Kahale follows passion, eyes college volleyball
Senior Spotlight is a special series highlighting standout MIL student-athletes as they reflect upon their high school careers and look toward the future. Stories will run periodically in The Maui News.
Kanalu Kahale has always looked up to his oldest brother Kaimana, but the third-oldest of Nichol and Mike Kahale’s four sons has a leg up on his oldest sibling: an athletic college scholarship offer.
The University of Rio Grande, an NAIA school in Ohio, has offered Kanalu Kahale a partial scholarship to be a part of the school’s fledgling men’s volleyball team.
The 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior setter/outside hitter for Molokai High School is following a family path in volleyball. He also played wide receiver for the school’s eight-player football team and guard in basketball.
“A school called Rio Grande in Ohio, they are just starting this year and I got a partial scholarship for volleyball,” Kahale said. “So far, I’m leaning towards that. I’m still looking at a couple other colleges in California and Idaho.”
His cousin Noelani Helm is the starting setter at the University of Portland and his uncle Matt Helm is the head coach of the women’s volleyball team at Whitman College in Washington.
Now, Rio Grande in Ohio — not Texas, Kahale stressed — looks like it may end up being his college landing spot.
“I think it’s kind of better for me, going to a school that is just starting up (its volleyball team),” he said. “I think it’d be an easier transition to college. So, yeah, it’s cool.”
For the past week, Kahale has been practicing volleyball despite tight restrictions due to COVID-19. Molokai is the only state Department of Education school in the Maui Interscholastic League that is currently allowed to practice under the DOE’s COVID-19 protocols.
With the school calendar running short and DOE travel restrictions in place, practice will possibly be all the Farmers’ teams will be able to do this spring.
“It sucked, it was depressing actually,” Kahale said of missing his final four sports seasons as a Farmer, dating back to last spring. “Sports is like the main thing I look forward to every year, especially volleyball. We do get to practice, but the whole traveling aspect to it, getting to play other teams, that’s what I get excited for — we didn’t get that and it really sucks.”
Representing Molokai is something that Kahale takes seriously.
“I take a lot of pride in doing it,” Kanalu Kahale said. “Sports is like the main thing for me, it’s pretty much my passion. And coming from a small island, you know, we represent everyone here. We only have one school here, have to show everyone what I can do.”
Older brother Nainoa is 20 and attends Whitman, and younger brother Makena is 10. Kaimana — who played football for three seasons at Lewis and Clark College, an NCAA Division III school in Portland, Ore. — is 23 and is now attending the University of Utah for his graduate degree.
“I talk to (Kaimana) once in a while, I ask him about the transition from high school to college sports, how big of a difference it is,” Kanalu Kahale said.
Kahale is set to be the first male college volleyball player from the island in Molokai coach Hale Domingo’s nine-year career.
“A lot of pride because not many people from here go to the next level and play college sports,” Kahale said. “I will be one of the very few, which is cool.”
Domingo said that Kahale is well-rounded, in athletics and academics. Kahale is now leaving a legacy on the practice court in The Barn, the school’s gym in Hoolehua.
“Athletic-wise, he’s very talented, man,” Domingo said. “He’s talented in the classroom, on the court, off the court. Helping us not through this season, but the workouts. I see Kanalu growing up and he can become great. He told me he was going to go into volleyball and I guess you could say I had that proud coach moment. He’s going to be missed.”
Kanalu will miss playing football for his father, the Molokai coach. Being coach and dad is not always easy for Mike Kahale.
“You have got to try and wear two different hats,” Mike Kahale said. “Sometimes it can be challenging because you don’t want the appearance of favoritism, so it’s almost like you have to have your own children work harder to prove themselves to the rest of the coaching staff and their teammates, so it doesn’t appear to be that way.
“Kanalu does a pretty good job and steps up to the challenge and competes at the highest level.”
Mike Kahale gets a smile on his face whenever he gets to coach one of his sons. Kanalu Kahale was a key cog in the Farmers’ goal to reach the 11-player game when he played in games against Nanakuli and Kamehameha Maui in 2019, Molokai’s first regulation games in more than 50 years.
Kanalu Kahale was part of three MIL eight-player football championships teams.
He was a first-team MIL eight-player football All-Star in 2018 and 2019; he was a second-team MIL D-II volleyball All-Star as a freshman and sophomore; and he was an honorable mention MIL D-II All-Star in basketball in 2019.
“It’s rewarding because I’m intimately involved with him every single day, the first two years, not this year, of course,” Mike Kahale said. “Through the football season, I get to see him a lot and build a better relationship with him, have the reward of winning championships and the agony of defeat sometimes, too, and just seeing his growth and maturity over the years.”
Kanalu Kahale did not play any football until his freshman year of high school — volleyball, which he has played since middle school, is clearly his first love.
“At first I didn’t want to get into football, but he kind of pushed me towards it and I ended up enjoying it,” he said of his father. “And I was decent at it, too. … I will miss it, but I enjoy volleyball much more than football.”
Mike Kahale laughs when he thinks about his third-oldest son developing into a likely college athlete despite missing the last two seasons of the sport that is his passion.
“Things were kind of in flux this whole year, we didn’t know what the plan was — he applied to a bunch of schools, got in to a bunch of schools that didn’t have volleyball,” Mike Kahale said. “Then we just approached him about wanting to play in college. … It was cool for him to get an official offer from the (Rio Grande) coach with an athletic scholarship money amount attached to it.
“It was like, ‘Son, you got this over your brother Kaimana.’ He went to a D-III and got it all paid for, but it wasn’t an athletic scholarship. You know, we’re a little competitive in the household.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org