Coach Speak: Lau Hee has grown up with KS Maui baseball
His given first name is Kaeo, but he is known to all as “Mo.”
To the Kamehameha Schools Maui baseball team, he is Coach Mo and it is easy to make the case that Mo Lau Hee has grown up with the Warriors program.
He was a member of the original graduating class at Kamehameha Maui in 2006 and is now the head baseball coach.
“It was an honor, privilege, but we had a disadvantage of having no upperclass leadership,” Lau Hee said. “We could kind of create our own path as a class and as a school and just take on any challenges ahead. We learned throughout the challenges – that was the toughest part, having no upperclassmen leadership, trying to be the leader of the new school.”
He overcame those early challenges and played four years of college baseball at NCAA Division III Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. — he was a science teacher at KSM for three years before joining his father’s electrical business seven years ago.
Lau Hee became an assistant coach for the Warriors in 2010 immediately after graduating from Pacific and took over as head coach in 2015.
“I mean, I love it,” Lau Hee said of coaching his alma mater. “Always a dream to come back to the school where I played and basically give back to Pauahi and the program and everything that they’ve kind of shaped and molded me into. To me, it’s an honor to be part of the legacy and give back to what they gave me, basically.”
Kamehameha Maui athletic director Jon Viela knows precisely what it is like to be a baseball coach at one’s alma mater. He was a state champion player for Baldwin before a standout career at the University of Hawaii. He led the Bears to the state title in his last season as head coach in 2016.
“It means a lot to the school, I think it means a lot to the alumni, and when I talk about the school, you talk about the staff, you talk about the teachers and the whole administration,” Viela said of the KSM ohana. “So, seeing someone who graduated from there in the original class, you have got to feel proud of them coming back, giving back to the school and fostering all of the values that they were taught.
“It’s great to have Mo or any alumni to come back and coach.”
Lau Hee knows what his players face going to the private school.
“I basically experienced everything, all the little tricks and the tricks of the trade, I know what they’ve been through – academics, structure, school structure,” Lau Hee said. “I know how it is to deal with balancing school, I know most of the rules that they have no way around.
“I know what they go through, just the little things that private schools such as Kamehameha provides challenges, academically and for sports. Experiencing it first hand, I’ve been through their shoes and I can apply and relate to what they deal with on a daily basis.”
While the Warriors are perennial contenders in the Maui Interscholastic League Division I ranks, they have won the MIL pennant only once — in 2009 — and have been to just two of the last 10 state tournaments, in 2012 and 2018.
“It’s been basically luck of the draw, the way the ball bounced, more than inexperience and I believe we will get over the hump,” Lau Hee said. “But that’s the way the game goes.”
Perhaps the closest call for the Warriors to get one more state tournament berth came in 2017, when Maui High rallied for a dramatic win in a game in which the Sabers were down to their last strike twice. A victory in that game would have sent Kamehameha Maui to the state tournament. Instead, the Sabers beat the Warriors one more time to get the state spot and ended up winning the state title.
“We’re trying to create an environment where they are able to handle that kind of situation and overcome that kind of adversity and that kind of stuff doesn’t happen,” Lau Hee said. “We’re just trying to build something where we can handle certain situations to get us over that hump.”
Lau Hee knows the MIL is a tough league to coach in. Baldwin won state crowns in 2016 and 2018, wrapped around the Maui High crown in 2017. The Bears were the No. 1 seed in 2019 before losing in the semifinals.
Lau Hee points to the recent avalanche of success that Valley Isle youth teams have had, including a few of his players on the 2019 Senior League World Series championship team, as proof that the MIL is loaded with talent.
“The MIL has proven to be one of the tougher leagues — it starts maybe from Little League on, creating a solid foundation for the youth and having the competitiveness from an early age,” Lau Hee said. “Once they get to the high school level it’s just putting everything together. The way the talent is spread out all through the island, it’s good to see.
“On our part, we’re proud to have the competition and to compete with them. Each week is a battle. The way our league is set up prepares us more for a state tournament with those three-game series each week.”
Recent KSM graduate Konnor Palmeira is at the University of Hawaii and will play baseball, while Kepa Supnet is a junior at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. A couple other Warriors who played under Lau Hee are currently playing junior college baseball.
“Our recent graduating class sent a couple more to JC and NAIA schools,” Lau Hee said. “So, definitely tough going to college with all the showcases and travel ball, so they’re getting more and more looks by colleges. It’s more on the parents and the kids and their drive to get to the next level. I’m just trying to be a part of that.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com