Maryknoll’s Jhenna Gabriel with an assist from her love for music has Texas Volleyball ‘bumping’ ahead of unprecedented NCAA Tournament

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Jhenna Gabriel

In spite of the unpredictability surrounding college sports due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA gained a big victory when it was able to successfully complete its women’s and men’s basketball championships earlier this month.

Women’s volleyball will look to carry on and hold a championship after not being able to hold a tournament last fall, with 48 teams competing for a national title starting on April 14.

[Latest stories from Hawaii’s Sports Station — KHON2 Sports]

The Big West Conference, of which the University of Hawaii is a primary member, was the only other conference besides the Ivy League that did not hold a spring women’s volleyball season. Despite that, the Division I NCAA women’s volleyball tournament will have a sizable island presence due to the bevy of figures from Hawaii across the tournament.

The University of Texas, which is the No. 4 national seed, is led by setter and Maryknoll alum Jhenna Gabriel, who already has 924 assists in 84 sets for the 23-1 Longhorns in 2021. With everything that was thrown her way this year, she found that music helped her get through the tough times.

“It definitely gets me through a lot,” Gabriel told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “Getting to play music when I have the off time and just getting away from everything and just going back to my roots and going back to what feels like home.

“Whenever I’m homesick, I’m always just bumping my homesick playlist and listening to some Sammy J. The other day, I was blasting Honey Baby in my room and everybody’s like, ‘What are you listening to?’ You guys don’t even have to understand, it’s just home. So it’s been a huge part of it, definitely.”

The entirety of the 2021 NCAA Division I women’s volleyball tournament will be held in a bubble in Omaha, Neb., and ends on April 24.

“It’s really exciting,” Gabriel said. “These last couple of days, we’ve been talking about it and we’ll just look at each other and say, ‘It’s actually happening, we really made it.’ Especially looking back around August, September, we were going into it knowing that we were playing without even knowing there was going to be a championship at all, so to finally be here, getting ready to go off to the bubble is definitely a little surreal, I’m really excited.”

Below are the other names with Hawaii ties competing in the tournament:

BYU 
Grace Wee – ‘Iolani 
Utah
Naya Dong – ‘Iolani
Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres – ‘Iolani 
Phoebe Grace – Kahuku
Pittsburgh
Lexis Akeo – Kamehameha
Creighton
Mahina Pua’a – Punahou
UMBC
Asiya Miller – Mililani 
Pepperdine
Savana Greene – Punahou 
Nebraska
Keonilei Akana – Kamehameha

Army
Ana Ogilvie – ‘Iolani
Washington State
Aria McComber – Punahou
UNLV 
Shelby Capllonch – Damien
Paris Oliveira – Kamehameha
Illinois State
Paige Hilliard – Punahou
Texas
Jhenna Gabriel – Maryknoll

Head coaches:
Missouri
Josh Taylor – Punahou
Pepperdine
Scott Wong – Punahou

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