That approach to rally scoring in volleyball is the key to success in matches. In theory.
So many other things can get in the way of sustaining it. Emotions. Questionable calls. The opponent on the other side of the net.
And in the case of one team from Ka Ulukoa, there’s the added pressure of keeping a remarkable winning streak alive. The Ka Ulukoa 17s, undefeated in the past five seasons of national club competition, looks for its 141st consecutive victory today when it opens against Legacy Elite in pool play of the SCVA Junior Boys Invitational in Anaheim, Calif.
A core group has been together since 2008, taking the gold medal at the USA Volleyball Junior Boys Championships every summer when moving up from the 12-year-old division through the 16s last year. Along the way, the team — with former Hawaii standout Pono Ma‘a as head coach — has dropped just three sets.
"It’s mind-boggling when you think about it," Ka Ulukoa club director Lee Lamb said. "That’s five years at nationals and three years of qualifying tournaments.
"I think one of the things that has helped them be so successful is their composure. You see other teams have ups and downs, but these guys just don’t fold when they get down. For them, every point is a new point."
It helps when the volleyball IQ is matched by DNA. The roster includes some of the best players in the state: Punahou’s Micah Ma‘a and Larry "Tui" Tuileta Jr., and Kamehameha-Hawaii’s Evan Enriques. (The trio participated in USA Volleyball’s elite camp over the holiday break and met up with their Ka Ulukoa team Thursday).
Micah Ma‘a’s volleyball family tree not only includes a father who had success indoors and on the beach, but mother Lisa Strand-Ma‘a played on two NCAA title teams for Hawaii as well as professionally on the beach. Tuileta’s father, Larry Sr., also has had success as a player and a coach, and Enriques’ father, Guy, another former standout player, now coaches two sons — Evan and Emmett — at Kamehameha-Hawaii.
The coaching staff also has Charlie Jenkins, a multi-USVBA All-American setter for Outrigger Canoe Club.
"We concentrate a lot on having good basics and fundamentals," Jenkins said. "Our ball-handling skills have been far better than most of the teams. Teams will stay with us but eventually we’ll be able to get separation with our serve-and-pass game. We play good defense.
"This tournament, we’re not thinking about the winning streak. We’re thinking about qualifying (for the Junior Nationals)."
The top teams in each of the age groups earn points toward a berth in the nationals, June 27-July 3, in Reno. Ka Ulukoa already knows it won’t win this qualifying tournament.
The team, and many of the others from five other Hawaii clubs, will miss Sunday’s final round in order to fly back in time for school Monday. For some, it’s also in time for semester finals.
The SCVA qualifier traditionally has been held over the Martin Luther King three-day holiday. The tournament was moved up two weeks and adversely affected the clubs from Hawaii, including an additional cost to travel during this premium week of travel, an extra $200 and up per player.
"We never got an answer as to why it changed," Lamb said. "It’s tough for a lot of kids who are in private schools and come back after break and go right into finals."
But it’s school first, as Ka Ulukoa 17s libero and backup setter Skylan Engleman said. He and most of his teammates are looking to play at the collegiate level and have already begun to take unofficial recruiting trips.
"I’m interested in engineering so I’ve looked at schools with good engineering programs, such as UCLA, UOP and UC San Diego," the junior at Maryknoll said. "For me, it’s degree first and if I get to play volleyball, it is a bonus.
"We’re looking forward to this trip. I don’t think about (the winning streak). Our goal every time we play is to get better. If we play together, everything else falls into place."
Ka Ulukoa, one of six Hawaii clubs entered in the event, has four teams competing (14s, 15s, 16s and 17s).
Ku‘Ikahi has six (14s, 15s, 16s, 17s and two 18s) with Outrigger (16s), Hawaii Elite (18s), Hawaii Volleyball Academy (17s) and Pai‘ea (14s) one each.