Kalani Takase | ScoringLive
February 27, 2021, 7:30am
The UNLV women's volleyball team is off to a hot start this spring and a pair of sophomores from Hawaii can be found right in the thick of it.
Outside hitter Shelby Capllonch and libero/defensive specialist Paris Oliveira, a couple of 2019 graduates from Damien and Kamehameha, respectively, have been a big part of the early-season success for the Rebels, who are 4-0 for the first time since the 2016 season and for just the fifth time in program history.
"I think everyone is very excited about how we've started out and it's been a lot of fun," said Capllonch via video call Friday morning.
Capllonch, the Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division II Player of the Year in 2018 when she was also a First Team All-Hawaii selection, has started all four matches this season and ranks second on the team in kills (45) and kills per set (3.21). She leads UNLV in digs (64) and digs per set (4.57).
The Rebels are back in Las Vegas this week after a pair of key wins over Colorado State over the weekend. UNLV swept the Rams in straight sets Thursday and won in four sets in the rematch Saturday.
For the seventh consecutive year, CSU was picked to win the Mountain West Conference in a preseason coaches poll — just two points ahead of UNLV.
"I'm pretty sure a lot of us were upset about it at the time, but I mean, it drove us to even want to beat them more at their hometown, which we accomplished," said Oliveira, who totaled 33 digs and 10 set assists in the two matches, including a 25-dig effort in Saturday's victory.
Capllonch amassed 27 digs to go with 14 kills Saturday for her fourth double-double this season. She had team-highs of 11 kills and 12 digs Thursday, when she hit .375 for the match.
On Monday, Capllonch was recognized as Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
Congratulations 👏 to Shelby Capllonch on being named the @MW_OlySports Defensive Player of the Week. The sophomore OH had a pair of double-doubles & led the Rebels with 39 digs in the season sweep of Colorado State.February 22, 2021
"I was really surprised, actually. Usually in the game I don't really know how many digs or kills that I have, I'm just there and just focusing on the next play, the next ball, where is it going. All I know is that that Colorado State game I just put my heart out there and I just wanted to play. I didn't really care if I got anything — I'm happy I did, but I didn't care if I did — but it was nice having some recognition.," said Capllonch, who was in the athletic training room at the time that she got word of the award. "I just remember being super excited to see it and immediately calling my mom and she was probably more excited than I was."
Capllonch also received a MWC Offensive Player of the Week honor during her freshman season.
"I'm always happy for my teammates, regardless if she's from Hawaii or not, but especially playing with her for so long," Oliveira said of Capllonch, her teammate from their days with both the Manoa Beach and Aloha State club teams. "I've supported her, been through all of it, I'm super happy for her and she deserves it, so it was a good thing, for sure."
Oliveira, who ranks second on the team in both digs (61) and digs per set (4.36) and has a team-best 96.3 percent success rate in serve-receive, noted that she and Capllonch are almost always on the same page on the court, especially when it comes to defense.
"We just know sometimes that we just turn to each other and we don't have to say anything, we're just like, ‘Yup. Got it. K,' but yeah, it's been definitely helpful," Oliveira laughed.
Capllonch agreed in full.
"It's kind of funny, when we play defense next to each other, or when we're passing next to each other, we don't talk. We just know who's getting what and we know what's going to happen the next play, but when we're by other people that we don't usually pass by, we're like, ‘OK, what do you have? What do I have?,' like all this stuff, so it's kind of funny," Capllonch explained.
The pair have been club teammates since they were high school sophomores, although they never got to team-up or face-off during their prep days. Oliveira's Kamehameha team is a perennial contender for the Division I state title, while Damien was still a year away from its first D2 state championship when Capllonch completed her four-year run at the school.
"Mine was probably very different from Paris's," Capllonch laughed when asked about her high school experience. "Damien is definitely smaller (than Kamehameha), I definitely had way less kids in my classes than Paris did, but I feel like it was fun. Damien was very serious when it came to volleyball because we were always just trying to go for that championship, but in the classroom it was nice getting to know everyone and knowing everyone meant supporting each other — like people would go to robotics competitions and cheer them on and then the robotics team would come to volleyball games and cheer us on — and it was just nice for that, those little relationships to have."
Oliveira, a three-year varsity player for the Warriors who received All-Hawaii Honorable Mention as a senior, expressed appreciation for the opportunity she had to attend Kamehameha and play for highly-successful program.
"I'm really grateful for the resources that my school had because it made the transition from high school to college volleyball a little easier, but it was a great experience. I learned a lot since sophomore year being on the varsity team and learning from the upperclassmen. They always taught us to work hard and we had goals for our team then to win the D1 volleyball championship then and it was a great experience. I definitely have a lot of great memories looking back on it now," Oliveira said.
She added that some of the most important lessons she's learned through sports came from her time at Kamehameha.
"Being flexible and learning how to work as a team, work with others and cooperate — it's not always going to be about you and you're going to have to make sacrifices to accommodate with others — and I think just being flexible and adaptable is always super important and putting other people's needs before yours and thinking about the bigger picture rather than just solely on yourself," Oliveira said.
Capllonch, a three-time All-Hawaii selection, echoed much the same sentiment about what she gained from her time as a student-athlete for the Monarchs.
"That is probably like the main thing right there, but also I feel like in Hawaii they always teach you to play with your heart, play with everything you've got and that's something that really helped me here at UNLV, like putting it all on the court and leaving it there and giving a hundred percent of what you have left, doing what you need to do to win the game," she said.
That's the same spirit that the pair have brought to the Rebels — and it comes out in the way they play defense.
"When I talk to our teammates, they are like, ‘You guys just lay out for everything,' " Capllonch said. "I'm pretty sure me and Paris together have like 20 cuts on our hands and arms from just diving on the floor, court-burns, all this stuff. We just don't like the satisfaction of the ball hitting the floor, especially when it's in our zone so we always try to go for it, but that's like every Hawaii player."
Oliveira offered an explanation.
"I think that we were just always trained to give it our all and just the effort you put out there to get a ball up off of the floor, it's a big thing. I think that coaches knowing that we are usually the underdogs as the shorter players compared to mainland girls, they teach us from a young age that it's going to have to be solely focused on defense and getting the ball up and off the floor and I think that's something that Hawaii girls have a lot in common and it's definitely a thing to be proud of," said Oliveira, who at 5 feet, 7 inches tall stands just an inch shorter than Capllonch.
"I'm very small for my position. I'm a 5-8 outside hitter and the girls I go up against are like 6-3, 6-4, but I just want to show Hawaii girls that they can do it because I feel like when we're raised, we're raised to be (liberos) in college," Capllonch explained. "We weren't raised to be outsides or middles in college, it was just like libs all the way, so it's nice having them look up to us and think that they can do more than they think they can."
But the job is far from over. Capllonch, Oliveira and the Rebels are just getting started on what they hope will be a banner season for the program.
"Our main goal is to get to the NCAA Tournament, win the Mountain West Conference — I feel like it's very important to all of us to do that this year, especially with all our seniors," Oliveira said. "We all are trying to play for them because this is their last year. COVID has been obviously putting up many challenges in this season for us, but I think that's just kind of driven us more to want to come out with the wins and show people who we are this year because we're not the same team as last year and we've been training and working so hard and trying to accomplish what we want to this season."
In Oliveira and Capllonch's freshman year, UNLV went 15-3 in the Mountain West and 20-11 overall, but did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Dating back to that 2019 season, however, it has won 20 of its last 22 matches — which is the best run through 22 matches in program history.
In fact, the Rebels garnered six points in this week's American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll, which would tie them for 35th place. It is the first time since the end of the 2016 season that UNLV has received votes in the AVCA poll.
"I thought that was very awesome to see that," Oliveira said. "It's just really cool to see that people have been noticing the work that we've been putting in, especially because we know how far this program has come. Our seniors have told us that how many years ago they were literally last in conference and just to see the progress that we've helped be a part of and just to see it play out, it's been amazing and we all know that, especially this year, we're capable of doing really great, big things and that's the goal for all of us."
The Rebels can leap-frog fellow-unbeaten Boise State (6-0) with a couple of wins when the teams face-off in Las Vegas this weekend.
"We are very pumped for this game and I know that we have been practicing really hard to know their system, know how they play very well, so I think we're ready," Capllonch said.
The teams play Friday and Saturday at Cox Pavilion, with both matches set for 4:30 p.m. start Hawaii time. A live stream of both matches will be available on the Mountain West Digital Network.