Q&A: Moanalua’s positively gritty OH, Tayli Ikenaga

Moanalua junior outside hitter Tayli Ikenaga is a force on the volleyball court. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

Tayli Ikenaga has a gift.

She knows how to keep things simple. Success, it seems, has a basic recipe. Simple, not easy.


The Moanalua junior is, at 5 feet, 6 inches, not the prototypical outside hitter for a highly-ranked girls volleyball team. Yet, Ikenaga is one of the most effective outside hitters in the state. She amassed 28 kills in an epic five-set win over Kahuku on Thursday despite injuring her right foot during the third set.

“We stuck to the game plan and everybody played together and stuck together as a team,” Ikenaga said. “I think we did a really good job. Everybody was able to step up and do their part and play hard. Play with their hearts.”

Coach Alan Cabanting has a relatively young squad.

“Her (older) sister, Cobi, played with us. I heard about Tayli, but coaching the boys (in the spring) and teaching here, I didn’t get to see her play often,” he said. “When she was a freshman, it was automatic varsity. I was very impressed with her ball control, how she could see the ball at such a young age.”

When Moanalua played California teams in preseason, Ikenaga’s skills were on display at an elite level.

“She would just hit and use the block, two at a time. Then we played the other Hawaii teams, Mililani and Kahuku, and we struggled a little bit because they could defend the ball,” Cabanting said. “So the past two weeks, we said, hey I know you can get this area, but can you find this (other) area. So we asked our pin hitters, you’ve got to hit this area hit. Against Kahuku, they hit that area with precision.”

Poise. Support. Moanalua plays with fire and cohesion, from Ikenaga down the line to every starter and reserve. The work continues to be done on and off the court — Ikenaga has a 3.7 grade-point average — but Na Menehune have as much humor as they do verve. Ikenaga never forgets that balance, especially when she looks at her favorite pillow, a SpongeBob SquarePants krabby patty. Her team has a special ingredient.

“A crabby patty is basically bread, has the meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, ketchup, mustard,” she said. “It has, like, the special sauce, which is basically Spongebob’s love. He loves cooking, and his love makes it really good.”

Ikenaga chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Sunday.

Q&A / Favorites
Robyn Ah Mow-Santos (current Hawaii women’s volleyball coach)
> She’s my club coach (at Na Keiki Mau Loa). She was a very great player. As a coach, she is very straightforward. No matter how hard she yells at you, she only wants the best for you. Very intense, but I like the intensity. If a coach tells you, ‘Good job’ all the time, you never learn from that. She prepares us for this season and upcoming seasons, but she also prepares, but she’s preparing us for college, too. She wants us to succeed.

Food at home
Saimin with Spam
> I can eat that any time of day. Usually, my mom (Lori) makes it. It tastes better when they make it.

Food eating out
Garlic chicken with mac salad
> I really like it at Sugoi’s in Kapalama Shopping Center.

Hobby outside sports
> I used to play the piano and flute when I was a kid. I played flute in school for band, and I took piano lessons on my own, but it wasn’t for me. I used to do dancing, too. I used to love dancing, but volleyball took too much time. Pretty much hip hop and jazz (dancing). We all used to dance, my mom and my sister, and my dad (Chad) would help DJ. We would do whatever our teacher taught us. I started when I was 5 years old, I stopped around second or third grade. I’d do it again if I had a chance. Right now, it’s sleep, eat, volleyball.

> It’s that little Mexican boy who sings, like Day of the Dead. It’s a Disney/Pixar movie. It looks cute. I’ve watched it about three or four times.

TV show
SpongeBob SquarePants
> My parents know I love SpongeBob. They don’t mind. He always laughs. It’s like, ‘Baah-haah-haah-ha.’ When I was younger, I would get a birthday cake with SpongeBob. I would have posters on my wall. I have a krabby patty pillow. A krabby patty is basically bread, has the meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, ketchup, mustard. It has, like, the special sauce, which is basically SpongeBob’s love. He loves cooking, and his love makes it really good. I always buy the Go-GURT with SpongeBob. I have SpongeBob pants.

Would you want to work for SpongeBob the TV show?
> It depends on what the job is.

Maybe overseeing the scripts.
> Actually, I would say no because I want to be surprised. I wouldn’t want to know what happens. I would probably get tired of it.

Music artist
> I like his new album. I like the song, ‘Enemies.’ I like a bunch of his songs.

He’s talking about something most people don’t like to talk about.
> It’s OK. Things happen in life.

Would you forgive other people that hurt you?
> Maybe, it depends. If they said sorry, I probably would. I’m a very understanding person.

Your coach said you have a ‘poker face’ on the court. Always very positive.
> I try not to show my feelings during a game. If another team sees me struggling, they’re going to take advantage of that. I just try to keep a straight face, hide my emotions, talk to my teammates about it so it gets better. My coach (Barney Choy of Na Keiki Mau Loa) said, when you’re frustrated, don’t let it show on the court, don’t have bad body language that the other team can catch on to.

If there’s a bad call by a referee, do you turn around, face the wall and scream for five seconds?
> I turn around and talk to myself. I always turn around.

Mr. (Chad) Yoshizawa, and my graphic (arts) teachers, Mr. (Sean) Nishimura and Mr. (Neilson) Ishida.
> I like Mr. Yoshizawa. He used to be my geometry teacher. He’s our assistant coach. Coach Alan hasn’t been my teacher. In graphics, we printed stickers. Last year, we created stickers and used Photoshop.

> My grades are A’s and B’s. Both of parents expect me to do my best.

> Before it used to be math, but now that I’m in Trig, it’s a lot. I like science and biology. We do experiments.

> I like, Don’t ever give up.

Headbands. Your headband is a constant. Tell me about them.
> I use headbands to help keep my hair out of my face, but now it’s also so my family can find me on the court. I have a lot of headbands, more than 20 for sure.

Tayli Ikenaga has a practical use for all of her headbands. Photo courtesy Lori Ikenaga.

What does mom say that you will never forget?
> Get all your homework done before your go out. Do all your responsibilities.

What does dad say that you will never forget?
> Have fun. He knows that my mom’s getting on me, so he doesn’t have to be the one doing that. There’s a good balance between them.

What do you coaches say?
> All of my coaches have a really big impact on me. They say a lot of good stuff.

How does volleyball affect your life during and after of the school season?
> We do a lot of workouts after practice. During club season, before our (mainland) tournaments, we practice almost every day.

What middle and elementary schools did you attend?
> Moanalua Middle and Elementary. They were good teachers, really nice to me.

What youth teams did you play for?
> Before, basketball was my main sport. That was PAL League when I was little. Once I started playing volleyball, my dad was the coach for PAL, and I started doing Jammers, and the coach was getting more serious about me playing, so I was like, OK, I’ll drop basketball.

Do you miss basketball?
> Yeah. I used to play on a girls team, then I moved to a boys team. There were only two girls, me and this other girl. I liked playing basketball because I got to shoot. I didn’t have to dribble.

Let’s say volleyball season ends, and the basketball team needs more players.
> Well, my P.E. teacher was telling me I should play basketball. She thought I was really good, but I don’t think I’m that good. She said, ‘You should try out.’ I was like, uhh, I don’t know. ‘Cause the girls here who play at Moanalua, they’re really competitive. They’re really good. So I’m pretty sure I’d get cut.

Coach says you’re the fastest one when you run your 11s (sprints). So you’ve still got your speed.
> Yeah.

Where have you traveled for sports?
> I’ve been to California, Florida, Washington (State), Detroit, Minnesota. I’ve been to Utah, Las Vegas, Indiana. I really like California because there’s a lot of stuff to do, and Washington, it was around April and there was still snow on the mountain.

What’s something you like to do that you may or may not be good at?
> I think I’m a pretty good braider, like braiding hair. I’ve braided some of my teammates’ hair. I learned from watching other people. I like to fishtail. It take a long time.

Time machine. Where and when would you go, future or the past?
> Maybe the future. I don’t know what year, but when I have a family.

So maybe by the time you’re 30, so that would be 2033.
> I’d want to see where I live, my family, who’s my husband. Kids.

Don’t you think know that in advance might spoil it in a science-fictiony way?
> Actually, I might go to the past then. I would go back to when I was a baby, re-live my childhood.

You’d want to live your childhood all over again?
> No, I’d just like to see myself again growing up. High school goes by really fast.

The ultimate dream or bucket list. What are the places and things you’d like to experience?
> I’d want to go outside the country. I’ve never been to Japan. Or Australia. And Canada. I’m that person who likes adrenaline. I like roller coasters. There’s this roller coaster at Six Flags, that one’s pretty scary. I goes up, and then it curves underneath and you’re upside down. It’s fun.

What is the history of your name?
> My mom came up with it. She just wanted something unique. She was thinking Hailey, Bailey and she came up with this name. My middle name is Tamiko. It’s a combination of my dad’s middle name and grandpa’s middle name, I think.

Would you want to visit the places your great-grandparents came from?
> No. That would be scary.

What would you want to do if and when you go to Japan?
> I’d go to the DisneyWorld in Japan. I would go shopping, and eat a lot of food.

> Shout out to my family. They’re always supporting me and loving me and helping me in life. Shout out to my club and school teammates and my coaches. And to my boyfriend, Rudy (Kealohi).

If you could change anything in the world, what would you change?
> No bullying. I’m part of PEP (peer education). You learn about suicide prevention, awareness of drugs. I’ve seen people around me get hurt.

It’s probably worse in middle school. How do you reach out?
> First, be a good friend. Be open, you know? If you’re strangers to them, get to know them and help them. If I see something happening, I’ll try my best. It depends on what kind of bullying. If it’s cyber-bulling, it’s because they’re behind their phone screens, so (victims) don’t know who’s sending it out. They think they’re powerful, but it’s not really like that. It’s probably because they’re jealous. I’m a very sensitive person. I have different sides of me. It depends on the situation. There’s a good amount of us (PEP). I’m in period seven. There’s a pretty good amount of us. Some of my teammates, Sonny (Rodrigues) and Amaris (Garcia) and Shaylee (Ronolo) are in my class.


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