The Kansas State women’s volleyball team will be playing a long way from campus in this weekend’s NCAA regional as the Wildcats head to Honolulu, Hawaii, for a third-round match against Pepperdine on Friday.

But for junior libero Kuulei Kabalis, the journey across the Pacific Ocean to America’s 50th state is more of a homecoming.

The Wildcats earned the trip to Honolulu after knocking off No. 2 Nebraska in a five-set second-round match last weekend. It is the third time KSU has advanced to the third round, and first time since 2003.  The Wildcats will be looking to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time in program history.

Time (ET) Match
5 p.m UCLA vs. Penn State
5 p.m. Illinois vs. Ohio State
6 p.m. Purdue vs. Florida State
7 p.m. Texas vs. Kentucky
7 p.m. Michigan vs. Florida
8 p.m. Minnesota vs. Iowa State
10 p.m. Pepperdine vs. Kansas State
Midnight USC vs. Hawaii
• Interactive Bracket, click here

Kabalis, the program’s first player from the Aloha State, is in her first season at KSU after transferring from Western Nebraska junior college. She comes from a volleyball family, which begins with her mother Carla Carpenter-Kabalis, who played for Division II Hawaii-Hilo. Carpenter-Kabalis helped HPU to a pair of national titles (1979 AIWA, 1981 NAIA), was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 1989 and is now a club coach.

Both of Kabilis’ sisters are also branches on the volleyball family tree. Kahala played volleyball at Mesa State College and Chaminade and currently is an assistant coach at Hawaii Pacific, while Kaleinani played for Western Nebraska and Washington State.

“I remember practically living in the gym when I was growing up,” Kabalis said. “It was my second home.  I played volleyball every single weekend and never had a break. I love it.”
“It runs pretty deep in their family,” KSU head coach Susie Fritz said. “Volleyball has been a big part of her life.”

The State of Hawaii has a rich tradition of collegiate volleyball, and while Kabilis didn’t necessarily dream of playing in her home state, she knew she wanted to be on the court.

“I really didn’t know when I where I’d end up, but I knew I wanted to play volleyball,” Kabilis said.  “Even though I had opportunities to come back home to play, it felt right going to Kansas State.”

And while only her mother was able to get to visit Kabilis on campus in Manhattan, Kan., during the regular season, her whole family and lots of friends will be on hand for the Wildcats’ match with Pepperdine at the Stan Sheriff Center at UH.  Kabilis’ hometown of Hilo is only a 45-minute plane ride to the Oahu, where Honolulu is located.  While her immediate family resides in Hilo, most of her extended family lives on Oahu and Kabilis and the Wildcats are thrilled to have their support.

“I suspect we’re going to have our own little Hawaiian cheering section which will make it an even better experience for our players,” Fritz said.

“We’re going to have a bunch of people wearing purple supporting us,” Kabilis said.  “There could be 100 or 200 people coming out to the match.”

Kabilis’ mother, grandmother and sister visited the team at practice on Wednesday morning, and the team was treated to an unexpected hulu lesson from her grandmother.

“We are business as usual with a little fun on the side,” Kabilis said.

While Kabilis earned the starting libero spot in preseason practice, it still took a little time to adjust to the new program, but Fritz likes the progress she has made.

“[Transfers] have to adjust to new personnel and new coaching styles, too,” Fritz said. “It takes those junior college players until the first half of the conference season to reach their comfort level, and I think that was Kuulei’s path this year.  Her confidence level now in comparison to earlier in the season is so much stronger and I think that has what’s allowed her to be herself and play.”

Kabilis leads the squad with 3.75 digs per set, and ranks 10th on the school’s single-season list with 461 digs. She has eclipsed the 20-dig mark in five matches and is also third on the team in aces.

“She has upgraded our first contact significantly with her ability to dig balls,” Fritz said. “She’s an intuitive volleyball player – she sees things that are very high level. She’s very good with her hands at both digging and passing. She is a very calming, composed volleyball player, so she provides that nice temperament for our team. She keeps us calm during intense situations. Against Nebraska, she was just the same old Kuulei.”

And when Kabilis takes the court against Pepperdine at 10 p.m. ET Friday, she will get to share the experience her whole family. It will undoubtedly be an extra special moment for mother and daughter.

“She was my coach for my whole life,” Kabilis said. “I’m not used to her being my mom, so when I get that I cherish it.”