Molokai High School's Matt Helm, the only coach ever to guide a Maui Interscholastic League team to a state girls volleyball title, has been named the head coach at Whitman College, an NCAA Division III school in Walla Walla, Wash.
Helm leaves Hoolehua with a 79-37 record in eight seasons during which he led the Farmers to four MIL titles, six state appearances and the 2010 Division II state crown. He guided eight players to college volleyball, including five from that state championship squad.
University of Hawaii standout Kalei Adolpho was a stellar middle blocker for the Farmers' state title team. Helm was a candidate for an assistant coaching job at Texas Tech after the state crown, but the timing was not right for his young family.
‘I am a little sad to leave this beautiful island. You know, there’s a lot of great kids, a lot of great talent, but at the same time, I want to get out there and venture out and also hopefully be a pipeline for Hawaii kids.’
– Matt Helm
"I'm ecstatic," Helm said Sunday. "It has been a dream, actually, to be able to coach as a career, something that I love to do, something that I am passionate about and I am just blessed, really, to have the opportunity to coach at this level."
Helm said it is not easy leaving the island where he grew up - he is a 1989 Molokai graduate and played at the NCAA Division I level at the University of La Verne.
"It is kind of bittersweet as well," he said. "I am a little sad to leave this beautiful island. You know, there's a lot of great kids, a lot of great talent, but at the same time, I want to get out there and venture out and also hopefully be a pipeline for Hawaii kids."
He said he will be keeping a close eye on the Farmers, past and present. One of the players Helm's Whitman team will face is Kailana Ritte-Camara, a starter on the state title team who is one week away from finishing her freshman year at Linfield College.
Ritte-Camara was part of the state title team that had a 3.3 grade-point average, a point that Helm always stressed as a guidance counselor at Molokai High.
"Being here at Molokai we have always preached student-athlete, always preached student-athlete," Helm said.
"I went to a D-III school in La Verne and I think Whitman with their great academics up there, their opportunity to create an impact on their program, will be a great fit. I did a visit and Walla Walla is a beautiful place. I was actually born in Washington, but really it was about finding a school that fit my philosophy and I couldn't be too picky. The opportunity arose and I was blessed enough to get the job."
Helm's career at La Verne took place when the program was an NCAA Division I independent because of the shortage of men's college programs.
"We could schedule whoever we wanted to," he said. "The first year we were in the Pacific Coast Conference with Menlo, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, Santa Clara and some schools like that. After that league crashed, we just played wherever we could."
Helm said his family - wife Erika, and children Kahili, 12, Noelani, 10, Kahiau, 6, and Makaio, 15 months - will always consider Molokai home. That is a theme that carried over to the court.
"One thing I always told the girls was that, 'When you are on the court there is always a little girl who wants to be just like you. You are setting the template for years to come,' " Helm said. "That is about giving back to your community, having respect for your teammates, having respect for your competitors, but also doing whatever you can. Hard work pays off."
When asked to pick out one memory from his time coaching the Farmers as the most vivid, he couldn't.
"There's a lot of fond memories, the state tournament, the state championship was a real sweet one, but I think overall there have been many memories from all the teams that have a special place in my heart," Helm said. "Same with the players, I can't pinpoint any one of them, they are all special. They will all always be part of the program and I'm hoping maybe some day one of them will take it over and continue the philosophy that we have held.
"Some of them are awesome mothers right now, some of them are college graduates, some of them are awesome community contributors right now, some of them are still in college, but they are all awesome in my book."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com