The goals remain clearly in sight for Na Menehune of Moanalua: win the OIA, win the state title.
Coach Alan Cabanting’s boys volleyball squad emerged at the Best of the West elite tournament in Poway, Calif. over the weekend in ninth place out of 32 powerhouse programs. Not bad for a public-school team playing in the esteemed event for the first time. Somewhere in the midst of all those matches and thousands of miles of travel, Coach Cabanting made some time to answer a few questions about his No. 2-ranked Menehune.
Hawaii Prep World: Thank you for taking time for us, Coach. Punahou is clearly the state’s dominant program, but your team has emerged as the best in the OIA on a consistent basis. Even with some key losses over the past few seasons, you have one of the state’s top-ranked squads. A lot is expected of UH recruit Austin Matautia and your team. Is that a blessing or a curse to have large expectations coming in?
Cabanting: I think it’s a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing to have the longevity and the success the program has. We have been able to get the athletes we need and fill the shoes of those that have left the program year in and year out. Further, I don’t think we would be where we are at without our Athletic Director, Joel Kawachi, and his support and guidance of the program.
It’s a curse in the sense that it is becoming harder to get athletes who have never really played volleyball to come out. In years past, we have been able to get basketball and football players to come out and not only find the love and passion for the game, but then contribute and make a big impact by their senior years. And I continue to encourage them to play other sports. It only makes them a better volleyball player. The misconception now is that you have to be good volleyball player already coming into our program. And that’s just not the case, the truth is we still would love to see all athletes come and try volleyball. There will always be that one or two that learn how to excel in it very quickly.
HPW: How would you describe Austin as a leader?
Cabanting: Because of his skill and talent, and of course his size, everybody looks up to him. With this year’s group especially, there is this sense of calm for those that play around him where they know that when we are under pressure that he will take the weight of the team on his shoulder. It reassures them that everything is going to be okay. He is more of the quiet leader that everyone follows and respect.
HPW: Can you compare him to any other player you’ve coached or seen?
Cabanting: Austin is much like (former Moanalua and current UH libero) Kolby Kanetake in his knowledge of the game. He is has been a gym rat and has tried to play as much volleyball as he can both indoor and outdoor since they were very young. If he has an opportunity to play volleyball, even if he’s already been in there for a 6 hours, he will continue to play. His volleyball IQ is really high. And both love to help the younger generation learn the game and share the knowledge they have of the game. And while Kolby excelled beyond most in the defensive portion of it, Austin excels beyond most on the offensive portion of the game. In that sense, I don’t think I have ever coached one with the leaping ability, the velocity of the hit, and the variety of shots that he has. This past week he was able to show his maturity in his attacks when he had to go against triple blocks and still was able to use those variety of shots to get the kills for us. He’s going to be exciting to watch at UH in the years to come.
HPW: Who are your key playmakers and more overlooked contributors?
Cabanting: This year we are looking at those individuals who have had to replace those key spots that we lost from last year’s senior class. The first and most crucial is our setters. There is a huge battle between Zachary Kagehiro and Zackary Miyamoto as to who will set. And because it has been so even right now, we have been blessed to be able to go with a 6-2 offense. Kagehiro has been setting for us for a while now and is very vocal on the court. His fluidity and technique on his sets are quite good. Miyamoto, on the other hand, was an outside hitter converted into a setter. We will be using him as a setter and a hitter. He is a competitor and learns very quickly. While his technique and fluidity isn’t there yet, he understands the flow of the game and what kind of sets his hitters like. It’s hard to teach but he understands how to run an offense. He is still learning the little nuances of the game but he has been doing quite well hitting and setting for us.
At the middle position, we have Caleb Casinas, who will make a huge impact for us. He is an athlete whose first sport is basketball. He has been able to learn the game very quickly. As an athlete, he is able to see the ball, react to it, and somehow is able to make some very athletic plays. And while he did play club, once the basketball season started his commitment was to basketball. And yet, without having had the amount of reps and game play that other club players have had, he has somehow been able to keep up with all of them. He simply is an athlete – knowing when to step in on a scramble play, being able to slow the game down, and willing things to happen. He has really started to improve tremendously and will create a strong middle presence for us.
And finally, Seyj Engleman, who has been asked to do most everything. While he played outside for us the last couple of years, he will be moving to the opposite position. Although small, the combination of volleyball IQ and strength allows him to block most everyone. Most hitters see a small blocker, coupled with not seeing the block until the last minute, make him a very deceptive blocker. He really doesn’t seem to be a threat until you get blocked a couple of times by him. Further, his attack on the ball not only has a lot of velocity, but is very accurate. He balances our outsides and overall offense.
HPW: What makes this year special?
Cabanting: A couple of things come to mind. This senior group will be the first that have been in the program with me all four years. They know this is the last opportunity for them to make a run at the state championship. They have all been working so hard this pre-season to be more prepared than they have ever been.
And because of they have been with the program for so long, they are so much closer with each other. This bodes quite well for their team chemistry. They are starting to learn how to play with each other on the court and understand where each body is on the court. They are okay with each making a mistake and moving on to the next play. This has really helped them a ton in competing at the Best of the West against some really tough teams.
We have been blessed to not only get invited and compete at the Best of the West but was able to place ninth of 32 top-notch teams in California. The boys not only played together as a team but their confidence in themselves and in each other skyrocketed. Some of the teams that we played against looked more like a college team than a high school team. We won against some of them and competed quite well with those team that we lost to. It was an incredible experience for them and their confidence. It will be an exciting year for us indeed.
HPW: Mahalo, Coach.