Naholoholo keeps focus despite change, pressure

Mikaila Naholoholo started playing volleyball at a young age just for fun. She grew up watching her aunts and her favorite player, former University of Hawai‘i standout Kanoe Kamanao, play setter.

So when Naholoholo came of age when she could sign up for club ball with Pookela, she knew exactly which position she wanted to play.

“It’s my favorite position out of all of them,” she said. “I’d rather do that than any other position.”

But leading up to her now senior year at Kaua‘i High School, she had switched back and forth from setting to hitting. She’s also had many coaches in her career. At Kaua‘i alone, she’s had three coaches in as many years. Now in her fourth and final year, she’s on her fourth and final coach in Corey Morishita.

She considers all the changes good things. Switching positions has allowed her to master both, making her a stronger player.

“I liked hitting, but as a setter, I can do both,” she said.

As for having so many coaches, she said they have all helped her improve in different areas.

“They’ve helped me a lot. I’ve taken in everything each of them have told me — telling me what to work on, helping me with the way I set, making me get rid of the ball faster, my blocking and how to see the hitter and how to move my feet faster,” she said.

Last year, her first on the varsity squad, she didn’t get much playing time. She said she didn’t mind so much because there were a lot of seniors and everyone was good at her position.

This year she fought for her spot on the court. Earlier in the year, she started off the backup setter to sophomore Waileia Kanealii. As the season progressed, they started splitting time.

“In practice, we compete for our positions every day. Everyone pretty much competes for her spot,” Naholoholo said. “We earn these physical base points and earn our time. I just worked really hard.”

Morishita started to notice her progress as a player.

“She’s just a really hard worker. She’s improved so much from the beginning of the season,” he said.

Soon enough, she locked that starting spot and has an average of 15.5 assists per match. Naholoholo has also had several games this season in which she registered contributed to the offense with aces and kills.

All that helped the Raiders go undefeated in Round 1 and win Kaua‘i’s first Kaua‘i Interscholastic Federation title in five years.

“I was very happy to learn we won Round 1. We just knew that we had to work even harder to win Round 2,” she said.

But instead of a repeat round, Kaua‘i dropped two matches to Waimea who later went on to force a playoff for the title.

“It was hard. We noticed the other teams were a lot better in the second round, just like we were better,” she said.

She added that she and the team knew KIF wouldn’t come to them easily. With the setter being a very important position in setting the tone of the offense, Naholoholo kept her cool.

“I didn’t feel much pressure than everyone else because we all feel pressure in our positions,” she said about heading into the championships. “I usually visualize the court and believe in myself that I can do it.”

That night, Waimea forced Kaua‘i to five sets in the championships and quickly shot up to an 8-1 lead. All of a sudden the pressure was on.

“We were nervous. I was nervous,” she said. “Honestly, we thought we were done. When we switched courts, we knew we had to focus and pull everything together. It was so hard and so loud that night.”

Naholoholo was able to compose herself, focus on not committing errors and keeping her teammates’ heads in the game.

“I think being the setter is a good position to be in because you have to be a leader on the court. When your team is down, you have to pick everyone up and a lot of my teammates get hard on themselves,” she said.

Kaua‘i was able to rally back from such a deficit to win the championship and berth in the Division II state championship tournament on O‘ahu.

“It was such a great feeling. That is and will be my favorite moment from this whole season,” she said. “The last few points and how we were down. We just never gave up and because of how we came back to win — it felt so good. If we lost and our season ended that night, I think we did really well that night and I think I still would have been OK with that.”

An honor student at Kaua‘i, she is active in the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism. Her passion outside of volleyball include taking care of children. Naholoholo plans on going to college to study daycare management with the hopes of opening her own day care someday.

The Division II tournament bracket should be released later today. The deadline to turn in the volleyball roster forms was yesterday. The tournament is scheduled to start Nov. 5.

Mikaila Naholoholo

Age: 16

Hometown: Koloa

Family: Grandmother Elaine Panui, father Darren Cummings

Position: Setter

Clubs: Pookela volleyball, Academy of Hospitality and Tourism

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