Senior libero Zoe Slaughter calls her team, in a word, “motivated.”
Senior Kelia Giusta describes this fall’s Moanalua girls volleyball team this way: “energetic.”
The co-captains nod in agreement when they hear what coach Alan Cabanting‘s description. Cabanting calls them his “fireball” squad.
“That’s pretty good,” Slaughter said.
This year’s team has plenty of natural intensity. A team that embraces the fire. Fourth-ranked Moanalua is 2-0 in the return of OIA girls volleyball, posting wins over No. 5 Kahuku — on the road — and Kalani.
“It’s funny. It’s been awhile, not since Jojo Kruize’s senior year when we had someone like her,” Cabanting said of Kruize, whose senior season was in 2015. “Jojo was very intense. Her teammates had a hard time matching her intensity, but this group of girls, they have that same intensity and everybody rallies around it.”
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Slaughter knows the life of a Moanalua volleyball player. Older brother and outside hitter Max Slaughter was a Star-Advertiser all-state selection, also under Cabanting, who guides the boys and girls volleyball teams. Zoe Slaughter is a relentless libero.
“Everyone on this team plays a really special role. We haven’t had (high school) volleyball in about two years. Last year, we didn’t have a season so everyone’s just excited to get back on the court. We’re super grateful for it,” Slaughter said.
Kruize sparked Moanalua to OIA titles in ’14 and ’15, and went on to play at UC Irvine and Tennessee State. Na Menehune have won three OIA girls volleyball crowns under Cabanting, a longtime math teacher on campus. His teams have always had a surplus of relentless energy, but this year’s squad has an ingredient not quite as common for Menehune: height.
Giusta is a 6-foot outside hitter. Freshman Malu Garcia is a 6-1 sophomore.
“This year, I can’t complain. At every position, I keep telling our AD, before I took over the program, there was always one or two big hitters. (Kahala) Kabalis. Danie (Hout). After Jojo we didn’t have anybody big until now,” said Cabanting, who has taught at Moanalua since ’04.
Giusta is steady and ready.
“We’re doing pretty good so far since we only had a couple of practices since we started our games. We need to be more consistent with our hitting, especially me,” she said.
Garcia is potential phenom.
“We had an outside hitters tournament and Malu won it on her serve and attack. One of the best hitters, probably the best I’ve ever had,” Cabanting said.
Garcia is a left-hander, so switching her to the left side from opposite is a transition.
“We were experimenting, but her IQ is high. She’s a lot more comfortable on the opposite attack, but she’s so dynamic and she’s able to hit over the block,” Cabanting noted. “We’re OK with just going high and allowing our pins to hit, hit, hit.”
The right side is now occupied by sophomore Anya Gant and junior Leilani Giusta.
“Our opposites weren’t too far behind and they’re just as dynamic as hitters. If they can keep it in play, we get more sets to them, then it opens up the block just a little bit more and opens the hole for Kelia and Malu,” Cabanting said.
The middle has someone fresh. Freshman Jerney Tang-Silva had three blocks in the four-set win at Kahuku. If her name sounds familiar, father Quinton Tang was a standout football player for Moanalua in the mid-2000s.
“She’s 6 feet and she’s agile. At the very beginning, we would see where she would best fit, but our four middles went down to one, so we asked her if she was willing to play the middle. She’s so coachable,” Cabanting said. “She’s eventually going to be our No. 1 middle. She’s been playing outside hitter on her club team, but she knows where the ball is (at middle). She naturally knows it’s inside or coming over her. At Kahuku, their hitters, we didn’t go up to block, but when she was in there, it was no, I’m putting up a block, it doesn’t matter how tight it is. Out of nowhere she jumps up and gets the ball down.”
Cabanting believes Tang-Silva will eventually play all six rotations.
Moanalua’s back row has standouts in Slaughter and defensive specialist Bailey Kaawa. At setter, Allexis Iramina brings a wealth of experience, but is suffered an injury against Kahuku. Haylee Deponte stepped up in the 25-9, 25-22, 25-17 victory over Kalani.
“Hailey’s a sophomore finding her way in the system. Allexis is a senior the girls look up to. She’ll asked them how they want their sets. These two are genuinely cheering for each other,” Cabanting said. “Ideally, we want to go 5-1, but in exploring it with Kahuku, once Allexis came to the front row, they exploited that like no tomorrow. They got a ton of points off it.”
Cabanting believes they’ll need both setters to thrive.
“If we really want to compete, we’re going to have to go with a 6-2. Hailey, her technique is good. She’s a good setter. There’s just a difference between a senior setter and a sophomore. We just need to build that team chemistry,” he said.
There was plenty of building chemistry on Thursday night in a mostly empty gym at Moanalua. The OIA will allow limited spectator access beginning next Thursday as Oahu eases COVID-19 restrictions.
“Right now, I definitely miss the crowds. It was so fun, just the energy of everybody cheering us on,” Giusta said.
“I think the culture at Moanalua, the culture that we bring, the families and students here, is really big. I think we’re definitely missing that,” Slaughter said. “I’m super pumped about (next week). I think having fan support will definitely bring a different type of energy to us because we’re such a fiery team. Getting more fans will build more energy around us and will help us go even further this season.”
Moanalua athletic director Joel Kawachi said the gym limit with restrictions will be at 500 people.
“Definitely come out, support, bring a crowd,” Slaughter said. “It’s going to be a fun season to watch.”