Dandi Holder is a stickler for fundamentals and technical skill.
She also admits that the overflowing spirit of her Saints is immeasurable. Moments after St. Francis repeated as boys volleyball Division II state champions with a 25-23, 21-25, 25-23, 25-12 win over Kapaa, Holder talked about her team’s relentless spirit.
“The kids, their heart, you can’t coach heart. They wanted it, they really, really wanted it, especially it being our last (match) ever,” Holder said.
St. Francis finished the season 17-3. (Just an hour earlier, across the waters on Maui, St. Francis’ softball team captured the D-II state softball championship with a 4-1 win over Kohala.)
From big hitters Lucas Biondi (19 kills, 14 digs, three blocks, two aces) and Makua Marumoto (16 kills, nine digs), to middle (and future college football recruit) Faaope Laloulu (three blocks) to libero and serving ace Walter Berthold, and to one of the state’s best setters, Jesus Garcia (38 assists, three kills), the Saints were balanced, potent and, when necessary, masters of finesse and precision.
“They set their goal in the beginning and they pulled through,” Holder said.
>> On Biondi: “He’s been an awesome offensive player for us. He pulls through, even his serves in the back. He’s helped us through many games, his consistency.”
>> Marumoto: “Another big time swinger. With him, it’s about keeping it simple. That’s what I’ve been telling him all year long. Keep it simple, make the plays, make the reads, do what you have to do as a hitter. Get us that next point.”
>> Garcia: “Jesus, he’s been amazing. He’s Jesus. His leadership. He’s not the loudest person out there, but he definitely speaks words.”
>> Berthold: “Oh, a lot of work with him. He came out tonight and he knew exactly what he needed to do. He was always getting those balls up.”
Holder lost some major talent from the 2018 squad that captured St. Francis’ first volleyball state title. Then came a huge loss in preseason.
“For me, it wasn’t easy. This year wasn’t easy. There were a lot of challenges, losing Noah McKenzie, one of our most consistent players last year, with an ACL injury at the ‘Iolani tournament,” Holder said.
But help came in the way of some of the small school’s talented, multi-sport athletes. One of them was Kordel Ng.
“Kordel ended up coming in and he did his job. They ended up giving me their all, skipping basketball practices when they had to. They knew they needed to do it in order to contribute to the team. They did it for their teammates and coaches,” she said.
“Kapaa is a very good team. They came out hungry and ready to play. They really, really wanted it,” Holder said.
Biondi’s lone season at St. Francis turns out to be his last, but he has no regrets.
“Kapaa’s a great team. They put us on our heels for a lot of the match. To be able to get out there and play the role I play and do my job is a great feeling to be able to show up for my teammates,” he said. “The bond that we have on this team is special. I’ve been playing volleyball for a long time. I’m very happy with how everything turned out. It’ll be a year to remember.”
Garcia, a sage setter and quietly effective team leader, showed exactly how he works his influence. On one early play, after a teammate bumped him on a serve-receive that resulted in a Kapaa point, Garcia simply gave his teammate quick glance, a split-second of chagrin, then patted his back and moved on. No words spoken. Just a reminder of expectation and forgiveness in the heat of the moment.
“That’s him,” Holder said. “That’s Jesus.”
“Throughout the season, as a team we’ve just focused on the next side out, trusted each other,” Garcia said. “Our middles got the ball a lot today, and our outsides got it when we needed them.”
Garcia gave his finest grade to the back row.
“I give our passing an A. We got every ball up, got a lot of good passing, a lot more than throughout the season. It’s a good time to do that during the championship game,” he said.
Garcia was there for the final years of the historic campus.
“Six years playing at St. Francis. This year was the most satisfying, our school’s last year. I came here in seventh grade and I played for Coach Dandi for six years. She was the intermediate coach,” he said. “She does a great job. She works good with athletes who don’t play volleyball. She gets them to be effective at what they need to do. They really stepped up today.”
Marumoto’s bazookas were on display, but Holder’s consistent chiming about simplicity and control were vital.
“I’ve only been here two years and played one (of volleyball) at St. Francis, but it’s definitely cementing a legacy for our school. I’m glad I can be part of something bigger than myself to help our school,” he said.
He won’t forget Coach Holder’s legacy.
“This isn’t just a game to her. This is not a game, you know? This team is her family. She shows us that every day,” Marumoto said. “She doesn’t talk about us as her team. She talks about us as her family. That’s why it’s so emotional.”