Former MIL standouts making a big impact for nationally ranked Odessa
They are a long way from home playing the game they love.
Lyric Love, Siena DeCambra and Nanna Inoue are all key players for the Odessa (Texas) College volleyball team that is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation in the National Junior College Athletic Association poll.
Love and Inoue are King Kekaulike High School graduates, while DeCambra graduated from Baldwin. All three played together for several years with Hawaiian Style Volleyball Club under coach Al Paschoal.
“They are all three very valuable to our success right now,” Odessa head coach Kristi Gray said during a bus ride to a tournament in Yavapai, Ariz., on Wednesday. “Whenever I first recruited Lyric — they all played club together and when I saw all three play together, I was like, ‘I have to have these kids.’
“I started recruiting Si and Nanna pretty early and whenever they both decided to sign I was ecstatic because I knew how much they were going to help us.”
Love is a 6-foot sophomore middle blocker who was named first-team all-conference last season — she is second on the team in blocks and fifth in kills this season while hitting .329.
“It’s all so crazy, it’s just like touching,” Love said Tuesday after practice. “I played with Nanna and Si before and to play with them again and win with them, it’s just such a good feeling. Playing here at this school, it feels like home, especially when you have people from all different areas. Our team is very diverse. You get to experience different cultures — when we all bring it together, at the end of the day we win together and we lose together.”
Love is coming back from a torn meniscus in her left knee — the same knee she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in during high school — and had to sit out two weeks of practices in early January after testing positive for COVID-19, although she remained asymptomatic.
“I tore it like the third day we came back to play again, August 10th,” Love said. “There was no (fall) season, but we were able to practice and still be in the gym. I feel like I have a lot of potential still, once I get back to full strength. When I got back (in January) I got COVID, so I wasn’t able to play.”
Love tested positive on Jan. 5 and returned to practice on Jan. 16. She is thankful she was quarantined with her boyfriend, an Odessa basketball player who also tested positive.
“When they told me I was so shocked,” Love said of the positive test. “Then I was really hurt because the day that they told me I had COVID, that was my first practice back from (the knee injury). I’m right about to play and I got pulled off the court and they told me I had to call the health center. … As soon as I tested positive they just had me go to my room — I had 30 minutes to grab what I needed and then I had to just quarantine.”
With rules similar to the NCAA allowing players to not have to use a season of eligibility this year, Love plans to be back with the Wranglers in the fall, when they hope to play a season in the more traditional time of year.
“I kind of feel like this is just the beginning,” said Love, who is majoring in business.
DeCambra is a 5-8 freshman setter who is leading the team in assists, and Inoue is a 5-2 freshman libero who is sixth on the team in digs. DeCambra and Love are starters who have played all 27 sets for the 7-1 Wranglers.
“Really crazy,” DeCambra said of playing with her club mates. “It’s super fun and I’m super glad that I came up here with them, so it would be just like home. There’s not much difference from playing back on Maui.”
DeCambra is averaging 5.89 assists per set. She is majoring in kinesiology and wants to be a personal trainer.
“This is just super fun and for my freshman year I’m blessed to play the game even with the pandemic going on,” DeCambra said. “Lyric has been really helpful. When we first came here she was really showing us around and made us feel comfortable. It’s not that much different than home.”
Gray said all three Mauians have four-year school potential, but she is grateful to have DeCambra running the attack for the foreseeable future.
“They bring a lot to this team this year,” Gray said. “Obviously they are all three different positions and Lyric is a sophomore, so she has that leadership role. Nanna’s defense is unreal and Siena is probably the best setter that we’ve ever had in this program.”
Inoue, the 2019 Maui Interscholastic League Division I Player of the Year, has seen her playing time grow lately. She led the team with 17 digs — in just four sets — in a dramatic five-set win over 15th-ranked Florida Southwestern State College on Saturday.
Inoue moved to Maui from Japan as a 15-year-old and finished at King Kekaulike in three years. She is a tutor at Odessa and was at the library late on Tuesday night helping her pupils before Wednesday’s road trip.
She nearly decided not to play college volleyball but now has her eyes set on a four-year school opportunity.
“I’m really enjoying this year,” Inoue said. “It’s a really different place, but I’m glad I came here. Having Lyric and Siena here is really helping me because this is like this whole different place and it was my first time (traveling to the Mainland).
“Right now I’m best friends with all the Hawaii people. … It’s something that reminds me of home.”
Love is overjoyed that Inoue decided to play in college.
“I always told her she wasn’t MIL Player of the Year for nothing,” Love said. “That girl can really play and I’m glad she’s on my team again.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.