By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
For most high school student-athletes, “senior year” is supposed to be special. It’s the culmination of years of hard work, unyielding dedication and personal sacrifice. It’s one last opportunity to play the game you love, form everlasting bonds and, if all goes right, fulfill your championship dreams.
Haylie Marumoto and Fa‘avae Kimsel Moe, both liberos/defensive specialists on Punahou School’s girls volleyball team, are two such seniors. After the Buffanblu fell just short of winning States in 2019, falling to Kamehameha-Kapalama in four sets in the title game, they felt 2020 was going to be their time to shine.
“I think we all came in with that mindset,” recalls Kimsel Moe. “We thought, ‘This is our time. We’re going to take it this year.’”
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that.
On Aug. 5 of last year, the HHSAA announced that most fall sports – including girls volleyball – would be postponed to January 2021 at the earliest. Later, that postponement would be extended until March.
“I was a little frustrated,” says Marumoto. “It’s my senior year and I wanted a season. Or anything, really. But in the fall, we found out the season would be postponed until March. At that point, it just became a waiting game, and we were all hoping and praying for the best.”
Adds Kimsel Moe, “I wasn’t really surprised. So many other things were getting canceled. But we were all pretty bummed. Every player at this level looks forward to their senior year. You have seniority, and you take on a leadership role. I was really looking forward to it.”
Life without volleyball took some getting used to.
“Oh my gosh, it was so crazy!” says Marumoto. “Last March, when the lockdown happened and we couldn’t do anything, I was really confused. For girls volleyball, we have our school season in the fall and then we go straight into club season. We never had a break from volleyball. We’re always playing. So to go from having volleyball and working out all the time to have absolutely nothing, that was crazy. I didn’t know what to do.”
“I’ve been playing sports since I was nine or ten, so to suddenly have so much free time on my hands was definitely weird,” says Kimsel Moe. “But I will say that there was a lot of good that came out of this. My family is super committed to me and my sports, so we took advantage of all the time that we had. We live in Makaha, out in the country, so we were mostly away from town and all the craziness that was happening with COVID. We got to go to the beach every day and take hikes in the mountains. We worked out as a family all the time, doing strength and conditioning. It was fun to kind to be able to relax yet still stay focused on my end goal, which was to play in college.”
Kimsel Moe will be attending Quinnipiac University in Connecticut on a volleyball scholarship this fall.
“I was really lucky to have committed pretty early in my junior year,” she says. “Of course, the work doesn’t end when you get a scholarship. You still have to put in the work to make sure you’re ready to play at the collegiate level. So [the pandemic] definitely affected me because I was off the court for months and I couldn’t really get the types of reps that you need for college ball. But I did everything I could to prepare. Just because you don’t have a gym doesn’t mean you can’t do something else. I worked on different parts of my game and did drills with my family. It turned out to be a great experience.”
Marumoto wasn’t as fortunate, as the pandemic threw a wrench into her future plans.
“I was talking to a few schools last year around this time,” she explains. “I was supposed to visit the schools over the summer and play in their summer camps, but because of the pandemic I wasn’t able to go. Eventually, I kind of lost contact with those coaches.”
Thankfully, in late 2020, Marumoto was put in touch with a coach from Davis & Elkins College, an NCAA Division II institution in West Virginia. She signed her Letter of Intent to play for the Senators earlier this month.
With the volleyball season still in limbo, Punahou head coach Tanya Fuamatu-Anderson and her team began preparing for a possible return to action.
Says Marumoto, “We stayed focused on working out and being our best. We got creative with home workouts and team communication, working out on Zoom together and things like that. If we did have a season, we wanted to be prepared for it.”
“We had virtual workouts once or twice a week,” Kimsel Moe recalls. “That was pretty much the only thing we could do [as a team] at the time. It was fun just to see everyone’s faces and work out together. It was tough being apart from my coaches and teammates, but I can confidently say that we all had the same drive and goals in mind. Everyone did their part individually, and that made things easier when we came back as a collective.”
Finally, the good news came: Although most of the 2020 fall sports would be canceled, the ILH announced that volleyball can resume. Utilizing state health protocols and school guidelines, ILH teams would play a double round-robin regular-season schedule, followed by a single-tournament for the league championship. With the OIA and other leagues canceling their sports seasons, there will be no state tournament.
“I was super stoked!” says Kimsel Moe of the news. “I had high hopes. I kept praying. But nothing was certain. So when we got the word, it was really exciting.”
“That,” adds Marumoto, smiling, “was a great day.”
The Buffanblu defeated Mid-Pacific Institute, 2-0, on March 20 to open the season. They host defending state champion Kamehameha tonight at 6:15 p.m.
The matches are played in empty gyms, with no spectators allowed to attend.
“It’s definitely hard not having my family there, but this pandemic has taught me to adjust to whatever’s thrown at me,” Marumoto says. “That’s something I will have to get used to eventually, especially in college. It is sad that my family can’t see all my hard work paying off in person, but they are able to watch [the matches] virtually.”
In the end, Marumoto and Kimsel Moe say they have learned invaluable life lessons from the pandemic.
“I definitely learned to take advantage of every single moment – both in volleyball and in life,” says Kimsel Moe. “Don’t let anything be a missed opportunity.”
Adds Marumoto, “I don’t take anything for granted anymore. Before all of this happened, I was so used to volleyball, volleyball, volleyball and school, school, school. But after the pandemic hit and we weren’t able to play sports or be with our friends, I definitely started to live life more in the present. You never know when everything is going to be taken away.”
Fa‘avae Kimsel Moe on Haylie Marumoto: “I love Haylie. She’s one of my favorite teammates to be on the court with. She’s super energetic and positive, always giving me feedback or giving me a high five. She is always encouraging me, telling me, ‘You got this.’ I really think that’s an important thing to have in a teammate, and I’m glad I have that in her.” (Photo: Takoeye)
Haylie Marumoto on Fa‘avae Kimsel Moe: “Playing with Fa‘avae is a lot of fun. She brings so much energy and spirit. We both play in the back row, so we always have each other’s backs. We’re always celebrating each other, and I think we have a very beautiful relationship.”
Punahou captured the 2019 ILH regular-season championship on Senior Night. Haylie Marumoto is shown on the left, wearing #2. Fa‘avae Kimsel Moe is seated on the court in the dark jersey.
Marumoto (in yellow jersey) and Kimsel Moe (foreground) in action as sophomores.
Teammates and friends.
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