POIPU — When local volleyball club Ike Loa started a couple of years ago, the goal was to help Kauai’s young talent reach the college ranks, if that was where they wanted to go.
A handful of former Kauai Interscholastic Federation players that have also played for the club reached that goal.
“I’m really excited to continue. That’s been my goal for the past two years,” said Kauai High School alumna Rebecca Zenger. “I was expecting to go to a D3 or a D2, but I think JUCO is a really good option for me to grow. I know I’m a late-bloomer when it comes to volleyball. I’m excited for the growth I think I can have in the next two years.”
Recent high school graduates Zenger, Hailey Iha and Leiko Yamauchi will continue playing volleyball at colleges on the mainland.
Zenger will play at Odessa College — a junior college in Odessa, Texas. She will play as an opposite hitter.
She said the club helped her become a collegiate athlete.
“They helped a lot with focusing on college,” Zenger said. “When I was younger, other clubs really didn’t mention college. It was all about just high school. Also, (the Ike Loa coaches) got on me if I wasn’t sticking with the recruiting process and keeping contact with coaches. They definitely helped remind me to do that, the important steps.”
Ike Loa coach Deej Peleras said it’s satisfying to see their players accomplish what they aimed to do.
“It makes me feel pretty good about what we’re trying to achieve for the island,” Peleras said. “It’s not just about our club. It’s about the girls, the students, the players, trying to get them opportunities beyond high school. A lot of times, we see star athletes play in high school, then after that we don’t know what happened to them. For this, we’re just giving them an opportunity — another way to play in college and earn a scholarship, or just play, have fun and travel.”
Iha, also a Kauai High alumna, played middle for the Red Raiders. She will continue on at Pacific Lutheran University, an NCAA Division III school in Tacoma, Washington.
She intends to study kinesiology.
“I visited a bunch of colleges and spoke with a bunch of coaches,” Iha said. “I really like this school. I feel really comfortable at it. It’s at a place nearby a lot of my family, and I visited the area many times in the past. So, I’m pretty familiar with the Seattle-Tacoma area.”
Yamauchi, a Waimea High School alumna who lettered in volleyball, softball and soccer for the Menehune, will play volleyball at The Evergreen State College — an NAIA school in Olympia, Washington.
“I’m super-excited that I have another shot to keep on playing volleyball,” Yamauchi said. “I’m just really nervous, of course, to go out there and just represent Kauai and all my family.”
All three former KIF student-athletes said Ike Loa helped them reach the college ranks by pushing them to take the initiative rather than wait to be recruited.
“They encouraged me to reach out to coaches before I went to a combine on Oahu,” Iha said. “We all had to email about 10 coaches and send them film, so it helped us get exposure, as well as traveling on trips. We just went to Japan, and we were coached by professional volleyball players. So, we got a lot of different feedback from coaches as well.”
Yamauchi said: “Ike Loa reminded me when I had to get emails out to coaches and try to get noticed. I never understood that until last year when it was a little bit too late. I’m still glad that I got an opportunity.”
Peleras said the club wanting its players to reach out to coaches themselves stemmed from his own experiences.
“That’s a big part of what we do. It comes from experience with what I had with my older daughter, Shiloh,” Peleras said. “You have to get out there. You can’t be waiting to win KIF, hopefully go to states and then that’s my shot to get noticed. No, you have to reach out to them. You have to make sure they’re aware of you and make sure that they know you’re interested in them.”
Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.