Former US Olympic volleyball coach teaches Kauai’s youth

KILAUEA — The YMCA Kauai Warrior Volleyball Club, a local club for youth players in middle school, will compete at the Junior Boys’ Classic volleyball tournament in Anaheim, California, starting June 18.

The event is a qualifying tournament for the Junior National Championships, said club coach Brad Cheatum.

He said the team has been preparing since November, shortly after competing at the Junior Olympics in Houston.

“You have a huge turnout, so it will be a very competitive tournament,” he said. “I don’t know how many teams, but it must be 40-50 teams from all over California.”

To help the team prepare, the club brought in a guest that Cheatum and his wife, Pegi, have known for years.

“I did three Olympics — in 1988 in Seoul, Korea, ‘92 Barcelona and 2012 in London,” said guest coach Gary Soto.

Soto, who was born on Oahu but now lives in Santa Monica, California, previously served as coach with the United States men’s volleyball national team for more than 20 years. He also served a one-year stint as head coach with Japan’s national team.

Soto said he’s known Pegi since he coached her youngest brother at Pepperdine University in 1978. He added he and his wife have vacationed on Kauai for 10 years.

While here, he came to the club’s practice Wednesday at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center.

“I’ve had this vacation planned since January or February. Along the way, I said I’m coming over,” Soto said. “They said they’re getting ready for this tournament. … I said I can help one day.”

Club player Pomai Rabago-Kaiwi of Kapaa, 14, said he hopes the team can perform better with Soto’s help.

“We’ve learned a lot since last year. So, I hope we just do better,” he said. “We didn’t do so good, but we tried. We gave it some effort. It was really fun.”

“I hope to practice on my hitting better. I’ve been kind of rusty on that,” he added about learning from Soto.

Pegi, who also coaches the team, said to have her friend here to share his knowledge with the players is “a dream come true.”

“I think what’s really important is the boys are planning to play in the Junior Classic, but they’re also planning to play in high school,” she said. “This was to prepare them to have a sport by the time they got to high school.”

With his time with the club, aside from fundamentals, Soto hopes he can teach the young boys how to stay calm on the court when they go to Southern California next month.

“I just think in general that when you travel and you play in something new, that’s exciting. You have to learn how to not get overexcited and not go too far the other way. You don’t want to have that emotional rollercoaster,” he said. “If you can steady yourself and maintain focus on the court, just like in life you have to be able to reset … that’s essentially what we’re looking at.”


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