Hawaii volleyball libero, setter represent Huntington Beach pipeline
HONOLULU, Hawaii -- Neighbors. Teammates. Classmates. Friends. And, now, Rainbow Wahine. Kendra Koelsch and Gianna Guinasso shared more than a zip code growing up less than a mile apart in Huntington Beach, Calif., and more than a teen trend when wearing matching swimsuits as beach volleyball partners. The pair shared the same dream of playing for Hawaii.
Four years after getting a tour of the Stan Sheriff Center when their Huntington Beach team was in Honolulu for the Ann Kang Invitational, the two Oilers standouts have finished their first week of double-day practices in that very arena.
The reality is even better than what they imagined.
"I have always followed Hawaii, loved the coaches and the style of play," said the 6-foot-1 Koelsch, one of two setters on the UH roster. "When we came out (for the Kang), I could see myself playing here.
"The girls here were a big part of the decision. I looked at other colleges - Minnesota, USF, San Diego -- but we came for senior night and that was it."
Koelsch, whose mother grew up on Maui, was a three-sport athlete for the Oilers (indoor and beach volleyball, and surfing). The connection for Guinasso, a 5-9 libero-defensive specialist, was Hawaii volleyball and the beach. She was part of the 2012 AAU Best of the Beach championship duo and the 2013 AAU junior beach nationals winning pair and finished fifth in last summer's Pan Pacific Championships at Queen's Beach.
"I followed Hawaii volleyball growing up, knew their tradition," said Guinasso, one of five at her position on the roster. "I didn't want to leave California, but if I was going to go out of state, I wanted to go to a place where I'm comfortable.
"I respect the program and I wanted to learn from the best. My whole dad's side went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, my mom went to (Cal Poly) Pomona (the colors of both schools are green and gold). I went for a different green."
Guinasso and Koelsch grew up playing for rival middle schools and youth soccer teams. They first became teammates when Koelsch joined Guinasso's volleyball club the summer between eighth and ninth grades. The TCA team was coached by Guinasso's father, Angelo, a former AVP beach player."She came to one of the club practices and wanted to learn to play volleyball," Guinasso said. "But it was too late to officially join, so she was a practice player. We've been together from then on, except for one year when she went to another club.
"I guess for me you could say I grew up on the sand first, was always peppering with a beach volleyball until they put me on the indoor court. I think I started club when I was 8."
They laugh when thinking about the visit to the Sheriff Center in 2010, and not just because they saw a picture of family friend and former Warriors All-American Tom Pestolesi, then sporting a pseudo-Afro hairstyle, in the men's volleyball locker room.
"We're in there and were asked where we wanted to go to college," Guinasso said. "Typical freshmen, we all said, 'Here.' But it was true, that's what we really wanted."
"It was so cliche," Koelsch added. "Isn't that what you'd always say? But here we are."
Koelsch gave her oral commitment early, the summer between junior and senior years, while at a tournament in Reno, Nev. Guinasso, playing for a different team, was on her way to the same tournament when Koelsch called her.
"It was, 'Oh my god, her dream came true,' " Guinasso said. "I was so bummed. But, I kid you not, the next day, Scott (UH associate head coach Wong) was on my court. He gave me his card and I cried.
"I called her right away. 'Kendra, we're going to school together!' "
Pestolesi, also a Huntington Beach High graduate, said he was happy that the pair was carrying on the Oilers tradition in Hawaii. He and teammate Dan Morehouse also had come together to play for the Warriors.
"I've probably known Gianna since she was 10," said Pestolesi, head men's and women's volleyball coach at Irvine Valley and married to former Wahine great Diane Sebastian. "It's always fun to see Oilers continue playing volleyball, but it's really special when they will be playing for UH.
"Diane and I take a lot of pride in being UH graduates, not just that we played there. We always tell kids what a great time we had there, how the people are incredible. Diane tells them her stories and how neat it is to be a Wahine. We let them know it's pretty special."
That's the word that also can describe Guinasso and Koelsch. It is rare that two players from the same high school and class are recruited to Hawaii. The most recent would have been 2003 'Iolani's Kanoe Kamana'o and Raeceen Woolford.
The only other pair that comes to mind are twins Kris and Kori Pulaski out of Newport Harbor (Calif.), who played for the NCAA championship squads of 1982 and '83.
"It doesn't happen very often, for sure," Wong said. "We're expecting both of them to contribute this season. We want our freshmen to be challenging for starting spots."
The two also expect to play sand for Wong in spring. Koelsch, on an indoor scholarship, will be a walk-on, while Guinasso is a walk-on for both sports.
Will they be reunited as beach partners?
"If Mr. Wong would like us to be," Guinasso said. "Maybe if we beat him (in a beach game) he'll let us."