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The Maui News 2022 MIL Boys Volleyball All-Stars

Spencer, Russell lead the way

Kamehameha Schools Maui’s Kale Spencer (in photo) and Seabury Hall’s Tyler Russell (second photo) led their respective teams to Maui Interscholastic League titles this season as seniors. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Kale Spencer and Tyler Russell have several things in common when it comes to volleyball.

Both have strong family ties to the game.

Each were absolute keys to success for their Upcountry schools’ Maui Interscholastic League team championships in 2022.

Both plan to play the game in college.

And, now, the pair are clear choices as The Maui News MIL Players of the Year — Spencer in Division I for Kamehameha Schools Maui and Russell in Division II for Seabury Hall.

Seabury Hall’s Tyler Russell

Spencer, who has signed to play at Long Island University, was a unanimous choice of the MIL D-I coaches as player of the year. 

He was the MIL first-team All-Star selection in 2019 at setter, the last season the MIL played spring sports due to the pandemic.

“It’s very cool — I think after my freshman year and getting on that first team, I think that was one of my goals, to be the best player on Maui and to push myself to just be the best I can be,” Spencer said.

Spencer was just glad to be back in the MIL athletic realm as a senior. 

He led the Warriors football team to its first appearance in the state final in Division II and was a first-team MIL All-Star. In the winter, he guided the Kamehameha Maui basketball team to the state tournament and again was a first-team league all-star.

However, after two years away from the high school volleyball court — the game he loves most — this final go-round wearing “Kamehameha Maui” on his chest was a special opportunity for Spencer.

“It was definitely super hard, not only for me, but the seniors who couldn’t finish their senior years of playing,” Spencer said. “I think that just with that being in the back of my head and knowing that they didn’t get to play and I got to play, it was kind of a chip on my shoulder, to play for them and play for something bigger than myself.”

Spencer is joined on the MIL D-I first team by Kamehameha Maui teammate Pookela Aiu; King Kekaulike’s Tai Wittenberg and Kayden Kaauamo; Lahainaluna’s Kuhao Murray and Benjamin Lolesio; and Baldwin’s Avery Pauole.

After overcoming an 0-6 start in league play to make the state tournament as MIL runner-up, King Kekaulike’s Geoffrey Cook is the MIL D-I Coach of the Year.

Spencer was his team’s best hitter and setter, without question, but he was just thankful for the entire season taking place. The Warriors won the MIL D-I crown at 13-1 and finished sixth at the state tournament.

“It was very special to come back this year and play with such a fun group of guys and other teams,” Spencer said. “I think that this year was very big for all the sports returning.”

Next, it is the college level for the sport that Spencer is best at. LIU just finished its first season playing the sport.

Spencer’s older sister Logan plays volleyball at Whitworth University, and their father Bala Spencer was a longtime coach for the KSM girls.

“I’m looking forward a lot to that,” Kale Spencer said of his college journey beginning. “I’m going to be training over the summer and I’m ready.”

Tyler Russell has been next to his twin Thomas Russell for his entire volleyball life. The pair, along with fellow Spartans senior Luca Connor, guided their team to the D-II state final, where they fell in four hard-fought sets to Pearl City.

Tyler Russell narrowly edged his twin for the MIL D-II Player of the Year.

“I’d like to say probably 12 years,” Russell said when asked how long he and his brother have been playing the game together.

When Russell learned of the POY honor from the league’s D-II coaches, he smiled.

“Honestly it was just pretty exciting because I wasn’t even expecting to play this season, and then to come out and be awarded the player of the year is pretty nice,” he said.

Russell was not worried about COVID halting his senior season, but rather a shoulder injury.

“I’m actually struggling with a shoulder injury–I was out pretty much all year last year and then I’m getting surgery for it this summer,” he said. “It was just going to be Thomas playing this year without me.”

The surgery is set to repair several possible tears in his shoulder. He has been dealing the injury since November 2020.

“I think it is just overuse, but I really couldn’t pinpoint anything, it just happened all of a sudden,” Russell said. 

Russell went to the same doctor that Colton Cowell did. Cowell, a King Kekaulike graduate, was an All-American and national champion for the University of Hawaii in 2021.

The Russells currently plan to play for the club team at San Diego State, although Tyler Russell said he is open to any opportunity that may come along to play the sport at an NCAA level.

“I’m still hoping to hear back from colleges because I got wait-listed from all of mine,” Tyler Russell said. “I’m waiting to hear back and if I could possibly walk on to one of the (NCAA) D-I programs–that’s my hope.”

UC San Diego is a possible landing spot for Russell after his shoulder recovers.

The MIL D-II first team includes both Russells and Connor; Molokai’s Jericho Adolpho, Jaydon Kaupu and Owen Svetin; and Lanai’s Skyler-Kalanikai Segismundo.

Brian Connor, Luca’s father in his first season as Seabury Hall boys coach, is the MIL D-II Coach of the Year.

It was a season that Tyler Russell will never forget.

“Honestly, I had a blast, especially after we lost a lot of coaches, we had a lot of new players,” Russell said. “At first it was really rough, but then as the season went on it was just really fun. I’m glad I went out and played.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

Division I Second Team

Denver Duque Lahainaluna Middle blocker Senior

Ethan Takara Maui High Outside hitter Senior

Tongi Tauese Lahainaluina Opposite hitter Senior

Earl Love King Kekaulike Middle blocker Senior

Makaha Pang Kamehameha Maui Libero Junior

Jai Viela Kamehameha Maui Setter Sophomore

Jonah Garaganza Maui High Outside hitter Senior

Division II Second Team

Elijah Kadowaki Molokai Outside hitter Senior

Blaze Potratz Seabury Hall Middle blocker Senior

Ethan Palmer Seabury Hall Opposite hitter Junior

Jeff Agcaoili Jr. Lanai Outside hitter Junior

Drayden Garces Molokai Outside hitter Sophomore

Criseanne Baltero Lanai Setter Senior

William Dulay Lanai Middle blocker Senior

Honorable Mention

DIVISION I–Baldwin: Arjay Velasco, Darren Castillo, Ehren Acosta; Kamehameha Maui: Logan Rickard, Nahale Dukelow, Kanekoa Maielua-Kekiwi, Kamahiwa Molitau, Dylan Schnitzer, Cody Gardanier; King Kekaulike: Lance Buzianis, Troy Williamson.

DIVISION II–Molokai: Lopaka Mariano.

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