Seeing former players — elite ones, no less — grow a little older is no surprise.
But seeing them as head coaches, that’s teetering on surreal.
Waiakea took the court on Thursday against No. 1-seeded Kamehameha in what was the basic David-versus-Goliath scenario. Except that Waiakea has been coached for the past two seasons by Ashley Hanohano, who knows a little something about overcoming giants.
Wind the clock back about 12 years and Hanohano, Lindsey Lee and Jazmin Paakaula were myth, hope and unprecedented success combined as the standouts for St. Joseph, a tiny school in Hilo. Coached by Ashley’s mother, Rachelle, the Cardinals rose in era long before classification. They are, or were, the exception to the rule. If their team had been around today, they would probably have gone the Division II route. They would’ve been state champions in D-II at least twice.
In ’02, St. Joseph reached the state final, losing to Kahuku, playing with a fiery edge all the way to center stage. That’s how good — and powerful — that team was. It was in preseason at the Ann Kang Invitational that I got to see them for the first time, a hard-hitting squad with Paakaula sending down bombs, the small, but powerful Lee outjumping foes a foot taller at net, and Hanohano dishing immaculate assists to either. They held their own and them some against the top teams on Oahu then, and later at the state tourney.
They also relished in every point laid down over the state’s superpowers. Who could blame these kids from a school that most players on Oahu had never heard of? Supremely talented, borderline cocky and most of all, perfectly blended together as a team.
On Thursday, there was Coach Ashley on the bench, along with Paakaula and another former Cardinal, Ashley’s sister, Chelbie. Mom? Yes, mom was there. Rachelle is on the staff, handling the administrative side for the girls volleyball team. Mentoring her volleyball daughters.
Kamehameha won in straight sets, but not before the Warriors showed the kind of spunk that the Hanohanos and Paakaula were well known for. Kamehameha used a number of reserves in the third set, all outstanding players who would probably start for 95 percent of the programs out there — and brought back some starters to close out the Warriors, who pushed it to the limit.
After going 7-9 last year, Waiakea finished this season 13-5. Nine of their 13 players will be back next season.
“We can play with anybody,” Hanohano said of her young team. “We scrimmage against the best.”
Some of those “best” would include Paakaula and the Hanohanos, who went on to play at Fairfield — along with Lee.
“I see glimpses of greatness from them. I came here thinking we came to do something if we play our game, no matter what,” Hanohano said. “We’ll enjoy the rest of the trip, then we’ll go back to our normal lives. The past six months it’s been all volleyball.”