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  • Paul Honda @ The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

For Kamehameha sisters, volleyball is in their blood #StraightFromTheBush


JAMM AQUINO/JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

Kamehameha volleyball players and sisters Keonilei, left, and Braelyn Akana make the Warriors a force. Keonilei, a junior, has committed to USC, while Braelyn, a senior, has committed to Hawaii.

They are classic, these sisters who are just one year apart.

Braelyn and Keonilei Akana had their normal share of fights growing up, two independent personalities. Braelyn’s favorite film is “The Vow,” a romantic drama. Keonilei’s fave is “Mamma Mia,” but the action flick “Suicide Squad” is a close second. Still, they’re two peas in a pod. They are die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fans, just like their dad. They can’t wait to see the Lakers play one day.

“That’s a bucket-list wish,” Braelyn said.

Bora Bora for Keonilei and Paris for Braelyn are other desired destinations, but sports and school — each has a 3.7 grade-point average — have bonded the sisters through the years. The last thing Jocelyn Akana wanted was for her daughters to follow in her footsteps into volleyball.

“She wanted volleyball to be our last option,” Keonilei said.

Jocelyn Akana, the former Hawaii volleyball player known back then as Jocelyn Robins, and husband Brandyn had their two oldest children try just about every sport. Basketball. Soccer. Softball. Flag football. Track.

“They tried karate. Tahitian. Hula. They played soccer and would cry about going to practice,” mom remembered.

Braelyn was in seventh grade and Keonilei was in sixth when the sisters asked mom and dad about trying volleyball. Jocelyn Akana had her doubts.

“Luckily, a lot of sports are cheap. But volleyball club prices, it’s so competitive. I told them, ‘I’m not moving you guys into town for volleyball club until I know you’re serious,’ ” she said.

It worked out. The girls didn’t cry about practicing anymore. In fact, the long drives from Hauula to Kapalama Heights — and other venues in Honolulu for volleyball club practices with Team Piko, and later Manoa Beach VC — and work ethic make the Akanas one of the best volleyball sister tandems in Hawaii volleyball history.

“The journey and the sacrifices we made, working hard with each other,” Braelyn said, as Keonilei completed the message.

“Having each other, pushing each other,” Keonilei said. “That means a lot.”

With Braelyn at outside hitter and Keonilei playing almost any position, No. 1-ranked Kamehameha is off to a 3-0 start in Interscholastic League of Honolulu play. The Warriors have won two state titles since Braelyn entered high school, with a good chance to repeat this fall. Today, the Warriors depart for Las Vegas, site of the Durango Invitational.

“It was interesting for Brae, coming in ninth grade to where she is now,” Kamehameha coach Chris Blake said. “She was always a physical presence. Her development as a player really took off her second year, and her development as a leader took off last year.”

As a junior in 2017, Braelyn Akana was voted co-captain by her teammates.

“She’s so driven, and she leads from behind. By that I mean she’s pushing them to do the things they can, rather than being in front saying ‘Let’s go.’ She’s next to them saying, ‘Let’s do what we need to do,’ ” Blake said.

Braelyn has committed to continue her playing career at Hawaii, turning down two Pac-12 offers. While Braelyn’s development came later, young sister Keonilei became a force quickly.

“Brae is a Robins, a late-bloomer, but Ke is an Akana. Pick up a sport and run away with it,” Jocelyn Akana said. “She really stood out, getting all-tournament awards, MVPs.”

By the time the sisters were regularly traveling for club tournaments, Keonilei was advanced enough to compete in the older division. College recruiters didn’t know if she was an outside hitter or setter or libero.

“She was playing with players up to two years older. She plays every position so well, so it’s a catch-22,” Jocelyn Akana said.

Put six Keonilei Akana clones on a court, and that team possibly wins a state championship.

“Ke is so versatile,” Blake said. “She’s another one who makes everything look so easy. It kind of gets overlooked. She has so much court sense, always in the right place at the right time. She’s a huge asset for our team.”

Coaches at USC noticed, offering her a scholarship as a libero. Keonilei Akana accepted.

“Both of them are great leaders, but they get there through different ways,” Blake said.

The leadership helps, especially in the grind of a busy season on and off the court. Getting rest time is crucial, even if it means missing a lot of activities, like Kamehameha football games.

“That’s a big discussion,” Braelyn said.

For the Akana sisters, volleyball was a choice. The standard, the drive to excel, was carried down.

“Our parents have always said ‘Stay positive and our Heavenly Father will help you,’ ” Braelyn said. “Our mom has always been really open with any advice we need.”

“Both our parents are athletes, and since she played this game, she knows how we can get better,” Keonilei said.

“We’ve been in the gym for the last seven years,” Brandyn Akana said. “They will reap the blessings from all the things they sacrificed. At the next level, they’re going to need that commitment even more. Hopefully, we’ve prepared them to do that.”

SISTERS BRAELYN AND KEONILEI AKANA

Kamehameha volleyball

Braelyn Akana, senior

Keonilei Akana, junior

Q&A / Favorites

>> Favorite team Los Angeles Lakers

Favorite athlete

>> Braelyn: Kendra Dahlke, Arizona volleyball

>> Keonilei: Nicole Davis, Olympic volleyball

GPA

>> Braelyn: 3.7

>> Keonilei: 3.7

Favorite food

>> Braelyn: Mom’s steak with quinoa

>> Keonilei: Mom’s chicken with quinoa

Hobby

>> Braelyn: Photography

>> Keonilei: Drawing

Video game

>> Braelyn: iPhone Cup Pong

>> Keonilei: 1010

Music artist

>> Braelyn: Blake Shelton

>> Keonilei: Ty Dolla $ign

Motto

>> Braelyn: “It doesn’t matter if a million people tell you what you can’t do, or if 10 million people tell you no. If you get one yes from God, that’s all you need.” — Tyler Perry

>> Keonilei: “Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back. Play for her.” — Mia Hamm

For Kamehameha sisters, volleyball is in their blood

#BraelynAkana #KeonileiAkana #BrandynAkana