Travel, Compete, Repeat at USAV HP Championships

July 23, 2013, 4:21 p.m. (ET)

Zoe Leonard Kamalu Makekau-Whittaker

Kristina Harter, USA Volleyball Communications Intern, Phone: (719) 228-6800, Email:
USAV Facebook - @USA_Volleyball

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (July 23, 2013) – For most teens in Hawaii, summer consists of sunbathing, swimming and relaxing, but Zoe Leonard and Kamalu Makekau-Whittaker of Hilo, Hawaii, devoted their summer to traveling and playing volleyball away from the Big Island.

As avid volleyball players, the pair spent the past month participating in the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships in Dallas, then training with USA Volleyball High Performance teams in Colorado Springs, Colo., and finally the USA Volleyball High Performance Championships (HPC) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to compete with the Moku O Keawe Region team on Tuesday.

“I’ve been on 11 planes this month,” Leonard said as if she had not realized it herself.

But even after a match, Leonard seemed energized and excited to be playing the sport she loves.

“Traveling can be exhausting but it’s worth it because I love what I’m traveling for.”

Moku O Keawe Region Head Coach Christopher Leonard, also Zoe’s father, said that the travel is the just another piece of the puzzle for many teams.

“It’s been a lot of travel,” Chistoropher said. “That’s the nature of volleyball for Hawaii teams in general – we have pretty long-haul every time.”

Both Zoe and Makeau-Whittaker were selected to take part in the USA Volleyball Team Programs where they joined some of the top volleyball players in the country training under the experienced USA Volleyball High Performance pipeline coaches in Colorado Springs, Colo. Zoe was selected to the Girls' Youth National A2 Team and Makeau-Whittaker was chosen for the Girls' Youth Select A2 camp.

“It was really neat to train in Colorado Springs,” Zoe said. “I have met a lot of people through the USA Volleyball camps and it’s nice to see some familiar faces around the tournaments.”

While competing at a high level with other top athletes was thrilling, Zoe said her heart lies with her regional team which has a lengthy history.

“I love my teammates,” Zoe said. “About six of us have been playing with each other since we were seven. So, we have been with each other for a while. Where we come from is a very small community. The advantage we have over the other teams is that they don’t start practice until a week before this tournament, but we have been playing with each other for the last three months.”

Moku O Keawe team captain Kaiulani Ahuna agreed with Zoe and believes the team bond is not something every team can boast at HPCs.

“Zoe and I really connect,” Ahuna said. “We’ve been playing together since first grade, so we know how each other plays and we can help each other out. I think we are better bonded than other teams.”

This marks the second year the Moku O Keawe Region has been represented in the National Division at the HPC. In 2012, the team made its way to the semifinals and the team has high hopes for this year as well.

“We have a real good group of kids and we have a shot to be competitive in this tournament,” Christopher said, “but we have got to take care of things on our side of the net.”

Moku O Keawe defeated USA Select CT White 25-23, 25-23, 29-27 in its first match of the tournament, although it wasn’t smooth sailing the entire match. Moku O Keawe trailed 21-16 in the third set of the match, but the team pulled together to capture the set and its first victory.

“We knew coming into this game it wasn’t going to be easy because we don’t see this level of competition back home,” Zoe said. “Sometimes we play down to our competitor rather than playing up to our potential. But we knew that if we took care of all the little things, then we would pull through and we did.”

“All things considered, we have a great group and I’m happy to start the tournament with a win,” Christopher said. 

If you thought the girls would take a break after HPCs, try again. They are just getting started.

“The day I get back from HPCs is my high school team tryout,” said Zoe, anticipating the three more months of volleyball that lie ahead.