They started playing volleyball together as 10-year-olds on a club team and stuck together through high school and college, reaping, among other things, a national title, a memorable state tournament appearance and a pair of scholarships along the way.
A few years removed from their playing days, Ashley Hanohano and Jazmin Paakaula are teaming up again as coaches at Waiakea High, hoping to pass on the same special bond that they shared on the court.
“Jaz and I were out to lunch one day and we’re talking about getting back into volleyball,” Hanohano said. “Jaz said, ‘Do you want to coach?’ Six months later I applied and got the job.”
Hanohano enters her first head coaching job flanked by Paakaula as a varsity assistant as well as an army of ohana. Hanohano’s mother, Rachelle, her longtime coach in club ball and at St. Joseph High, and father, Tommy, and are on the support staff, as is her cousin Chad.
With the Warriors set to host their inaugural preseason volleyball tournament today, Ashley Hanohano has spent the better part of training camp stressing the importance of teamwork, an intangible that she and Paakaula know well.
That and success.
“We do have high standards,” Hanohano said. “But we’re still trying to rebuild the program. We need to get them to work as a team, that’s the only thing we’re thinking about.”
Hanohano, Paakaula and Lindsey Lee first teamed up on Rachelle Hanohano’s YMCA Na Opio Juniors, winning a national age-group title as 12-year-olds in 1998. At St. Joseph, they were on Cardinals teams that claimed two Big Island Interscholastic Federation titles and also made a storybook run at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament, finishing runner-up in 2002. They stuck together in college, attending Division I Fairfield University on full-ride scholarships.
“We played club ball, we played high school ball and most of us played together,” said Ashley Hanohano, a former setter who ranks in the top 10 on Fairfield’s all-time assist list. “We were very successful. Mainly it was because we were always together. It was a team. And that’s what we want to bring here.”
“There are places to go. Education is first, but volleyball can be something that gets you to college.”
Last season wasn’t a typical one at Waiakea. An inexperienced Warriors squad endured a 7-9 season in 2012, failing to reach the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament for the second straight year.
“It was a struggle,” sophomore Kadara Marshall said.
Hanohano considers this season a clean slate, and the athletic 5-foot-8 Marshall and 5-7 senior Kerian Cardoza were two players who stood up well to what their coach described as a college-like preseason conditioning program. Both play club ball with Pilipaa, and the coach also has been impressed with 5-8 sophomore Hii Ishii-Chaves, who can set or hit and plays club ball with the Piopio Bears.
Among the other players in the mix in Waiakea’s still-to-be-determined rotation are senior defensive specialist ShyAnn Medeiros, senior Karlie Austria and sophomore Sydney Koga. Everyone will be expected to block or dig to fit Hanohano’s defense-first philosophy.
“Usually, the focus has been on offense and being able to hit well,” Marshall said. “But it’s better to defend. Last year, we didn’t really focus on it.”
The coaching staff has gone back to basics and worked on fundamentals and tweaks in the preseason, which is one reason why Hanohano’s looking forward to measuring Waiakea’s progress in its tournament against a field that includes three-time Division I BIIF champion Kamehameha and Hilo, which took Waiakea’s state spot the past two seasons, as well as top Division II contenders Hawaii Prep, Konawaena and Ka‘u.
The three-day invitational also gives Marshall a chance to show off her newfound skills after playing with Moku O Keawe in a USA Volleyball High Performance tournament in July in Ft. Lauderdale.
“I learned about the different levels of competition,” said Marshall, who also plays soccer and runs track at Waiakea. “From the mainland to here is a big difference. It improved my game a lot to go to the mainland and experience that.”
There’s a new boss at Waiakea and — in theory, at least — in the Hanohano coaching family.
“If I ask (my mom) to print something out, write up lineups, she does it,” Ashley Hanohano said with a laugh. “She does anything I say.”
Standing nearby, Rachelle Hanohano set the record straight.
“The honest truth is I’m mentoring her. Still,” she said.