Kamehameha looking to ride wave of support at Durango Classic

Kamehameha (Honolulu, Hawaii) won the Durango Classic in 1999 and is looking for another strong showing this year. "This will tell us where we're at on a national level," coach Chris Blake says. PIXLV Photography

By Walter Villa

Hawaii is comprised of eight major islands.

The ninth part of the state, some joke, is Las Vegas.

That may seem especially true this weekend, when thousands of Hawaiians are expected to travel to the Nevada desert for two of their favorite pastimes: sports and sightseeing.

As part of the former, they’ll watch the University of Hawaii football team play Nevada-Las Vegas Saturday night.

In addition, Kamehameha (Honolulu, Hawaii), which has won six straight girls’ volleyball state titles and 17 overall, will make the 3,000-mile trek to participate in the 17th annual Durango Fall Classic.

This is the fourth straight year Kamehameha has entered the prestigious Fall Classic, a 48-team tournament that runs Friday and Saturday and includes teams from 10 states and Canada.

This year, though, getting to Vegas was trickier.

“Because of the football game, it was hard to get flights out of Hawaii to Vegas this week,” said ninth-year Kamehameha coach Chris Blake.

“Many people from the mainland love to vacation in Hawaii. But Hawaiians love to come to Vegas. And when you add the football game, there will probably be about 10,000 Hawaiians in Vegas this week.”

Blake is hoping a large portion of those islanders continue to show their love for volleyball and come support his team this weekend.

“Women’s volleyball is a big deal in Hawaii, and the fans are very savvy,” Blake said. “All the UH women’s volleyball games are on TV, but they still draw over 5,000 fans. Some teams on the mainland are lucky to get that for an entire year.”

Only football is a more popular team sport on the island than volleyball. The high school girls’ volleyball state finals average about 3,500 fans, and Kamehameha is almost always there when it’s winning time.

Kamehameha, currently ranked 41st in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings, has also had success in Vegas, winning the Durango tournament in 1999 and becoming the first non-California team to hoist the trophy.

The only other team to accomplish the feat was Assumption (Louisville, Ky.), which won it in 2005 and finished second the next three years.

Assumption, ranked 13th in the FAB 50 poll, is among this year’s favorites. But there will be a total of 11 teams from the FAB 50 competing in Vegas this weekend.

“We like the challenge,” said coach Ron Kordes, who is in his 24th year at Assumption. “This tournament gives us that underdog mentality, which we don’t get a lot of in our neighborhood. We’ll get to play teams we don’t usually see.”

Most of those teams are from California and Nevada, but –- in addition to the aforementioned Hawaii and Kentucky -- there are also schools here from Georgia, Arizona, Utah, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Among the other ranked teams entered are:

-- No. 7 Los Alamitos (Los Alamitos, Calif.), which has North Carolina recruit JoJo Schnabl, a 5-foot-9 senior setter, is the highest-ranked team at the tournament.

-- No. 18 Marymount (Los Angeles, Calif.), which won Durango in 2003, has 5-11 setter Lauren Fuller.

-- No. 30 Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.) stars Michigan recruit Tiffany Morales, a 5-6 senior libero.

-- No. 35 Sacred Heart (Louisville, Ky.) is among the top teams outside of California in this year’s field.

-- No. 36 Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.) stars Washington recruit Cassie Strickland, a 5-7 senior libero.

-- No. 40 Xavier Prep (Phoenix, Ariz.), a 2010 state champ, has Tennessee recruit and 5-8 setter Bianca Arellano.

-- No. 44 Walton (Marietta, Ga.), which won the 2010 Class 5A state title, looks to carry the flag for Georgia.

-- No. 46 Notre Dame Academy (Park Hills, Ky.) is the third team from Kentucky with a shot to make waves in the desert.

-- No. 48 Thousand Oaks (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) is the fifth California team in the FAB 50 entered in the tournament.

Here are some other top contenders:

-- Lakewood (Lakewood, Calif.), which has 5-6 junior libero Heather Eggers, was ranked as high as No. 29 this year.

-- Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.), which lost in the 2010 Division I state final, has been ranked as high as No. 35 this year.

-- La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.), which finished second at Durango in 2010, won it in 2008 and has 6-2 junior Cosy Burnett, was among the FAB 50 teams earlier this season.

-- Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), which has won Durango three times but not since 2001, also was ranked among the nation’s 50 best earlier this season.

-- Saint Mary’s (Stockton, Calif.), which won Durango in 2000, is on the verge of breaking into the FAB 50 poll.

-- Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.) is the reigning Durango champion.

-- Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) was in four straight Durango finals between 2004 and 2007, winning three titles. Mira Costa is led by UCLA recruit Maddy Klineman, a 6-1 outside hitter.

-- Wilson Classical (Long Beach, Calif.) has top talent in 5-11 setter and UCLA recruit Rebecca Strehlow.

Kamehameha, meanwhile, has two premier seniors in Chelsey Keoho and Misty Ma’a.

Keoho, a 5-2 libero, is a Colorado recruit. Ma’a, a 6-1 outside hitter, has yet to commit but is planning a visit to the University of Miami.

Other Kamehameha standouts are sophomore setter Alohi Robins-Hardy, senior middle blocker Haley Pa’akaula and senior outside hitter Brit Kalepa.

“This will be a great test for us,” said Blake, whose team finished 13th at Vegas last season. “This will tell us where we’re at on a national level, and it’s a great springboard for the rest of our season.”