Maui standouts’ advice to sidelined student-athletes: Control what you can control, focus on schoolwork


Hawaii’s Colton Cowell hits a shot against UC Irvine during a three-set win on Feb. 8, 2020. UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII ATHLETICS photo

Vili Toluta’u and Colton Cowell have a lot in common.

Both are from Maui, both are college graduates, both have worn “USA” on their jerseys and hope to do so again.

For the last year or so, they have watched up close as those following in their footsteps have been unable to compete for their schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cowell, who is one of the unquestioned leaders for the No. 2-ranked University of Hawaii men’s volleyball team and a King Kekaulike High School graduate, said he feels for the Maui Interscholastic League student-athletes now.

“Given the circumstances of COVID-19 preventing youth athletes from competing in their respective sports I think it’s really important to understand that these factors are right now beyond their control,” Cowell said last week. “However, what they choose to do on a daily basis is still crucial to their development as athletes.”


While fall and winter sports have already been canceled in the high school ranks in Hawaii for the 2020-21 academic year, recent movement around the state makes it appear very realistic that spring sports may happen. A large step in that direction happens today when several public schools return the bulk of their students to on-campus learning.

Cowell is working on a master’s degree in economics with a focus in environmental, resource and energy economics.

His undergraduate diploma in economics “is sitting at my mom’s house, proudly displayed in her kitchen.”

After international and professional volleyball is done for Cowell, he plans to make a difference in the world and his home state.

“I’m really interested in innovative practices and technologies that are involved with renewable energy and mitigating the circumstances of climate change,” he said. “I think it’s a very important area of study and/or occupation to focus on renewable energy economics and island sustainability.”

Toluta’u, who owns a construction management degree from Central Washington University, emphasized that to make it to the next level current MIL student-athletes must concentrate on the student part of the equation.

“When I was in high school the main thing that motivated me to keep my grades up was sports, so I know without sports right now it’s hard to keep on track with your grades, but honestly just keep up your grades,” Toluta’u said. “It’s not the end of the world, there’s always next year. I know it’s hard to get recruited and this and that with (no) sports, but keep cracking up your grades and good things will happen.

“Don’t end your career just because your grades aren’t good. It’s all about grades to get to college.”

The 27-year-old Baldwin High School graduate recently moved from the Seattle Seawolves to the New England Free Jacks in Major League Rugby — he was a first-team MLR All-Star and MVP of the championship series in 2018 and was a two-time MLR champion with the Seawolves.

He has represented the United States on several different age levels since high school and was on the USA Eagles 15-a-side men’s national team in 2018 and the USA Falcons sevens team in 2019. He is developing a rock-wall construction company during his offseason time on Maui and using his CWU degree to do it.

“The kids ask me, ‘it must be fun going to play rugby, you get to travel,’ “ Toluta’u said. “Here in the state, we only travel interisland (for rugby), but it feels good. It kind of puts a chip on my shoulder to do good because we have this support system back home, that they are looking up to you.”

Cowell took the thought of academic success being a must even farther.

“They still have complete control over their performance in the classroom, how they treat others, how they are recognized in the community and what they do to keep themselves physically ready at any time,” Cowell said. “And the main thing that I would tell the youth athletes of the MIL in understanding all of these factors, is that this is a very important time for them to focus on developing who they are and who they want to be.”

Cowell always has a five-year plan in place for himself and he says that can work for current MIL student-athletes. He has risen from a little-used walk-on to All-American in five years at UH.

“I always apply a five-year rule to myself — where do I want to be in five years?” Cowell said. “And I think that has helped me focus on the fact that even though I have five years ahead of me, if I put a little bit of time and effort into making myself better each and every day I know that the results will come and I will learn to fall in love with the process of focusing on myself and focusing on what I’m capable of.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com


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