HAWAII GROWN: NCAA volleyball tournament begins for 13 players from Hawaii on the mainland

Winthrop four-year starter Siani Yamaguchi, a 2016 Kalaheo alumna, won the Big South player of the year award. Photo courtesy Winthrop athletics.

Note: This story will appear in Wednesday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser along with a notebook of accomplishments from athletes from Hawaii over the last week in football, volleyball and basketball in college.


The NCAA women’s volleyball tournament begins Thursday with the state of Hawaii well represented across the nation.

In addition to Hawaii hosting one of 16 subregionals this weekend, nine other schools have players who graduated from high school in Hawaii listed on their rosters, including hosts BYU, Pittsburgh and Texas.

The Longhorns, the No. 2 overall seed, start sophomore Jhenna Gabriel, a 2018 Maryknoll alumna, at setter.

Pittsburgh, the No. 6 overall seed, has freshman Lexis Akeo as its starting setter. The 2019 Kamehameha alumna was thrust into the starting role just six matches into the season due to injuries.

Winthrop made the tournament for the first time in 13 years with Big South player of the year Siani Yamaguchi, a 2016 Kalaheo alumna, as its starting setter.

Yamaguchi hasn’t missed a set in her collegiate career and will likely surpass 4,000 career assists in the Eagles’ opening-round match at Washington.

Utah, which plays Illinois on Friday in the opening round of the BYU subregional, has three players from Hawaii, including starters Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres (‘Iolani) at setter and middle blocker Phoebe Grace (Kahuku).

Below is a look at every first-round match in the tournament involving at least one player at a mainland college who graduated from high school in Hawaii:

Oklahoma vs. Rice
Thursday, 12:30 p.m.
Subregional host: Texas A&M
Players from HawaiiOU: MB Hali’a Swartman-Hogan, 5-11, Jr., ‘Iolani; DS Kira Morikawa, 5-7, Jr., Punahou.
Notes: Swartman-Hogan has appeared in only four sets over the past two seasons after tearing her ACL during preseason practice her freshman year … Morikawa has appeared in just one set after playing in 48 matches and 149 sets over her first two seasons. She entered this year with 233 digs and six service aces.

St. John’s (N.Y.) vs. No. 13 Texas A&M
Thursday, 2:30 p.m.
Subregional host: Texas A&M
Players from HawaiiStJ: L/DS Sheena Yoshioka, 5-3, So., Punahou.
Notes: Yoshioka hasn’t missed a match in her two years with the program and has been a part of back-to-back, 20-win teams. She has 40 digs, 16 aces and 15 assists this season.

Maryknoll alumna Jhenna Gabriel is the starting setter for No. 2 Texas. Photo courtesy Texas Athletics.

Albany (N.Y.) vs. No. 2 Texas
Thursday, 3 p.m.
Subregional host: Texas
Players from HawaiiTexas: S Jhenna Gabriel, 5-8, So., Maryknoll.
Notes: Gabriel is the Longhorns’ starting setter and is averaging 10.46 assists per set. She’s fourth on the team in digs (179) and service aces (15).

Utah vs. Illinois
Friday, 1 p.m.
Subregional host: BYU
Players from HawaiiUtah: L/DS Naya Dong, 5-5, Fr., ‘Iolani; S Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres, 6-0, So., ‘Iolani; MB Phoebe Grace, 6-2, So., Kahuku.
Notes: Ka’aha’aina-Torres has taken over as the full-time starter at setter in her sophomore season and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. She averages 11.4 assists per set and is third on the team in digs (269) and service aces (16). … Grace has appeared in all 31 matches, making 14 starts, and is hitting .288 for the season with 97 kills. Her strength is at the net, where she leads the Utes with 143 blocks, including a team-best 13 solos. … Dong is redshirting this season.

Kamehameha’s Lexis Akeo took over as the starting setter for No. 6 Pittsburgh just six matches into her collegiate career. Star-Advertiser photo.

Howard vs. No. 6 Pittsburgh
Friday, 2 p.m.
Subregional host: Pittsburgh
Players from HawaiiPitt: S Lexis Akeo, 5-8, Fr., Kamehameha.
Notes: Injuries forced Akeo into the starting lineup as setter at the start of the season and she hasn’t disappointed. Akeo was named to the All-ACC second team and All-ACC freshman squad on Monday and won eight ACC Freshman of the Week honors this season. She finished fourth in the conference averaging 10.47 assists per set and was third on the Panthers with 27 service aces and fourth in digs with 194.

Illinois State vs. No. 4 Wisconsin
Friday, 3 p.m.
Subregional host: Wisconsin
Players from HawaiiISU: OH Paige Hilliard, 5-10, Fr., Punahou.
Notes: After redshirting last season, Hilliard has appeared in four matches and hit .250 with 13 kills in eight sets played.

New Mexico State vs. No. 14 BYU
Friday, 4 p.m.
Subregional host: BYU
Players from HawaiiBYU: S Kiani Moea’i, 5-10, Sr., Punahou; L Grace Wee, 5-6, Fr., ‘Iolani.
Notes: Moea’i has appeared in 32 sets and tallied 16 assists and four aces. … Wee has appeared in 44 sets and made 53 digs with nine assists and three service aces.

San Diego vs. Washington State
Friday, 4:30 p.m.
Subregional host: Hawaii
Players from HawaiiWSU: L/DS Aria McComber, 5-6, Fr., Punahou.
Notes: After redshirting last season, McComber has played in three matches and tallied 17 digs and a service ace in nine sets.

Winthrop vs. No. 8 Washington
Friday, 5:30 p.m.
Subregional host: Washington
Players from Hawaii—WU: S Siani Yamaguchi, 5-8, Sr., Kalaheo.
Notes: Yamaguchi has not missed a set in her four-year collegiate career and won the Big South Player of the Year honor this season after making the All-Big South first team as a junior. She led the Eagles to the top spot in the conference in hitting percentage (.221) and kills (13.26 per set) and is four assists shy of 4,000 for her career. She averaged 9.10 assists per set and has 114 service aces, 272 kills and 1,177 digs in her career.


  1. James Little’ December 4, 2019 1:44 pm

    Great tribute to those parents, families & coaches who have supported these young ladies in their academic & athletic endeavors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiprepworld@staradvertiser.com.