No. 5 Kahuku vs. East No. 1 Kalaheo, 6 p.m.; Radford-Leilehua loser vs. Kahuku-Kalaheo loser, 7 p.m.
at Pearl City — West No. 3 Mililani vs. East No. 2 Roosevelt, 5 p.m.; East No. 4 McKinley vs. West No. 1 Pearl City, 6 p.m.; McKinley-Pearl City loser vs. Mililani-Roosevelt loser, 7 p.m.
at McKinley— Pearl City-McKinley winner vs. Roosevelt-Mililani winner, 6 p.m.; Leilehua-Radford winner vs. Kalaheo-Kahuku winner, 7 p.m.
at Kaimuki — Fifth place match, 4 p.m.; Third place match, 5 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 6 p.m.
at Kalani — East No. 3 Kailua vs. West No. 2 'Aiea, 6 p.m.; West No. 4 Waipahu vs. East No. 1 Kalani, 7 p.m.
at Wai'anae — West No. 3 Waialua vs. East No. 2 Farrington, 6 p.m.; East No. 4 Kaiser vs. West No. 1 Wai'anae, 7 p.m.
at Kaimuki — Farrington-Waialua winner vs. Kaiser-Wai'anae winner, 6 p.m.; 'Aiea-Kailua winner vs. Kalani-Waipahu winner, 7 p.m.
at Kaimuki — Third place match, 3 p.m.
at Farrington —Championship match, 6 p.m.
* Televised live on OC-16
Reach Wes Nakama at email@example.com.