Q&A: Punahou terminator Kana‘i Akana

Punahou’s Kana’i Akana put down a kill in the first set of a sweep over 'Iolani to clinch the Buffanblu's 15th straight ILH boys volleyball title. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

Maybe Kana‘i Akana absorbed the sport before he could walk.

Maybe it’s just natural. But life with family peppering volleyballs at the beach doesn’t account for a near supernatural focus and drive in the game.

“The thing I love most about Kana‘i,” Punahou coach Rick Tune said, “that guy can have a singular focus and be relentless about getting it.”

Akana,featured in Tuesday’s Star-Advertiser, has the kind of ferocity and unity with teammates that helps make Punahou (7-0) the standard-setter that it is. After 35 state crowns in the last 45 seasons, the Buffanblu are still the team to beat this spring. A good team has one or two attackers. Punahou has multiple and maximum offense. Akana never leaves the court, able to use his 6-foot-4 frame anywhere.

That allows setter Jameson McKibbin to distribute the ball to the back right, where few teams have been able to counter Akana’s rockets. Tune’s system of metrics includes this statistic: Akana is hitting .780 from the back. To put that perspective, hitting anywhere close to .300 is competitive, especially in the insanely difficult Interscholastic League of Honolulu. Anything above .400 is almost inhuman. Above .500? Probably a one-match flash. But .780 for a season? It’s been roughly half the season, or less, thus far for the Buffanblu. But even if Akana’s back-row hitting percentage tails off, any figure above .600 or .700 is doomsday for virtually any other opponent in the state, in the country, in the world.

And yet, without every piece of the puzzle doing its part, there is no monster attack.

“Kana‘i does his part of the job extremely well, but it takes everyone else doing a great job,” Tune noted. “The passer making a great technical pass, the setter making a great technical set. That’s why I love this game. It’s always about the whole team.”

Ryan Wilcox (UC Santa Barbara) has been a standout for years. McKibbin will set for USC next season. Ryan Hong will swing for Harvard and Alaka‘i Todd will play for Hawaii. The depth of the team is a given. Having a 6-4 hammer who never has to leave the floor is a gift that Tune loves to use as an ultimate chess piece.

“He’s kind of the guy who’s really, really good, but since you see a lot of good players on the roster, he is in the shadow more than he should be,” Tune said.

Akana chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Friday, before the team departed for a trip to Japan.

Kana‘i Akana
Punahou volleyball

Q&A / Favorites

Team: UMBC because they just beat Virginia.
Food (at home): New York Steak and rice
> My mom makes dinner every night. She makes it pretty often, once a week or so. She puts in the pan, puts garlic and butter on it, and it’s perfect. Medium rare.

So if you had to make this, would it come out the same?
> Oh no, it would definitely come out burnt or rare.

Food (eating out): Lung Fung Chinese restaurant
> We’ve been eating there for the past five years. We go there once a week. It’s so good. The duck and buns, it’s so good.

Hobby outside of sports: I love to Bodysurf
> Usually I got to Sandy’s and if not, then Makapuu.

Movie: Hitch
> It’s the greatest romance comedy of all time.

So which character are you?
> There’s this guy who can’t get any girls and Will Smith tries to help him. I watched it one time with my best friend. It’s timeless movie, for sure. It’ll never get old.

TV show: Game of Thrones
> I find it interesting when they find out who’s got their back.

So are you a Stark or a Lannister?
> Oh, I’m a Stark. Definitely a Stark.

The redeeming quality of a Lannister that they pay their debts, supposedly. And the weakness of a Stark is that they don’t fight evil with evil. Is that fair?
> I think so.

So how are the Starks going to win?
> I don’t know. I kind of believe in karma, still.

So let’s say, you get a chance to be an extra in an episode, final season. But you have to skip a final exam or a tournament on the mainland with your club.
> Probably not. I’d definitely never skip a tournament for volleyball. That’s my favorite thing to do.

Video game: FORTNITE
Are you one of the many who are addicted?
> It’s probably an unhealthy addiction. On the weekdays, I usually play three hours a day. On the weekends, probably, let’s say five hours a day. I know some guys who play 12 hours a day.

Do they need help?
> Yes, they do.

Music artist: J. Cole
> He definitely helps me get in the zone, getting hyped up ready to play.

Teacher (elementary through high school): Mrs. Carol Lee
> She’s awesome. She’s my favorite teacher because she really cares. She’s helped me improve in English class.

GPA: 3.83
Does sports help you become a better student?
> I definitely think sports encourage me to try harder in school. When you’re trying to get recruited, the grades have to be good enough to get into college. Also, my coach for club, Jordan Inafuku, always tells us we have to do our best in everything we do.

Class: European History through philosophy
> It’s a great class. It’s almost like exploring how to think. It gets pretty complicated.

Which is your favorite philosopher?
> Probably John Locke.

Place to relax: Sandy Beach

Motto/scripture: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” — John Wooden

What your mom (Kristen Crabb) says that you can’t forget: To thank those who have helped me along the way.

What your dad (Elroy Akana) says that you can’t forget: I cant forget to remain focused at all times on the court.
> My dad was a football player at Kailua. He was a quarterback and he had a state record at one point. My mom played volleyball at La Pietra. She was a setter.

Can you outrun your dad?
> He says he can but we haven’t raced.

What your coaches say that you can’t forget: My coaches always tell me that I should embrace the challenge. Whatever challenge may happen (on or off the court) I need to accept it and give my 100-percent effort towards overcoming that challenge.

How does your sport affect your daily life during the season and offseason?
> Volleyball is my passion, and has affected everything I’ve done in my life. It’s taught me valuable life lessons such as to give my best in all that I do. It’s given me friends that I will forever be grateful for.

What middle and elementary schools did you attend?
I attended Punahou in middle school and Hanahauoli in elementary school. Hanahauoli is a private school across the street from Punahou.

What youth teams did you play for? What club do you play for and what are
the daily commitments like year-round?
> I’m currently on the Spike and Serve 18U volleyball team. We’re an extremely competitive volleyball team and have placed third place the past two years at the USA volleyball’s Junior National Tournament (the biggest and most important boys volleyball tournament each year). Our club team practices three times a week for seven months out of the year (we rest for two months after our tournament and Punahou season lasts three months).

Where have you travelled for volleyball?
> I’ve travelled to Minnesota, Dallas, Reno, Columbus, Des Moines, Fort
Lauderdale, Anaheim, San Diego, Provo (Utah) and Japan for volleyball.

What are you expecting in Japan?
> Hopefully, really good food and really good competition. We’re going to tour, but we’re also playing the three top high school teams in Japan. The men’s teams, they’re good at getting the ball back over.

What do you like to do — or what’s something else you’re good at — that would surprise most people?
> I love to bodysurf on my free time. Time stands still when I’m in the ocean. It almost seems like all other worries fade away and it’s just me and the next wave I’m going to catch. Almost like my own therapy session every time I go.

What is your ultimate dream/bucket list? Where would you like to travel, what life would you like to have as an athlete? And away from sports?
> My ultimate dream would be to become a professional beach volleyball
player, living in Hermosa Beach. I would love to do this so that I could raise
more awareness for beach volleyball because it’s a great and very fun

> I’d love to travel to the Swiss Alps some day because of its incredible natural beauty.

Are you going ski while you’re there?
> I think I’ll probably go in the summer time so no. I saw the Swiss Alps in a movie and it’s beautiful.

What is the history and background of your name?
I come from a long line of great volleyball players. To start, My grandpa (Tony Crabb) was a 1984 Olympic coach, the first year the USA Olympic volleyball team won a gold medal.

Two of my cousins, Taylor and Trevor Crabb are both highly ranked AVP (the biggest professional beach volleyball league in America) beach volleyball players. My uncle, Kaione Crabb, was a great volleyball player who was on the Reebok national team when he was 17, and my other uncle, Kaiwi Crabb, was a great high school player who decided to play football in college. My mom was a great high school setter. My grandma (Wendy Crabb) played volleyball throughout her whole life.

Does she watch you play?
> Yeah, my whole family tries to come to every match. I’ve learned over the years to block out the crowd and focus on the next play.

Any shout-outs or additional thoughts are welcome. Mahalo!
> First off I’d like to thank all my coaches who’ve helped me improve not only as a
volleyball person, but also as a person throughout my lifetime. I’d like to
especially thank my high school Coach Rick Tune and my club coach Jordan Inafuku for the incredible support they’ve given me; Without them, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today. I’d like to thank my amazing family for the aloha spirit that they radiate every day. I’d like to thank my mom for teaching me all that I
know and being my biggest supporter, I know you’ll always be in my corner and I love you so much.

What’s it been like, growing every year, getting less close to the floor?
> I definitely had to work extra hard to stay low to the ground, to constantly remind myself to stay low.

How much of your height comes from your father or mother’s side of the family?
> I expected to grow. My parents aren’t that tall. My mom is 5-10 and my dad is 6 feet. My Uncle Kaione is 6-5. My Uncle Kaiwi is 6-4. It would be awesome to get another inch.

Coach says you’re hitting .780 and you can hit the ‘D’ ball. What does that mean?
> Wow, I didn’t know that. The D-ball is the back row attack from the right side. It’s just different. You’ve got to work extra hard.

How does your team embrace the target when you’re the dynasty of the state. Is there adde pressure?
> No, it’s definitely fun. Way more fun when we’re trying our best and giving it our all and just focused. Mainly, it’s the most fun when we’re winning because of how hard we work.

How much of it is physical, and how much is mental?
> I think our mental game is probably 35 to 40 percent of the reason why we’re able to execute at such a high level.

Coach Tune likes the maturity of the team. Is it more the staff staying on you guys, or do you handle responsibilities within?
> It’s 50-50 between the coaching staff making sure we try our best and our team holding each other accountable. We never go into panic. Even when it’s close, we know what we need to do to win a game. We’re a pretty mature team. We’re well-bonded.

The game is in your blood. Is that fair to say?
> I would say volleyball definitely runs in our family, especially my mom’s side. Everybody has played volleyball at some level. There’s always a volleyball and we’re always peppering.

* * *

And finally, we mentioned earlier that Inafuku, the former Kamehameha standout, is also Akana’s club coach. Here’s what he said about the senior.

HPW: What have you enjoyed about his development and growth over the years?

Inafuku: Kānaʻi is one of the most driven and competitive people I’ve ever coached. His competitiveness doesn’t just appear when we’re keeping score, he will turn small drills into competitive opportunities, and he’ll compete with himself, if necessary, to keep his urgency to improve really high.

HPW: What makes Kana‘i unique as a person on and off the court?

Inafuku: He wants to be the best volleyball player he can possibly be, and he takes the initiative and seeks out ways to improve. He is just as committed to the weight room and the training room as he is to the practice court, and that has helped him physically develop into a top-notch athlete.

Over the years he’s become more patient with himself. He understands that improvement is a process that takes time, and he’s more willing to put in the hours and suffer the growing pains to master different parts of his game. He has also developed into an empathetic and emotional leader, who is unafraid to challenge and motivate his teammates when necessary.

HPW: What part of his game do spectators see less of than they would in club ball?

Inafuku: I think high school fans mainly see his physicality at the net. They don’t get to see him pass and play defense nearly as much as if they watched him during club season. Kānaʻi is a primary passer and middle back defender in club, and he receives the majority of serves for our team. He is handling that pressure and that skill better and better, which is a big reason for his team’s successes.

HPW: What’s your advice to Kana‘i going forward?

Inafuku: My advice for college would be to remain patient and persistent. The college game, especially at BYU, is a big jump in terms of physicality and speed. I think he will handle it just fine, but I want him to be patient with his development so he is always in a good mental state to perform his best.


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