The University of Hawaii-Hilo women’s volleyball team faced major uncertainty heading into the 2019 season when Gene Krieger stepped down from his post as head coach.
Chris Leonard, an assistant on the UHH staff at the time, was elevated to interim coach. Since then, the Vulcans have gone 23-7 overall and 18-4 in Pacific West Conference play for their best regular season in years.
Following the regular season, the Vulcans received a bid to the NCAA Division II tournament as the No. 7 seed in the West region. It is their sixth NCAA tournament bid in school history and first since 2011. For senior libero and Kamehameha alumna Kaila Lizama, there isn’t a better way to close her career than with a postseason appearance
“It’s been super amazing,” Lizama said. “This year, I feel like we do have great players on the court and really great chemistry so we’re really excited. We hope that we’re gonna make Hilo proud in the process.”
During Lizama’s senior week from Nov. 20-23, she had career-high five service aces in a sweep over Holy Names. The team closed the regular season with a senior night win in a five-set thriller over Academy of Art. She had 36 digs during her senior week.
For 2019, Lizama leads the Vulcans with 571 dig. Her 30 aces are also good for third best on the team.
Lizama has been a consistent presence on the UHH roster for her entire collegiate career. After her senior year in Kapalama, she thought she was done with volleyball, but then the UHH coaches asked her to join the team.
Lizama, who is originally from Kapaa, boarded at Kamehameha from seventh grade until graduation. Her years in Hilo have given her a unique perspective on the islands, and she certainly has appreciated her time on the Big Island.
“I would say I like Hilo better than Oahu. It’s slower, the community’s tighter,” she said. “But it does rain a lot. That kind of puts a damper when you have practice and the floor is wet and slippery. But I like being in Hilo.”
Hawaii-Hilo begins NCAA tournament play on Thursday against West No. 2 seed Western Washington in San Bernardino, Calif. First serve is set for 2:30 p.m. HST. The Vulcans played the Vikings (26-2) earlier this season, with the Vikings coming out on top in a five-set thriller 23-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-15, 15-10. The game will be streamed here.
“I feel like there is an advantage for having to play Western Washington because we have played them before in the beginning of the season,” Lizama said. “We got better as a team and we know they also got better as a team. It’s gonna take a lot of scouting and mostly a good mental game.
“We know what they’re gonna do and they know what we’re gonna do. I think whoever’s on their game that day is gonna come out with a (victory).”