McKenna Ventura helped lead Konawaena High School to the Division II state championship in November, but she says that what her club team is doing this summer might be more meaningful.
The Hoopa Hawaii Volleyball club, which features Ventura and 10 other players from the Kailua-Kona area, will compete in the Under-17 division at the 35th annual USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships from June 29 to July 2 in Minneapolis.
It took four tries for Hoopa Hawaii to advance to the national tournament, which offers players not only a chance to compete against 47 other clubs for the championship, but also to impress college scouts from across the nation.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Ventura said of getting the opportunity to play in the event. “I think it’s better than winning states back here in high school because it takes so long to get there and it’s with a bunch of people that we really want to be with.”
Ainsley Keawekane, who coached that Konawaena team to the state championship, also coaches Hoopa Hawaii. His club team tried to advance to the national tournament the previous three years but fell short each time.
“This team that I have going, we competed in the volleyball festivals, which was in Arizona,” Keawekane said. “It’s a national tournament (and) there are scouts that go, but it’s not as big as the nationals.”
Keawekane’s club won the Moku O Keawe region to earn the spot in Minnesota. Hoopa Hawaii was the lone squad from West Hawaii in the eight-team tournament played at Hilo Civic Auditorium in March.
“I think (playing in) Minnesota gives us a chance to finally shine,” Ventura said. “These years we’ve been kind of held back, just going to the smaller tournaments, not really getting to express how skillful everybody is on our team. This year we finally get to show that we’re just as good as them, being able to go and compete and show that we can compete with the best of the best.”
It’s a huge opportunity for Gabrielle Ewing, a 16-year-old right side from Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Kyra Calbero, a 17-year-old setter for Kealakehe. Each are rising seniors.
“Oh, man, it’s so important, especially being on the islands,” Ewing said. “You can always send out videos and emails and calls, but (scouts) have to actually see you play. This is really important, especially for our two juniors.”
Calbero said the tournament might be more important for Hoopa Hawaii than for the teams it will face in Minnesota.
“It’s a big thing for us,” she said. “We don’t have much exposure, being on a rock, but this will get all of the girls exposure to scouts on the mainland.”
The Hoopa Hawaii club, which started in 2003 and trains at Kekuaokalani Gym in Kailua-Kona, will be looking to impress in Minnesota, and Keawekane expects his team to fare well.
“They’re quick,” he said. “Their defense — I’m not going to say it’s the best, but it will be noticed.”