For Cowell, coming home to play at UH just ‘feels right’

University of Hawaii outside hitter Chandler Cowell poses for a photo in SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center during the team’s recent media day. Cowell, a 2018 graduate of King Kekaulike High School, is entering her first season with the Rainbow Wahine after transferring from St. Mary’s (Calif.). Photo courtesy of Chandler Cowell

Chandler Cowell was seemingly born to play volleyball for the University of Hawaii. Now, that dream is about to become a reality.

Cowell, a 2018 graduate of King Kekaulike High School, finished her bachelor’s degree in communications at St. Mary’s College in California in May.

She announced her transfer to UH in March and will play indoor and beach volleyball in Manoa.

The UH indoor team officially begins practice next week, but the Rainbow Wahine have been lifting weights and informally practicing for the last month.

“At first, it was, like, crazy, I really couldn’t believe it,” Cowell said via phone Wednesday. “My first day I was walking in nervous and I couldn’t believe I was there, I was wearing UH gear. And then as soon as I met the girls in person, it was an immediate click. All of them were super open and welcoming.

“Not only that, they set a high standard from the first moment of walking into that gym, that we were here to do work and at the same time we were here to get better. They set a tone and it’s been phenomenal, just being able to be there every day, every lift, getting one step stronger and one step better.”

Cowell, who has two years of NCAA indoor and one season of beach volleyball eligibility left, has savored the entire experience so far.

She rises at 5 a.m. for a “6:30 sharp” start each day. The players usually don’t walk out of the gym until more than three hours later.

“It’s been great, I’ve honestly enjoyed every single moment,” she said. “Even though waking up really early is hard, once I get there I’m so happy to be with my team. It feels great.”

Cowell, the younger sister of men’s volleyball All-American and national champion Colton Cowell, is on the UH roster for good reason.

In 2021, although she missed three matches due to injury, she recorded a team-best 219 kills, 2.52 kills per set and 260.0 total points for the Gaels.

She also finished third on the team with 20 service aces and 174 digs, while logging 37 total blocks. She put down at least 10 kills 13 times in 2021, including a streak of six straight matches with double-digit kills from Sept. 28-Oct. 28.

For her St. Mary’s career, she recorded 391 kills (2.43 per set), 306 digs, 70 total blocks, 31 service aces, 36 assists and 460.5 total points (2.86 per set).

Kaleo Baxter, a 2005 Kauai High School graduate who has been on UH head coach Robyn Ah Mow’s staff since she took over for Dave Shoji in 2017, said that the 23-year-old Cowell is not on the roster just because she is local.

“Adding her to our gym and the culture that we want in our practice gym and just the type of women we want to represent the University of Hawaii, Chandler was a no-brainer,” Baxter said Wednesday. “She brings experience from St. Mary’s College and the (West Coast Conference), which is a great conference, and played some significant minutes at St. Mary’s and did well in that tough conference.

“So, she’s going to add to our gym, add to our roster, and we’re just excited that she is now a Rainbow Wahine.”

To have “Hawaii” across her chest — Cowell will wear jersey No. 19 and donned game uniforms for the first time on media day Wednesday — is a dream come true.

“It feels right, I guess is the only word that really comes to mind,” she said. “It just feels like home. It feels like this is exactly what I was supposed to do to end my collegiate career. I mean, I just feel this immense sense of pride when I look down at my gear.

“I’m like, ‘Wow, this who I am now, this is what team I’m a part of and this is where I’m going to grow as a player and become the best version of myself.’ So, I’m just really proud to able to rep their gear and really embody their team culture. It’s been phenomenal.”

She played for Al Paschoal at King Kekaulike and Hawaiian Style Volleyball Club.

Paschoal, currently the head coach at Baldwin High School, looks around the nation and sees several of his former players in NCAA volleyball — Kalena Vaivai is at Oral Roberts, Lyric Love is at Jacksonville (Fla.) University, Siena DeCambra is at Louisiana, and Nanna Inoue is at Chaminade.

Vaivai and Cowell played against each other last fall when Vaivai was still at Utah State.

“You know, everyone compares Chandler to Colton, but they are two very different people — Colton left his legacy there, so I’m really excited to see what Chandler can do to leave her mark on our storied Wahine program,” Paschoal said. “She has always been a player that would impact anyone’s program, our high school, our club, Hawaiian Style, and then actually what was really awesome was watching her compete against Kalena Vaivai, her high school setter and club teammate.

“It was pretty awesome to see those two and then they shared a hug at midcourt, during COVID, they shared a hug at the net at the end of the match. It was pretty awesome.”

Colton Cowell is set to leave for professional volleyball in Germany soon, but he has had a couple chances to stop by lower campus and watch a little bit of his sister’s practices.

“He’s been really, really busy, he’s been traveling a ton, playing lots of volleyball, getting all of his ducks in line for Germany, but when we do get the chance to talk, he basically tells me that it’s all about that consistency, all about ‘if you’re consistent, everything will come in place,’ “ Chandler Cowell said. “So, ‘just be good after good and be consistent.’

“It’s been really nice just to have him like in my ear when I need him, being like, ‘Hey, I have a question on this, what do you think?’ I was even able to have him come in one day after open gym and weights and he watched about 15 minutes of open gym.”

The Cowell siblings are the children of two former AVP beach professionals and have grown up living the game their entire lives.

“I asked him to come in and just check out my form, see what I need to do better, so it was really cool to have him in there for a brief time to watch,” Chandler Cowell said. “Then after that we were able to talk for a little bit and he gave me a lot of little things that I can do to improve and tweak my game.

“It’s been really nice just to have him here and to know that I have his support. I have him behind me, along with the rest of my team. Having him in my corner has been really nice.”

Mom Christina Stevens-Cowell of Makawao and dad Cody Cowell of Manhattan Beach, Calif., will be able to attend matches at the Stan Sheriff Center as well. Mom will most assuredly be there for most of the home matches.

“She always tells me she’s got a bunch of green gear to wear,” Chandler Cowell said.

It is, indeed, good to be home. Chandler Cowell is now working on a master’s in communications.

“I was so grateful for my time at St. Mary’s, I loved it, I learned so much, the education was phenomenal, I made some amazing friends, had amazing mentors,” Cowell said. “But, I mean, there’s nothing like coming and playing at home. Just immediately I feel this click with every single one of the players that I’ve met here. I’ve loved talking to the coaches.

“It feels right and I think that’s really all there is to it. I think this is exactly what I was supposed to do.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.


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