If you want to be seen as a national volleyball prospect, Upcountry Maui is not the ideal place to be.
But it might not matter for outside hitter Colton Cowell of King Kekaulike.
Prior to the Cowell and his Na Alii teammates’ tournament match against Kamehameha on Thursday night, Warriors coach Kainoa Downing made sure reporters covering the event knew what kind of talent was in the gym.
Downing immediately pointed to Cowell warming up, and Cowell — despite two sprained ankles — was evidently fluid. Aside from his huge leaping ability, he pounded down balls with a truly natural and effortless-looking ability. In warmups anyway. The match was still 10 minutes away.
OK, so during the three-setter won by Na Alii by just one point in the third set, Cowell put to rest any notion that he looks good in practice only. He hammered 12 kills and was all over the floor for digs and also made a few sets.
The victory over Kamehameha, the third-ranked team in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Top 10, may serve up some notice that King Kekaulike just might deserve a spot in the poll. Na Alii placed fourth in the state a year ago and are now working under Leahi Hall in her first year as the school’s coach.
Hall, a two-time women’s national champion with Stanford in 2001 and ’04, came back to her alma mater after spending time as a coach in Mountain View, Calif., at national powerhouse St. Francis as well as a club team.
“He’s so smooth,” said Hall about Cowell, who got many of his sets from three-sport athlete Izaiah Manrique on Thursday. Liam Chan Hodges and Don Thompson also led the way with big offensive performances against the Warriors in the Kamehameha Cup Boys Volleyball Invitational at Kekuhaupio Gym. “You can’t help but watch somebody who plays the way he does, making things look so easy. Colton is all of that, but what’s most impressive about him is his attitude. It’s wonderful for as great as a player as he is. It sets him apart from other high-caliber players. And he’s doing what he does on the court at less than full strength.”
Downing had this to say about Cowell, who is being recruited by Hawaii among other schools, after the loss to Na Alii: “He’s a phenomenal all-around player, and he showed it on the court during the match. He covered the whole court. He did his job and he helped everybody else. He’s not taking plays away from his teammates. He empowers his teammates. They all rise because of his phenomenally great play.”
As a matter of fact, Cowell said after the match that Charlie Wade, the UH coach, attended the tournament Thursday to watch him and Moanalua’s Austin Matautia. He added that UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz and Cal Baptist have been interested in his services.
If Hawaii offers him a scholarship, Cowell said, “That is the best place for me.”
Cowell teamed up with Matautia to win the Sand Volleyball Festival, a statewide volleyball tournament, in the 18-and-under division. He paired with Hunter Marrs in the 18s to win another state tournament sponsored by OC 16.
Cowell hopes to help Na Alii back to Oahu for the state high school tournament in May and will be finishing up the Kamehameha Cup on Saturday. The Maui school is 2-2 so far and has a shot at making the semifinals and final, which starts at noon.
About the upcoming states, if King Kekaulike makes it, Cowell said, “There’s absolutely a chance for anyone, including us, to take it. It will take a lot of effort and training, though, to get past some of the other teams that have so much size.”