Ahuna carries Kamehameha-Hawaii into state tournament
2-0 and got pelted in the last set, falling 15-5.
“My goal is to make a legacy at the school for us to reach that state championship,” Ahuna said. “We lost our big hitter (Shae Kanakaole, now at Whitman College), a middle and setter from last year. We’ve all stepped up.
“What I’ve learned from Shae is no matter how big a block is there are ways around it. You can hit a roll shot, off the block or a tip. She wouldn’t get tired until the play was over. If you make a mistake, you have to shake it off and go get the next one. You have to think that the next one is going in.
“During the week of practice, we’ve been hitting against a big block. We’ve grown in every game for this time right now. I know I’m going to get blocked, but I know I’ll get my kills, too. If you make a mistake, you have to keep working harder.”
That’s the type of mindset fifth-year coach Kyle Kaaa recognizes in Ahuna, who landed on the All-BIIF first team last year, after no league honor as a freshman.
She spent the summer playing club ball for Pilipaa, run by teammate Zoe Leonard’s father, Chris. The club team competed in a tournament in Texas. Ahuna was also part of the Moku O Keawe team that traveled to a High Performance event in Florida.
“She’s always willing to get better every single moment,” Kaaa said. “Her serve-receive is an example. We’re trying to get her not to jump when she receives the ball. She’s always reminding herself, ‘Stay down.’ Every time she steps on the court, she’s getting better.”
Kuulei Ahuna passed away from cancer in April, 2005. He was 51 years old, a stevedore, musician and songwriter. He also gave his youngest daughter a life lesson she’ll never forget.
“My dad was my first teacher when I was playing sports, and he would always tell me to aim when I hit the ball. He would also tell me to never give up what you want,” said Kaiu Ahuna, who was 8 years old when her dad died. “It was hard on my mom (Leslie). She had an early burden, raising me and my sister Mailani (six years older and now a nurse at Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu).
“My mom tells me to work hard all the time to get what you deserve. It’s all about the little things, like chores. That’s responsibility. Everyone has a part to play and we rely on each other. My dad has (three) brothers and (five) sisters. We had a lot of family help. Anything can happen. You have to cherish every moment.”
Kaaa is a Kamehameha science teacher, and one of his colleagues is Leslie Ahuna, a speech and drama teacher at the middle school. Mom did not have her daughter in class; however, Ahuna was a lead in the school’s opera with everything in Hawaiian.
Chris Leonard is also a Kamehameha assistant coach. He pretty much coaches Ahuna and his daughter Zoe, a right-side hitter and setter, year-around. The two Warriors have been playing together since the first grade.
He’s watched Ahuna grow as a hitter, improving each year with All-BIIF recognition as hard evidence, and matching that production with her promotion to L1 as the top outside hitter, jumping in Kanakaole’s shoes.
“She’s developed into an experienced hitter,” Leonard said. “She’s learned to use all her shots, not just be a power hitter, but a smart hitter, too. It’s equivalent to a young major league pitcher who comes in and overpowers the league. But as the league figures him out and makes adjustments, you have to do that and that applies to volleyball and Kaiu. That’s a great attribute as an outside hitter.”
Kaaa half-jokingly noted that everyone knows Ahuna will take the swings when the Warriors need to make something happen. And most times, with her good timing and body control, she delivers.
“It’s no secret that she’s our No. 1 hitter. Everybody on the island knows that,” he said. “In the last set in the BIIF championship, the last three sets went to Kaiu and she put it away.
“That’s how much we’ve grown to expect that. All of them were pipe hits, from behind the 10-foot line. She carries the team on her shoulders.”