×

Spencer’s remarkable journey to becoming three-sport superstar fueled by family, work ethic

2021-22 MIL Athletes of the Year

Kale Spencer - The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

2021-22 MIL ATHLETES OF THE YEAR

Perhaps it is a 2019 headshot that best illustrates the journey Kale Spencer traveled at Kamehameha Schools Maui.

A smiling, youthful-looking Spencer was captured on a cellphone in Lahainaluna’s gymnasium as a freshman playing volleyball for the Warriors.

The 2019 boys volleyball season was the first time Maui Interscholastic League fans got a good look at Spencer, who went on to be the first-team MIL Division I All-Star setter as a freshman.

Now, he is done at Kamehameha Maui, but he leaves for college volleyball at Long Island University as perhaps the school’s most decorated athlete ever.

Kale Spencer flys for a kill during an MIL volleyball match on April 5. Spencer was the MIL Division I Player of the Year in boys volleyball this year after leading Kamehameha Maui to the league title. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

He was a first-team MIL All-Star as an offensive lineman in football, second team as a defensive lineman, a first-team MIL D-I basketball All-Star and MIL D-I Player of the Year in boys volleyball.

In May, he was the only selection from the MIL to the HHSAA Hall of Honor.

Today, he adds the final — and largest — feather to his crowded cap: Spencer is the choice as The Maui News MIL Boy Athlete of the Year.

Spencer is the first winner of the award that dates back to 1991, boy or girl, in Kamehameha Maui history.

“Oh, it’s very cool, at the beginning of the year I kind of set a goal for myself, trying to just be great and just be the best that I can be,” Spencer said Wednesday. “This is kind of like the last one from the MIL or in the state of Hawaii, the last award that I was kind of looking for.

Spencer poses for a photo after a match at Lahainaluna during his freshman season in 2019. He was 5-foot-11, 165 pounds then – he is now a 6-5, 205-pound athletic force. The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo

“And, yeah, everything worked out.”

After missing two years of volleyball, a football season and a basketball season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Spencer’s dream senior year was more than just stellar on the athletic realm.

He was KSM student body president, was heavily involved in Native Hawaiian issues, and his 3.6 cumulative grade-point average helped him earn an academic scholarship to LIU, where he will help lay the foundation for the NCAA Division I program that is just one season old.

“I don’t think I could have asked for a better senior year,” Spencer said.

When Spencer looks at the 2019 volleyball headshot, he smiles. That 5-foot-11, 165-pound youngster is now a 6-5, 205-pound athletic force.

Spencer grabs a rebound during an MIL basketball game on Feb. 3. He led the Warriors to a state tournament berth. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“Since then I’ve definitely grown a lot, mentally and physically, I’ve been blessed with height — I know my dad used to say ‘you can’t teach height,’ so that’s been a blessing,” Spencer said. “And just through school and through everything that I’ve done, it’s just built my confidence and given me the opportunity to lead on and off the field, through my schooling, and for my school.

“And it’s just been such a blessing for me to be able to come down this path and be able to showcase what I have and what can be done.”

Spencer’s father, Charles “Bala” Spencer, suffered a stroke in 2017 that has relegated him to a wheelchair and left him without the ability to speak.

Bala Spencer, a longtime Kamehameha Maui girls volleyball coach, has recovered to the point where he can clearly appreciate what is going on at games that he attends with the help of wife Lisa Spencer.

“It really meant a lot when he was there,” Kale Spencer said. “I really attribute a lot of my success to what he’s done for me in my early life of guiding me and teaching me all the things that he’s learned. It was pretty special when he was there — I loved seeing him at the games and I really think that just him being there means a lot to me, means a lot to my family and means a lot to him.

“He definitely loves watching the games. I think he’s definitely watching me and trying to see what I’m doing and I know that in his head there’s gears turning, seeing like what we can do.”

When Spencer might be struggling in a game or match, a glance over at his mom and dad sitting in the corner of Kaulaheanuiokamoku Gym would give him that extra boost of energy he needed.

“Even my mom has told me, like, sometimes after a bad play, he hits the palm to his forehead and shakes his head,” Kale Spencer said. “Yeah, I just love him being there and being able to watch. I like him there, especially while we’re struggling on the court because every time I look back and he’s just there watching and giving me a head nod.

“When that happens, I just say, ‘OK, lets go to work.’ “

Logan Spencer, Kale’s older sister, is a rising junior volleyball player at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash. She has watched her brother grow up over his years at KSM, sometimes from a distance.

“She’s helped me a lot,” Kale Spencer said. “She’s kind of been the first one in pretty much everything, the first one to go to college for the (Spencer) kids and the first one to kind of grow up and take adult responsibilities. So, her leadership with me and (younger brother) Pa’u has given us the opportunity to grow and learn from what she’s done and what she has done for us.

“And just always having that competitive brother-sister-sibling thing through all of us has made us better, made each other better and that’s just made our bond so much tighter, stronger. I think specifically Logan, she’s been there with us every step of the way, with me every step of the way — I give her a lot of thanks because I don’t think I would have been here if it wasn’t for her.”

Logan Spencer vividly remembers her middle brother serving as a video manager for her Warriors volleyball team.

“His growth has been so much, especially since freshman year, both physically and mentally — he has grown so much,” Logan Spencer said of Kale. “Even before COVID, he was just a very, very hard worker. He was always super disciplined with himself. I think it was his freshman to sophomore summer for him — he didn’t work or anything, was just hanging out at home, bored at home, so he would always go outside and play basketball every single day.

“He eventually just made it a routine. We’d always want to go to the beach and he would always say, ‘No, I’ve got to play basketball.’ He gets into those just super, super disciplined moods. He had that work ethic that he developed at a young age.”

Kale Spencer started at center on the Warriors’ offensive line as a 175-pound sophomore, but his 14-year-old brother just finished the eighth grade and is currently 6-2, 275.

“I take a lot of pride with him,” Kale Spencer said. “He’s just different, like actually just built different. With him, as a big brother, I’ve really just tried to help him with everything and take him under my wing because there’s a lot of things that he doesn’t know, like with work ethic and all these things that go into being the best that he can be.

“He’s not going to be like me and sprouting halfway through (high school) — he can do amazing things.”

Pa’u Spencer will miss his older brother.

“He’s always been so humble,” Pa’u said. “He’s definitely my role model. I’m going to miss him a lot. I’m going to have to fill his shoes.”

All of Kale Spencer’s hard work has paid off in a big way — on the football field, the Warriors made the first state championship game in school history in just their second state appearance ever; on the basketball court, Kamehameha Maui returned to the state tournament for the first time since 2018.

It was on the volleyball court where the absolute athletic prowess that Spencer holds came through. He was the best hitter, setter — and quite possibly the best defender — in the MIL in 2022, without question.

He is leaving for a national volleyball tournament in Orlando, Fla., with the Outrigger Canoe Club 18-under team today.

Colton Cowell, a King Kekaulike graduate who walked on and eventually became an NCAA champion at the University of Hawaii, has been coaching the Outrigger 17-U team recently and has watched Spencer up close.

“Kale has always been impressive to me,” Cowell said. “I think his story is very powerful. I think he’s very, very self-made despite the legacy that has been left by his family. … In terms of his knowledge of the game, I think it’s exceptional. I think he’s very physical with a lot of potential to continue to develop at the next level.

“I think him entering LIU as a program that is in its first year, they were able to get some court time against the University of Hawaii (last year), I feel very strongly about his potential as both a person and an athlete.”

Volleyball is the sport Spencer loves the most.

He had to convince several of his football and basketball teammates to turn out for KSM volleyball, and the team rolled to the league crown with a 13-1 record.

“It was very cool,” Spencer said of the MIL volleyball title. “Seeing things when we first came out at tryouts, I was a little worried, but knew they were athletic and they’d pick it up. So, I stuck with it, they stuck with, which I’m very thankful for, for them to play with me for my last season. I was really grateful that they came and played to the best of their ability.

“Volleyball was definitely a roller coaster, definitely had a lot of ups and downs, but through it all that was a very fun team. We really formed a brotherhood there.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

*****

MIL Boy Athletes of the Year

1990-91–Jason Lopez, Baldwin

1991-92–Kalei Awai, St. Anthony

1992-93–Ray Wilhelm, Baldwin

1993-94–Carlton Okamoto, Baldwin

1994-95–Buddy Perry, Lahainaluna

1995-96–Robert Kemfort, Maui High

1996-97–Bubba McLean, St. Anthony

1997-98–Jansen Medeiros, Lahainaluna

1998-99–Shane Victorino, St. Anthony

2000-01–Kawika Kahui, Baldwin

2001-02–Ikaika Neizman, Lahainaluna, and Kainoa Casco, Lahainaluna

2002-03–Akamu Aki, Baldwin

2003-04–J.J. Eno, Baldwin

2004-05–Bulla Tuzon, Baldwin

2005-06–Tye Perdido, Seabury Hall

2006-07–Manu Adolpho, Molokai

2007-08–Lake Casco, Lahainaluna

2008-09–Reid Hunter, King Kekaulike, and Mana Rosa, Baldwin

2009-10–Brock Shishido, Baldwin

2010-11–Pasoni Tasini, Baldwin

2011-12–Pasoni Tasini, Baldwin

2012-13–Keelan Ewaliko, Baldwin

2013-14–David Rapanot, Molokai

2014-15–Thomas Rosen-St. John, Lahainaluna

2015-16–Laakea Kahoohanohano-Davis, Baldwin

2016-17–Micah Jio, Maui High

2017-18–Chayce Akaka, Baldwin

2018-19–Naighel Calderon, Lanai

2019-20–Joshua Tihada, Lahainaluna

2021-22–Kale Spencer, Kamehameha Maui

Note: No winner selected in 1999-2000, 2020-21

NEWSLETTER

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper?
     

COMMENTS

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today