Fans of Kapa‘a High School athletics know Mai’lika Napoleon as a triple-sport athlete.
Her teammates know her as a Kaua‘i Interscholastic Federation all-star volleyball setter, last year’s KIF girls basketball player of the year and a doubles tennis all-star.
But there’s a sense of duality to her. She’s an athlete, there’s no question about that, but she has a little-known secret: to her family and those close to her, she is a serious lover of animals.
She has four cats and two dogs named “Risse” and “Piper” — officially. However, Napoleon can’t turn away the four-legged creatures. She feeds and cares for the local strays, too. When she’s around, the animals flock to her just like a scene out of Disney’s “Snow White.”
She loves animals so much so that she can’t stand seeing cruelty, be it on television, or worse, in her own neighborhood.
“When I see even the slightest sign of animal cruelty, I get so mad,” said the current senior outside hitter for Kapa‘a. “It gets really irritating for me because (I think) animals are like people, too. It’s like teaching a little baby to do things. You have to teach the animals too.”
So, although she’s been a successful athlete for a long time, much of her senior year will dedicated not only practices on the court, but to a mentorship she secured with the Kapa‘a Animal Clinic.
There, she will watch the vets as they administer shots, perform routine checkups or surgeries. She hopes that in time, she can actually participate in those activities during her mentorship.
She has loved animals ever since she was a kid, and more recently, she has been inspired by one of her favorite Animal Planet shows, “Animal Precinct.”
It’s a show that chronicles the drama and tragedy of the work of American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals agents in New York.
“They investigate cases of animal cruelty and arrest the owners, take away the animals and find good homes for them,” Napoleon said. “I would like to do that (type of work). It really inspires me.”
She also enjoys watching Cesar Milan in “Dog Whisperer.”
“He’s so good. I need him to come here and train my dog. She barks at everyone who walks by,” she said.
All this comes as a surprise to some of her classmates.
“People get shocked when they hear I do that kind of thing,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘I never knew you were like that. I only knew you for sports.’ I say to them ‘Well, now you know the other half of me.’”
But that’s not to say that because she has a soft spot for animals, she has gone soft on her athletics. She is determined to win the KIF title for volleyball, defend the championship for basketball and in the spring, test her legs on the track team.
“This year, for volleyball, I wanted to get higher (jumps) and because it’s my senior year, I want to win KIF. I know we can,” she said.
Waimea has had the stronghold over volleyball for the past couple of years and Kapa‘a and Waimea have been going back and forth when it comes to basketball.
“It was like karma. My freshman year, we won, then we lost. Then last year we won,” she said. “If it continues in that pattern — I hope it doesn’t follow that pattern. That wouldn’t be good. I want to break that course.”
For now, she’s got her hands full. The Lady Warrior volleyball team has gotten off to a good regular season start, winning their first two games — the first against Waimea, the second against Island School this past Saturday. They will face Kaua‘i tomorrow.
A good student (3.0 grade-point average), upon high school graduation, she plans on studying zoology at the University of Hawai‘i or entering a veterinary program on the West Coast.
She hasn’t ruled out sports in college just yet. She said she needs that balance.
“If I don’t do sports, I can’t focus on school. That’s how it works out for me,” she said. “I have to have good grades to play sports, right? It kind of makes me work on my academics.”
Napoleon and her varsity teammates will take the court Wednesday, no earlier than 6:30 p.m.
Volleyball position: Outside hitter
Height: 5-foot, 7 1/4 (“You have to add the quarter.”)
Family: Parents Beverly and Napella Napoleon, brothers Cory and Tynay, sister Ta‘ashi. (Of her own name, Mai’lika points out, “It’s an apstrophe — not an okina.”)
Favorite athlete: Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Quotables: “I have to live by the ocean. I cannot stay in the middle of nowhere.”
“I don’t pay attention to the stats. I’m happy for the recognition. People say ‘Congratulations,’ and I say ‘Thanks,’ then just walk away.”