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.
Maryknoll 2018, Texas setter
Starting setter for Longhorns, who lost to Kentucky in the NCAA Championships on April 24. She had 52 assists and six digs in the title match.
Gabriel comes from a family of athletes. Her father is former Punahou standout Darryl, her uncle Garrett beat BYU twice as a UH quarterback and her cousin Dillon is s standout QB at UCF.
Q. What was your experience like being in the NCAA Championship?
A. “Being in the finals was very surreal, especially growing up that was always my biggest dream as a little girl and to actually to get that far and say that I’ve been to a national championship was something I didn’t necessarily I know I was going to be able to achieve that so to actually get there and to be able to experience that especially after the year we had with COVID definitely made it mean a little more just because we had sacrificed to much to get there.”
Q. What does it prove to you and other kids from Hawaii?
A. “I think it proves that just because we’re so isolated and we live out in the middle of the ocean doesn’t mean that we can’t go up against the best of the best in the mainland.
“I think that due to our lack of exposure from being on the islands not being able to go up to as many tournaments and getting the same exposure to college coaches and college programs the way that people on the mainland do, just because all of those things hinder us from getting to such an elite level, doesn’t mean we can’t do it. I think it’s really cool that especially the year we had (that) we had so much representation from the islands in all those national championships across all different sports. It’s very humbling to be a part of small group that can say that we did it.”
Q. How did you overcome that? How did you get to Austin (Texas)
A. “My recruiting process was very different in comparison to my teammates that I play with now. A lot of them were committed by the beginning of their sophomore year and I wasn’t committed until the end of my junior year.
“My recruiting process with Texas happened really fast and I kind of just took a risk, and you know, if I don’t do this, I’m going to regret it for the rest of my life. Told my coach, when I got there I just want the opportunity to play I’ll work my hardest to see some court time,.and it ended up paying off. It was definitely a hard road to get here, but definitely worth it at the end.”
Q. How did they (Texas Longhorns) find you?
A. “My head coach Jerritt Elliott, he has some Hawaii connections. He reached out to my club coach (Luis Ramirez) and told him hey, ‘We need a setter.’ My club coach said, ‘why don’t you come take a look at mine?’ Coach Elliott ended up flying down to Hawaii on his way home from coaching a national team in Thailand and came to one of my practices and got to watch me play. Next thing you know I’m on a visit to see the campus and meet the girls and a couple weeks after that I’m telling him I want to be a Longhorn.
Q. Coach your club coach (Luis Ramirez) got you in touch with Texas?
A. “He called me up one day, was like ‘Jhenna, Texas wants to talk to you.’ I was like, ‘Texas? Like the Longhorns Texas?’ And he was like yes, oh my goodness, completely starstruck It was the craziest thing.”
Q. What’s your message to the kids of Hawaii?
A. “I think it’s so important to not give up and just continue to put your head down and go to work and work harder than anybody around you. Compete every single day with the same kids that are competing in the mainland. Because, it’s possible. It’s possible to be able to leave Hawaii and go play college sports at the highest level and to win national championships and just be able play for something that’s bigger than us and play for home and to represent that because it’s so special To hear them call out your name, Honolulu, Hawaii, when they’re calling the starting lineup is one of the best feelings in the world, and it’s something to work hard for and it’s really nice to know that this small group this year that has gone as far as we did can just be those role models for those little kids growing up. Just let them know that we can do it.”
Q. What do you plan in the future, short-term and long-term?
A. “I graduate this summer with my undergrad in public relations and a minor in business and I start my master’s in fall in sports management, just finish out my volleyball career at Texas. From there I couldn’t tell you what I want to do whether it’s try to go play overseas a little bit or play a little beach volleyball and see where that takes me, or just actually go and actually go and get a real job because that sounds like fun. Long term who knows what’s going to happen.
Q. How did you get the spelling of your name?
“I was originally supposed to be named Khali. And my sister’s name is Khaydan. My mom’s sister one day was like, ‘You cannot name her Khali. You can’t do it …
So my mom and dad were just like we like the name Jenna, so they just threw the h in there to match with my sister. It’s so weird.”