Volleyball a Kabalis Family Tradition

Kuulei Kabalis

Aug. 18, 2011

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kuulei Kabalis is the first Wildcat to hail from Hawai’i, and the defensive specialist brings a long tradition of volleyball with her to the court through her family and culture.

The junior college transfer from Western Nebraska grew up in a family of volleyball players on the islands. She saw both her older sisters have success in high school and on the club circuit before having her own. Kabalis even joined up with her sister Kaleinani in club play and at Western Nebraska. Kaleinani moved on to Washington State making Kuulei the second of three daughters to play Division I volleyball.

The oldest Kabalis daughter Kahala played at Mesa College and eventually went back to Hawai’i to play at Chaminade an NCAA Division II school. Kahala is now a coach at Hawai’i Pacific University.

The background for volleyball goes back to their mother Carla Carpenter-Kabalis, who is a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame. Kuulei’s mother helped lead her team at Hawai’i-Hilo to the 1979 AIAW National Championship as a player and then again in 1981 along with the NAIA crown the same year. She then went on to coach at her alma mater where Hawai’i-Hilo won another NAIA title in 1988 with her on staff as an assistant coach.

To say she has volleyball in her blood would be an understatement.

“I’d say I practically lived in the gym,” Kabalis said of growing up in a volleyball family. “It’s a good thing because they know where I’m coming from and what I need to do to get better. They keep me going.”

K-State coach Suzie Fritz said Kabalis is at an advantage in a way because of her exposure to the game in Hawai’i and her family’s strong roots in the game.

“I think it kind of explains itself to some degree. She understands the game at a very high level. She’s been around the game of volleyball all of her life,” Fritz said. “She’s seen her siblings and even her parents have success. I think that allows her to set her standards maybe a little bit higher than someone who doesn’t have those experiences because she knows good volleyball. She’s been around it all her life. She’s not surprised by anything going on around here.”

Having her mother as her coach growing up also helped as a number of conversations in the gym were sure to carry over to the dinner table.

“I’m used to her telling me, ‘Come on, Kuulei, let’s go,’” Kuulei said. “She’s always that person that’s making sure I’m doing what I’m doing at the right time and making sure that I’m always giving 100 percent.”

The back row specialist comes to K-State with some hardware herself after helping juco power Western Nebraska to another NJCAA title. During the championship game last season, Kabalis tallied a school record and NJCAA Tournament record 35 digs. She said winning the national title was an exciting moment for her in her career and she hopes that experience can help her find a way to translate it to success at K-State.

Knowing what it takes to win and her attitude of wanting to prove what the team is made of could help the Wildcats on the court this season with Kabalis on the back row. Fritz said her experience at Western Nebraska will add to the team, but also her ability to not be overcome by the moment will help her teammates.

“Her experience helps us enormously. She ball handles well. She has a nice even temperament,” Fritz said. “It’s going to be very difficult to put pressure on her because she always maintains composure and does a nice job in the back.”

In addition to having the support of her family, Kabalis knows she also has the support of the Hawaiian people as well. Volleyball is very important in Hawai’i. Some may compare it to football in West Texas. When it comes to supporting the local athletes, Hawaiians pour their hearts out for the volleyball players, she said.

“Volleyball is huge in Hawai’i. Everybody wants to play volleyball. Once you get started, there are so many clubs that are wanting the best of the best. And although a lot of Hawai’i people go to the mainland, when they do come home it’s huge. They’re always supportive. Hawai’i is such a supportive culture. We support all the players even though we don’t know them personally, we know of them and we know how they play and if they’re good. It’s so nice to go home and have so many people surrounding you and supporting you.”

Now Kabalis has the opportunity to experience that kind of support from another volleyball culture at K-State where the fans have traditionally made Ahearn Field House one of the most attended and loudest and venues in the nation.

She has been giving that 100 percent her mother pushed for so far through training camp to prepare for her first season at Kansas State. Kabalis said the practices have been intense, but she and her teammates come back to the gym each day refreshed and ready to get better. There is a strong motivational bond, she said, and all her teammates have been very encouraging each day in practice.

“I’m very excited to be here. After winning the national championship last season, I hope to bring a great attitude and plenty of energy so we can get on the court and show the other teams what we’ve got,” Kabalis said. “I want to be positive all the time and let my teammates know that even though we were picked eighth in the Big 12 we can show them what we’ve got.”