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VIDEO: ‘A dream come true’

Maui welcomes home national champion Colton Cowell

University of Hawaii outside hitter Colton Cowell waves to the crowd as Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino introduces him Thursday during a welcome home celebration at Kahului Airport. Cowell helped UH win the NCAA men’s volleyball national championship last Saturday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAHULUI — It was a dream-come-true homecoming for Colton Cowell on Thursday at Kahului Airport.

A throng of more than 100 well-wishers gave him lei, saluted him, waved signs, and listened intently as the two-time AVCA All-American and key member of the NCAA men’s volleyball championship team from the University of Hawaii stepped foot on his home island for the first time in months.

“I’ve never felt more honored in my entire life,” Cowell said. “These people, they really have raised me, this is the community that has been the backbone for my development for so many years. This is more than I could have ever asked for.”

The event was organized by youth volleyball coach Ke’van Dudoit and Cowell’s mother Christina Cowell.

Colton Cowell speaks to the crowd of well-wishers, friends, family and supporters who welcomed him home Thursday at Kahului Airport.

Colton Cowell spoke to the crowd on a stage in the baggage claim area as other arriving passengers curiously stopped to watch the festivities as they waited for their luggage.

His kindergarten teacher was there, teachers from Haleakala Waldorf School where he attended grade school and more teachers from King Kekaulike High School where he graduated from in 2015 were among the well-wishers.

He said more than once, “This is for Maui.”

“It’s been a dream come true to say that,” he said in an interview with The Maui News. “For those at King Kekaulike: kulia i ka nu’u, always strive for the highest. And for the rest of the Maui community, Maui No Ka Oi. And Maui, this championship, this is for you.”

Richard Carosso, who is now the principal of Makawao Elementary School, taught Cowell in Advanced Placement psychology at King Kekaulike. Carosso said Cowell is a Maui hero.

Colton Cowell and mom Christina Cowell arrive to cheers at baggage claim.

“He was just a great kid, he worked hard at everything he did, great friends, just a positive person on campus,” Carosso said. “And, you know, coming out of high school being an outside hitter at UH wasn’t a guarantee, but he said he was going to do it.

“Just watching how much he’s grown, how much work he’s put into it and how dedicated he’s been, it’s just impressive. He’s an impressive young man.”

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said he will declare today “Colton Cowell Day” in the county at a ceremony this afternoon.

“We have been represented many times in many of our sports, but in volleyball, this is one of those highlights that we have waited for for so many years,” Victorino said. “We all remember what happened in 2002 (when UH won a title later vacated due to an ineligible player) and we move on, but here’s a champion who was really an integral part of the team.

“Not just a bench player, he was a starter, and best outside hitter ever, one of the best to ever play the game coming from Maui, from King Kekaulike.”

A video about Colton Cowell plays on the airport’s large screens.

Victorino compared Cowell to his son, Shane Victorino, a two-time World Series champion in baseball, as a Maui County icon. Shane Victorino is slated to talk to Cowell on a conference call today while Mayor Victorino unveils the proclamation for Colton Cowell Day.

“This man has achieved so much and I’m so proud of him,” Michael Victorino said. “All the people of the state of Hawaii and Maui County look upon him as the next hero for the young ones to look upon and say, ‘You know, you don’t have to be strong, you don’t have to be big, but you just have to have the heart.’ And this guy has the heart of Maui County.”

Cowell said he was headed to Flatbread Company in Paia for dinner and will spend the weekend on Maui. He plans to turn professional and play in Europe in August and may have some time with the U.S. national team before that this summer.

“I couldn’t have asked for better than this,” he said. “To have everyone here that I love and to even those who couldn’t make it, I know that you’re here in spirit, so I just want to say that I love you guys. … Just a huge mahalo to everyone. … I want to be home as long as I can, I want to be home with my mama.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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