Four Hawaii athletes contributed heavily to their team’s ascent to the NCAA Championships.
The four are:
• Maryknoll’s Jhenna Gabriel, who was the starting setter for a Texas team that advance to the NCAA women’s volleyball final;
• King Kekaulike’s Colton Cowell, who helped Hawaii volleyball beat BYU and make school history by becoming the first UH men’s team to win an undisputed NCAA title.
• Kaiser’s Kaile Halvorsen, who played big minutes in helping Santa Clara beat Florida State to capture the College Cup in women’s soccer.
• Jocelyn Alo, whose home-run power propelled Oklahoma past Florida State for the NCAA softball crown.
Here is the interview with Cowell:
King Kekaulike 2015, Hawaii starting outside hitter
Cowell had 10 kills, 4 digs, 1 assist, 1 ace, 1 block assist in the national semifinal sweep of UC Santa Barbara. He had 7 kills, 3 service aces, 3 digs, 2 block assists and 1 assist in sweeping BYU for the NCAA volleyball championship on May 8.
Cowell underwent shoulder surgery in Mid-June. He is out of a sling and in July won another national title. He was an assistant to head coach Rick Tune and guided a Spike and Serve team to the USA Volleyball Boys Junior 17s open national championship in Kansas City.
Q. What kind of surgery did you have?
A. “Full rotator cuff repair and labral repair.”
Q. How long were you hurting?
A. “The last 2 seasons. I played the last 2 seasons with those tears, just on the right, the hitting one.
Q. How did it affect you?
A. “By the time I got to the games, I’d be on some anti-inflammatories … there were days I wouldn’t be able to practice or do anything overhead, strength training wise. So it affected me a lot.
“The doctor said the operation went picture perfect. So it looks like it’s going to be a full recovery.”
Q. What’s in store for your future?
A. “I was intending to play professionally in France until I found out that the severity of my muscle tears needed to be addressed. For the time being, I’m going to take this next year to involve myself in physical therapy. And eventually begin training for the 2022-2023 professional season.”
Q. How proud are you that Hawaii was well represented in the NCAA title matches?
A. “I think having found out how many of us represented Hawaii in the pinnacle of NCAA intercollegiate athletics, I think it’s incredible. There is always going to be a lot of athletic talent within the state of Hawaii and I feel very blessed to represent the small population that made it to the top this year.
Q. What does it prove to you about Hawaii athletes?
A. “I think in terms of athletics within the state of Hawaii. It’s a smaller talent pool so you’ll see these pretty incredible stories regarding athletes that are typically undersized, under-recruited, but they just have these incredible stories about hard work, determination, grit, excellence in the classroom.
“I think Hawaii represents a very well-rounded student-athlete. I think all the student-athletes that come out of Hawaii are typically those that represent their community with pride, they take the classroom and the academics very seriously. And there always willing to play with that aloha spirit, for us, it was that Warrior mentality.”
Q. Proud that you can be an inspiration? Do you want to be someone who inspires other Hawaii athletes?
A. “Absolutely, I absolutely want to be somebody that younger athletes reach out to and communicate with. I love getting asked questions about my journey. Looking back on my six years at the University of Hawaii, I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish as an athlete. But more so, what I was able to accomplish as a person because I feel that the men’s volleyball team involves themselves in so many incredible programs to the benefit of others. That’s mainly what I’m proud to represent is just a program that has left a legacy where you do your time, you work really hard, you represent the things that are important to you and you want to spread aloha everywhere you go.”
Q. Tell me about your journey, from Year 1 on.
A. “Year 1, I sent an email Charlie Wade asking if I could try out for the University of Hawaii men’s volleyball team. He said you’re a local kid, I had maintained pretty good grades at the time throughout high school. He was gave me an opportunity, and I was able to make that team Year 1.
“I believe I only recorded a single ace in terms of statistics that year. That was on my birthday of my freshman year against BYU.
“Year 2 came around and we had a very large roster. In complete honesty, I hadn’t made the necessary improvements to really secure my role on the team. But fortunately, Charlie was willing to still invest time in me. And he gave me the opportunity to redshirt as a libero. So given that gracious proposition he presented me with, I took that opportunity and I worked on my passing and I started getting into strength training,
“Year 3 comes around. I was still in that serving specialist role. However, in some matches, for instance, the loss against UCLA in four sets and the loss against BYU in four sets of the 2018 season, I actually participated in those matches as a full-time outside hitter for six rotations. Following that, during the summer, I went to the World University Games in 2018 with Brett Rosenmeier. And Charlie watched all of our games and he called me on the phone and he congratulated me and said that he was going to put me on scholarship for my fourth year in the program and that he wanted to try to see myself as someone that could statistically contribute as a starter. And that if was willing to work really hard that summer, he would continue to give me opportunities.
“And of course, 2019 rolls around, I believe in that year, we finished runner-up to the national champion Long Beach State. We broke the set streak record, we broke the hitting efficiency record. We had a lot of incredible performances from various members of the team. We were the Big West champions. That was my first year as a full-time starter.
“Obviously, 2020 was the year of COVID. It was my first time receiving an all-conference and All-American nomination. That was when the injuries in my shoulder began to significantly bother me.
“This final season, we were national champion I was once again first-team all-conference, second team All-American. I believe in 2020, I was the Big West scholar of the year and the University’s Jack Bonham recipient. All that was capped off with a national championship, which I’m proudly going to represent for the rest of my life. And I’m very, very blessed and grateful for that to be a part of my legacy. And now, I’m sitting in my bedroom in a sling, post-op.”
Q. You entered UH at what weight?
A. “When I first entered UH during my physical freshman year, I was 147 pounds. In 2020, I was actually up to 196 pounds. This year, I maintained a playing weight of 188 and 192. … Weight training, working out and a lot of eating.
“I figured I would gain some muscle in college. I was eating more seriously. I was just kind of always train and always get better and started putting on lean muscle cuz that’s what I need in my sport and fortunately for me, it definitely was to my benefit.”
Q. Did you grow?
A. “I grew about half inch, fresh to sophomore year I grew about half inch. I grew about from 6 foot and a half to 6-1. … It’s very small (for an outside hitter).
I’m typically the shortest player on the court, except for if we’re playing another team with a smaller libero. I’m always the shortest player on our side of the net. Even Gage (Worsley) is taller than I am.”
Q. Do you feel you epitomize the underdog mentality of Hawaii?
A. “I’ve always liked viewing myself as an underdog. That’s where I typically feel that I thrive. I prefer to play where there’s no expectations. I really embody working hard. I feel that my work ethic was definitely a strength of mine throughout college. And I just feel in love with the process of obsessing over getting better and trying to master my performance level in my sport. I still have a long way to go. I feel that’s going to be my response no matter at what stage in my career. I think I’m always going to want more from myself. I think I’m always going to want to find 1 percent an opportunity to work 1 percent harder or become 1 percent more efficient. That’s been my style of training as an athlete. And that’s how I view myself. I view myself as an underdog and I will always put myself in that position because I think it motivates me to work harder and perform.”
Q. That’s part of Hawaii mentality?
A. “I do. I think it is the Hawaii mentality. The state of Hawaii is somewhat of a small talent pool compared to the rest of the United States and a lot of student athletes coming out of Hawaii they enter college athletics with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. I feel that that’s why you see so many incredible stories with Hawaii athletes.
Is the fact that, there’s something about student athletes and kids from Hawaii, where they’re always willing to work hard. And they’re always willing to make necessary sacrifices to put themselves in positions to be successful.”
Q. What would be your message to other Hawaii athletes?
A. “My message would be good things take time and it’s really important to practice patience. Believing in yourself goes a long way. Always practice patience with yourself, practice compassion, practice understanding, and just recognize that good things take time.”
In a follow-up conversation in July:
Q. How are you doing?
“Doing good. I won another national title. Spike and serve team just won the 17s open for VJNC. Head coach was Rick Tune. I was the assistant on that team.”
Q. Are you still in a sling?
“Just got cleared from the sling. I can get it to almost, front and side, to almost 90 degrees … on a good day, 90 degrees. On a not-so-good day, I’m right around 75-80. Just trying to take it day by day.”