Sometimes, home is on the volleyball court, which may explain why Leslie Akeo, Taylor Akana and Allie Yamashiro turned into all-time greats in the faraway Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference.
The three Kamehameha graduates were honored as members of the MAAC’s 40th Anniversary women’s volleyball team. Akeo and Akana played at Siena. Yamashiro played at Manhattan.
“These three, their work ethic and resilience are the things that stand out,” Kamehameha coach Chris Blake said.
Akeo was a Star-Bulletin All-State Fab 15 selection as a senior in 2008.
At Siena, the 5-foot-4 freshman got on the court and led the team in digs, finishing eighth in the conference. In 2010, she played in all 31 matches and all 113 sets. Akeo was fourth in the MACC in digs (5.04 per set).
As a junior in ’11, she was named MAAC co-defensive player of the year and became the program’s all-time digs leader.
A year later, Akeo became the MAAC libero of the year and sparked the Saints to the MAAC championship match. She had 34 digs in a league final loss to Fairfield. She was also a two-time MACC All-Academic selection with a 3.72 grade-point average.
“For Leslie, she was always in the right space. She was able to see the perspective of the court, always in the right place at the right time. She was so fundamentally sound,” Blake said. “She was such a competitor as far as not only wanting to improve herself, but wanting the best for everyone. We were fortunate enough for her to come back and coach on our staff for a number of years.”
Akana caught the attention of Kamehameha coaches early on with her quickness and versatility. After leading the Warriors in a comeback win over Punahou for the state title, she was named most valuable player of the ’09 state tournament. She earned Star-Bulletin All-State Fab 15 honors, voted No. 2 by coaches and media.
“She was so quick. She made the team as a sophomore, the team with Kanani (Herring) Danielson, Bekah Torres and Jordan Meredith. She was so physically gifted, quick twitch, fast swing and so versatile,” Blake recalled. “First year, being able to learn from those players set her up for great success as she continued to mature and develop. Taylor was in the US Olympic pipeline. She had a lot of great training. When she began to realize how great she could be, we actually built our offense around her skill set to maximize her productivity and things she could bring to totable.”
The outside hitter made an impact at Siena as a freshman as the MAAC’s leader in kills. She was picked to the all-league second team.
As a sophomore, Akana was named MAAC offensive player of the year after leading the conference in kills (3.99 per set). A year later, as a junior, Akana became the fastest to accumulate 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in MAAC history.
As a senior, she led the league in kills preset and had a career-high 31 aces. The 5-7 Akana was also one of 30 national senior class award candidates. She finished second in career kills (1,700) and fourth in digs (1,370), and was a two-time first-team selection. She graduated a semester early with a 3.82 GPA.
Yamashiro was a back-row gem for the Warriors during the early 2010s, then made an immediate with the Manhattan Jaspers. She was named to the MACC All-Rookie team in 2013 and went on to finish as the program’s all-time leader in digs (2,264). She set school records for matches (133) and sets played (502). She also ranks seventh in aces (152).
“The thing that I remember about her was she was so respectful, she was one of those players who looks you in the eyes when you’re speaking, nodded her head,” Blake said. “She had so much confidence within her skills, relied on her technical abilities, fundamentally sound. We were able to incorporate her into our defense so easily.”
Yamashiro was also a three-time MAAC All-Academic Team pick.
“When she was able to take the next step, because she was great in school as well,” Blake added.
The longtime coach led Kamehameha to its 10th state title in the last 15 years in 2019. The success of island volleyball players hasn’t surprised him.
“A lot of them just need opportunity. Allie was able to thrive and flourish. A lot of that is because of the strong support at home for all of them. Their families are a big piece of who they are. We were fortunate to be a part of their lives. Their drive and excellence is amazing. That’s a great honor for all of those players,” Blake said.
“That’s the Hawaii kid thing. They’re very respectful of their opponents, but they take the challenge to be able to compete. They’re raised on it and they’re humble in their approaches and let their work speak for itself,” he said. “There’s so much talent here in Hawaii when it comes to everything, but especially athletics. Volleyball is woven into the fabric of what we do here. A lot of these scholar-athletes grow up watching volleyball on the regular. Hawaii, for many sports, is a gold mine for many coaches who seek it out.
“They work so hard. They understand the idea of maximizing their potential. It’s hard to get seen by many of these coaches, but many of them are reluctant to pull the trigger because we’re far away. A lot of the questions I get are, are they willing to come to the East Coast,” Blake noted. “They persevere through a lot and represent not only our Kamehameha volleyball program, but the state, as well.”