Sweating to Success

Molokai High graduate leads Pacific University volleyball team

By Dan Murphy

When Kelsy Takashima played volleyball at Molokai High School, she would show up to practice every day with her sneakers, knee pads and a stack of clean t-shirts. At the end of day every single one of them would be drenched in sweat.

“She would change shirts every time we took a break at practice,” Molokai head coach Matt Helm said. “It just shows how hard she worked. She came everyday and literally gave it everything she had. She’s the type of player you dream of coaching.”

Takashima’s hard work has paid off. After graduating from Molokai High in 2008, she went to Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. to play volleyball. Last year, Takashima became one of three freshmen in her school’s history to be named a first team All-Conference player as a freshman.

“It was exciting,” Takashima said about her historic award. “Usually athletes on small islands don’t really get recognition. It was nice to show that you can come from anywhere.”

Humble Beginnings
The 5-foot-10 middle blocker from Kaunakakai had never played volleyball before her freshman year of high school. When she first walked into Molokai’s gym she was a far cry from the force she is today, but her dedication and work ethic had her attracting attention from colleges across the country by her senior season. She was an All-Maui Interscholastic League selection as well as making the Div. II Hawaii All-Tournament Team.

Those accolades didn’t come easily. Takashima spent countless hours in the gym sweating through shirts in the regular season. During the offseason, she ran daily and lifted weights. She even gave up her first sport, basketball, so she could focus on getting stronger for volleyball season. Her new head coach, Lena Chan, said Kelsy is now, without a doubt, one of the strongest middle blockers in the conference.

But Takashima quickly learned that it takes more than just strength to compete at the next level.

“Every time I go up to hit, I have to think about where I am placing the ball. It’s not just about power, that’s one thing that is different in college. There are bigger blocks and better defense so you have to work on placing the ball,” she said.

Her mix of strength and smarts led Takashima to .279 attack percentage – second best in the conference – and 0.69 blocks per game during her freshman season at Pacific. In a match against Willamette College, she set school records for block assists and blocks in a three-set match. She ended the season with 10 or more kills in nearly half of the team’s games and five or more blocks on six separate occasions. She was a consistent force in the middle for the Boxers all season long, appearing in every set of every match.

“If Kelsy forgot her uniform for a game, every girl on this team would give up her jersey so Kelsy could play. That’s just how much she means to this team,” Chan said. “The girls respect her. No one questions her authority.”

Chan said that because of Takashima’s humble attitude, she was surprised at how quickly and successfully she adjusted to the college game. Not surprisingly, she said the quick adjustment was owed completely to Kelsy’s work ethic.

“Last season, and even the summer before, she really took? the workouts to heart,” Chan said. “Whatever she’s doing in the gym, she does it with the intention of doing it better the next time.”

Learning from Molokai
Takashima said it was easy to learn to work hard growing up on Molokai and that the support from her family, coaches and community were what allowed her to do so well.

“The volleyball community at home is so great. I could play whenever I want,” she said. In addition to playing for the Farmers, Takashima was also a part of the Molokai Club team while she lived on the island. She said playing against some of the older women in those club tournaments helped to prepare for college. Takashima said she always enjoys coming home and playing with her old high school teammates and hopes that they might follow in her footsteps.

“A lot of girls on the island really doubt [that they can play in college] because it’s a small island, but it’s definitely possible. I think a lot of the girls on the team now can do it,” she said.

Helm agreed. The Molokai High coach said he hopes that younger Molokai students will follow Takashima’s example and use sports to help themselves get a better education.

“It just keeps the tradition, we’ve turned out a lot of great athletes here on Molokai,” he said. “I think it opens the eyes for all these younger kids who say athletics can take you there.”

Sky is the Limit
Chan also has high hopes for her star player. The Pacific coach said she thought with a little help from the team, Takashima could be receiving national recognition and possibly All-American honors by the time she graduates. Her sophomore year got off to a good start after she led Pacific to a win in their season opener last week. Takashima served five straight points in a crucial set to help the Boxers win. She led all player in the match with 19 kills and a .424 hitting percentage.

Takashima was happy with her performance, but a bit more modest with her own future goals than Chan. She hopes to break her records, get a little better this year and, of course, keep working hard.

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