Family, friends and gratitude at Kalani’s senior night

Kalani senior co-captains Kailee Wakatake and Tayler Gomes were overjoyed about senior-night turnout for the Lady Falcons. Kalani swept Kaiser 25-15, 25-18, 25-18 on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. Paul Honda/

It takes a different kind of endurance to get through this race.

Kalani senior co-captains Tayler Gomes and Kailee Wakatake know this well. With fans in the stands once again, on a restricted basis, the Lady Falcons responded with their best volleyball match of the season. At least, in the eyes of Gomes and Wakatake.

The Falcons’ 25-15, 25-18, 25-18 sweep of Kaiser put the two neighboring schools in a tie in the OIA East standings at 4-3.

“It was the best game we ever played,” said Gomes, who had five kills and two aces in Kalani’s balanced attack.

Underclassmen played key roles along with their five seniors. Sophomore Haylee Lyons had 10 kills and four aces. Junior Raymie Lum had 10 kills. Sophomore Arye Takamoto dished 25 assists, had three aces and one kill. Senior Ami Evans tallied four kills an two aces.

The junior varsity, White division and varsity matches drew a constant stream of family and friends on senior night. Signs and portrait posters adorned the entire makai and Koko Head walls of the gym.

“It was crazy. It was amazing,” said Wakatake, a libero/defensive specialist. “It was the best feeling ever.”

“It was. I’m crying tears of joy right now,” Gomes added.

Valo Sopoaga led the visiting Lady Cougars with 11 kills. The crowded gym had an impact on Kaiser, as well, with many parents in the bleachers holding signs and cheering. Sopoaga and her teammates played with vigor and poise.

Kalani celebrates after the final play in a sweep of Kaiser. Kalani improved to 4-3 and Kaiser dropped to 4-3 in the OIA East standings. Paul Honda/

After the match, she remained poised until she walked up the bleachers to greet family and friends. In the arms of her father, former San Francisco 49ers and Hawaii football great Isaac Sopoaga, she finally crumbled and cried her heart out as they hugged.

There were many more verklempt moments for players, coaches and families. Coach Janeen Waialae praised her five seniors after the match during the post-match celebration.

“I just hope we go far so we can spend more time together,” she said.

Waialae called this group “hard working” in a post-match interview.

“Disciplined. They listen very well. I don’t really have to repeat myself so many times,” she said.

The Falcons are also honing in and finishing better. Recently, they had a close loss to another potential state-tournament entry, Farrington.

“Being in the zone and on fire. Their intensity has been increasingly growing, which I think is great. They’re just attacking more, which I appreciate,” Waialae said.

After losing their 2020-21 season to the COVID-19 pandemic and DOE restrictions — the ILH postponed, then played its girls volleyball season in the spring of ’21 — seniors at OIA schools like Kalani are simply counting their blessings.

“We were out for a whole year. We thought we weren’t going to play this year. To have this is really amazing,” Wakatake said.

“Our team really pulled together,” Gomes said.

Kalani has one more home match left, but it would have been without the White division Falcons, so they decided to make Thursday night their senior night. Whatever comes down the road, school administrators, support staff, friends and families made this an instant-classic memory for their girls volleyball team.

“It kind of lit a fire under my butt. It made me really want to win,” Gomes said. “Having a crowd really makes you want to push yourself really hard.”

The unranked Falcons are playing well. There are goals and dreams for the team. Qualifying for the state tournament with one of the OIA’s multiple berths is in the realm of possibility.

“I’m excited. It’s our long-term goal,” Gomes said.

“We wrote it on a board,” Wakatake said. “We’re getting one percent better each day. That’s all that matters.”


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