Aiea Boys Volleyball Preps To Make Mark In Tradition

Wednesday - February 27, 2008
By Jack Danilewicz
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Tradition alone - not to mention its now customary star-studded field - has always helped to make the Longy Okamoto Classic one of the highlights of the prep volleyball preseason.

This year, with the OIA’s Division I season to begin only three days after the 2008 Okamoto Classic finishes, the event takes on added meaning, at least for the coaches.

“This is more for us to see what we have and how we’re going to work with our kids,” said tournament director Erin Okamoto Coker, who is also the Aiea boys varsity volleyball coach.“There are so many games that it gives you a chance to change things around and play people where they wouldn’t (normally).”

The tournament runs at both Aiea and Pearl City on March 7-8 and is named for the late McKinley coach who started the event in the 1970s (as the McKinley Preseason Tournament) because there were few of them around. When he died in 1995, it was renamed in his honor, and his daughter Erin assumed director duties. As in past years, the field is diverse and includes Kamehameha-Hawaii, Roosevelt, Leilehua, Waianae, McKinley, Kauai, Kapaa, Moanalua and Castle, as well as Pearl City and Aiea.

It’s akin to a sprint rather than a marathon with each team likely to play between six and eight games in two days. For Okamoto Coker’s Aiea team, which is moving up to Division I this season after competing at DII the past couple of seasons, the Longy tourney should be the ultimate endurance test.

“Right now, we’ve only had eight players at practice,” she said, “so we need to recruit a few more boys.”

In fact, Na Ali’i were likely to add players this week with some of the winter sports having completed their respective seasons over the weekend. Aiea has made the DII state tournament each of the past two years and would like to do the same in DI this May, making next week’s Longy Classic an ideal launching point. It is also one of the only events on the island that brings both divisions together.

“DI doesn’t get to compete with DII (during the regular season), so that’s a good thing, having both,” Okamoto Coker said. “DII schools don’t get the recognition that the DI schools receive, but they compete just as hard. It’s nice to see the DII schools find out they can compete at that level. When we were Division II, we held our own against them (DI schools), considering everything.”

Okamoto Coker credits her late father for her ability to bring in solid fields every year. “It is because of his efforts in the beginning. Most of the coaches played for or knew my dad, and that’s the reason they come, even though the kids don’t know who he is. The coaches have to tell them that he helped many boys.”

The first day of the Longy Classic will consist of pool play with a championship round set for March 8.

Aiea is led by senior Keli’i Aleaga, a 6-foot-4 senior who is entering his third varsity season. “His attitude has changed since his sophomore year, and he’s matured,” Okamoto-Coker said. “He’s a hard worker, and he’s 6-4 and he can jump. He’s going to be our ‘go-to’ guy. He can play anywhere.”

Aiea, which will play approximately 12 preseason games, opens its regular season March 11 at home against Mililani. Also moving up with Aiea to DI this season are Waipahu and Waianae, while Campbell, Kapolei and Nanakuli have moved from DI to DII.

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