Q&A: ‘Iolani All-State OH Saige Ka‘aha‘aina-Torres

'Iolani's Saige Ka'aha'aina-Torres took the Raiders to three straight appearances in the state final for the first time ever. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

Poet, student, athlete and eldest daugther, Saige Ka‘aha‘aina-Torres loves volleyball and maybe she loves hiking with her parents and two younger brothers even more. With a key ILH doubleheader coming up this afternoon at ‘Iolani’s Father Bray Athletic Center — Maryknoll vs. Kamehameha, 5 p.m., and Punahou vs. ‘Iolani, 7 p.m. — she chatted with Hawaii Prep World about being the sole senior on her team, and published poetry.

She was featured in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Saige Ka‘aha‘aina-Torres
‘Iolani girls volleyball

Family: Malu Torres (father), Jennifer Ka’aha’aina-Torres (mother), brothers Houston (10) and Elijah (6).

Q&A • Favorites

Hawaii Prep World: You know about homework, and you also know that Finland is No. 1 in the world, supposedly, in academics. And that Finland does not believe in homework. At worst, it’s 10-20 minutes of homework.

Saige: “That’s crazy. One of our English teachers actually made a point at the beginning of this year that ‘Iolani should design the curriculum more like Finland. That class, it’s maximum of 20 minutes of homework. There’s definitely a conversation, but I don’t think there’s going to be any change any time soon.”

HPW: The traditional template even the culture of higher-level academics is that a proper high school prepares you for taking the SAT, for doing well in college exams and papers. It’s a job in itself.

Saige: At ‘Iolani, it’s built around in college there’s going to be a lot of work and that’s what they base their curriculum on, but finding a way to manage your time is a definite benefit. A lot of the kids (from ‘Iolani) in college now say college is a breeze. They have class maybe three times a week, versus ‘Iolani having class six times a week.

Athlete: Michael Jordan
Saige: “I think one of the main reasons why I look up to him as an athlete would probably be where he got his motivation from, the fact that he got cut from his high school basketball team. He became the greatest of all time in his sport.”

Team: Golden State Warriors
Saige: “I definitely want to go and watch them at least by this year. Maybe by next year at the latest.”

Food (at home): Mushroom chicken pasta
Saige: “My mom pretty much makes it from scratch. We come home late almost every night, so it’s whatever she finds in the fridge. I also have two younger brothers that she’s running around to manage, so it’s a lot for her. If I had to make it, it would come out good for sure. Costco mushrooms, (Costco) rotisserie chicken, noodles, dried tomatoes, pesto and olive oil. She puts it in a pan and puts cheese on it, then into the oven for 30 minutes max.”

Food (eating out): CPK barbecue chicken salad or Spicy ahi bowl from Ono Seafood
Saige: “It’s a big bowl for $12.99. Usually when we eat out, most people don’t meet my mom’s super strict criteria. There’s no mayonnaise. I hate mayo. There’s wonton chips, tomato, corn. It’s grilled. We usually half it.
“Ono Seafood is on Kapahulu (Ave.). There’s less mayo in theirs. My dad (Malo Torres) likes to eat straight mayonnaise. He’s crazy, but he works out a lot. He’s part of the SWAT team at HPD.”

Hobby outside of sports: Hiking with my family
Saige: “Every Sunday, everybody has the day off so it’s a designated family day. We go to the beach or hiking, but more recently it’s been more hiking. We live in Waimanalo and there’s a lot of trails around here. There’s the Makapuu lighthouse one, it’s a paved trail. It’s easy for my younger brothers. The Kuliouou Ridge hike. That one’s definitely a little tougher. It’s longer so we can talk about stuff that’s going on more. Probably with my brothers it takes about an hour, a lot of switchbacks. Toward the end it’s pretty steep, and at the top there’s stairs and it’s pretty tough. Then you can see our house from the top.”

Movie: The Blind Side
Saige: “I love that movie. I just thought the storyline was pretty cool, a good inspirational story of how, no matter what your circumstances, there’s always someone to take care of you and the outcome is pretty worth it.”

TV show: Last Chance U.
Saige: “I pretty much grew up around football. My dad coaches football, he coached at Farrington for a couple of years, but the past few years he’s been at ‘Iolani. The show, it’s pretty cool to see what happens in players’ lives. They’re all at a JUCO so you hear different stories, what they’re doing while they’re at a JUCO, trying to get to bigger schools. How they live their lives is pretty inspirational.”

Music artist: The Green or Travis Scott.
Saige: “The Green is more like local music, reggae. My favorite song by them is probably ‘Chocolate and Roses’. Travis Scott is a rapper. My favorite is ‘Pick Up The Phone.’

HPW: Which one is pre-game music?
Saige: “Probably ‘Pick Up The Phone’ is more like a song that gets me pumped up.”

HPW: Teacher (elementary through high school):
Saige: Mr. Peter Greenhill, sophomore year.
“He’s teaching me again this (senior) year. He’s actually the one who told us about Finland’s way of teaching. I like how he’s really passionate about what he’s teaching. It makes me passionate about it, care about it more. The kinds of projects he assigns, he assigns a lot of group projects, it allows us to interact a lot.”

HPW: In English class?
Saige: “I think it’s important to enjoy what you’re learning and he makes it easy to do that.”

HPW: Does this mean you’re an A student in English?
Saige: “Yeah. I like English, the writing, I think.”

GPA: 3.4
Saige: “Personally, no matter what I do it’s always I’m pushing myself to always do good. Anything less than an A is always disappointing, especially to my parents, but in the end it’s worth it. We have a school website where our grades are sent out every night. That definitely puts pressure on.”

Class: AP psychology
Saige: “It could be a possible major, I’m not too sure. I’m just enjoying the material we’re getting every day in class. There’s a quiz every class, then a couple of group projects. Other than that, it’s trying to do it on your own and get a good grade. We actually did this group project on everybody’s personality. It was interesting to see everyone’s certain morals in relationships they have with others.”

Place to relax: The beach
Saige: “Pretty much any beach, but one that we frequent the most is in front of my grandpa’s house in Waimanalo. We get to spend time with him when we go there.”

Motto/scripture: Deuteronomy 31:6
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.
Saige: “It’s something my dad has always been telling me since I was younger and it kind of stuck with me.

HPW: What your mom says that you can’t forget:
Saige: “No matter what happens, I am always proud of you and I will support you with your decisions.”
“She tells me that at least once a week, actually.”

HPW: What your dad says that you can’t forget:
Saige: “Do you want to be good? Or do you want to be the best?”
“He definitely is the one who pretty much pushed me to get to this point. They both had a big part in it, but he’s the one who isn’t as soft.”

HPW: What your coaches say that you can’t forget:
Saige: From my Coach, Kainoa Obrey: “Your biggest competition is yourself. Stay mentally, physically, and emotionally engaged at all times. Be disciplined on and off the court.”
(Note: She plays for Kui Kahi Volleyball Club, where Kainoa Obrey and brother Teoni Obrey of Hawaii Baptist Academy are part of the coaching staff.)

HPW: What stands out about the 2016 state championship season for you?
Saige: “The amount of hard work, time, and focus that was constantly being applied in the gym. Everyone was always motivated to be the best and to win and that really helped strengthen our all around play. The competitive drive was always there and that somewhat inspired me to always push myself.”

HPW: During the process last year, everybody probably said, Punahou and Kamehameha always win, why you guys think you can beat them?
Saige: “When it comes to that kind of stuff, I think actions speak more than words. We always take what people say to heart, but if it’s negative, it’s always something to motivate yourself.
“I think talk is good sometimes, it definitely pushes me to do better. When people count us out, it sucks, but it’s even better to prove them wrong.
“It makes the ones who play a lot play a lot better. I think winning states is definitely a common goal throughout the whole team. Everybody understood their role on the team, so when it came to practices, everybody pushed the person in front of them, and the person on top pushed themselves. Player No. 15 tried just as hard as Player No. 1.
“That’s where the One Team really applied to us last year. We focused on that. It was definitely there in the beginning, but in the middle of the second round we started to realize how important that is, I think.”

HPW: Academic burnout is real, even though coaches and maybe teachers are sympathetic. Did you guys experience any last year?
Saige: “I’m sure all teams feel like that. Last year, there was a separation between the work that had to be done in school and done on the court. There was never that time where everyone was tired emotionally and physically. But when you’re that passionate about something, it’s worth it.”

HPW: Is this the beginning of an ‘Iolani girls volleyball dynasty?
Saige: “Well, I think everyone wants, I’m sure everybody wants a state championship, the kind of dynasty Kamehameha has built for themselves. The way our coaches coach and the philosophy Coach Kainoa has, i think it’s a possibility. Once you win a title, you push harder the next season. Even in 2015, there was definitely that push where we even made it into states. I think this could be the start of one, we’ll have to see. Hopefully.

HPW: How does volleyball affect your daily life during the season and offseason?
Saige: “Volleyball seems somewhat never ending, during season it’s always hard to find a balance between school and volleyball but after being at ‘Iolani for a couple years now I’ve learned how to manage my time better, when you finally figure it out I think it makes playing so much more enjoyable. During season we are always training in the gym or in yoga and during the offseason I always train to be prepared and in shape during season, always running or in the weight room. I think that regimen has been very beneficial.”

HPW: What middle and elementary schools did you attend? “I attended Maryknoll from Pre-K through sixth grade. I love the school, but at a certain point it was time for a change. I wanted to go to a really good academic school, so I applied for ‘Iolani.”

HPW: Was volleyball part of the decision?
Saige: “Volleyball wasn’t part of the conversation until I was in eighth grade. A lot of my friends were applying for Punahou and Kamehameha. I applied for both and I got wait-listed for both, but I got into ‘Iolani. I got off the wait list at Punahou, but I was already set on ‘Iolani.”

HPW: What youth teams did you play for?
Saige: “I never played for any youth teams I went straight into club in fifth grade. I played for Jammers Volleyball Club under Debby Yee. I haven’t played for Coach Deb for a couple of years. With Kui Kahi, we’ve been to Florida, Utah, Los Angeles, Minnesota. My dad comes on all my trips with me.”

HPW: What do you like to do — or what’s something else you’re good at — that would surprise most people?
Saige: “I actually enjoy writing personal essays or poems about things that I’ve gone through in life.”

HPW: What’s the best essay or poem you’ve done?
Saige: “Uhh, a poem called Night Sky. It’s from a long time ago, from June. It got published in a creative writing book, a national, I don’t know, some competition. One of my English teachers suggested that we submit some piece of writing so that’s what I did.”

HPW: What did feel like to win a national honor?
Saige: “It feels pretty cool, but it wasn’t anything super big. My parents made a little celebration and we moved on.”

HPW: What is your ultimate dream/destination bucket list?
Saige: “I want to go to Tahiti or New Zealand, I’ve met a lot of people from both places, I’ve seen a lot of pictures, and it all just seems so beautiful.”

HPW: What is the timeline for visiting Tahiti and New Zealand?
Saige: “Instead of a graduation party, my parents want to take me to New Zealand. It was their idea. They said a graduation party would be less expensive. I think that’s pretty cool. Right now, my report date for college is two weeks after my graduation.”

College: Missouri.
Saige: “I’m verbally committed. I have offers from Oregon, Seattle, Florida State and Missouri.”

HPW: What is the history and background of your name?
Saige: “My parents thought that the meaning of the word was really interesting. ‘Sage’ means old soul, old yet wise, worldly and being rich in experiences. They didn’t want anyone teasing me about having the same name as an herb so they decided to add an ‘i’. Hina’ea, my middle name, was given to me by my parents also. It means the goddess of the sunrise and sunset. When I was born my parents saw the sunrise and they felt it was fitting.  Ka‘aha‘aina has been a family name and my I’m wanted me to keep it so that I always remember the Hawaiian side of my family. Torres is my dad’s family name, my grandparents are originally from Samoa. He was born in San Francisco. Atuatasi is our family name on his mom’s side.”

HPW: What’s it going to be like when you are physically thousands of miles from everything you are comfortable with? No beach. No family. No ahi bowls. None of mom’s mushroom chicken.
Saige: “It’s definitely going to be hard. Right now, we’re kind of just trying to spend as much time together as possible. It’s definitely going to be hard without the support next year. I’ll have it, but it’ll be from far away. It’ll hard to get used to, but it’ll be good for personal growth.

HPW: That’s a long ways off, though. You’re in the middle of your senior season and it’ll be another memorable one.
Saige: “I think there’s definitely more expectations, but I think the challenge is always fun to succeed. Right now, it’s pretty stable, pretty much one day at a time. I think we’re going to be fine.”


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