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Prep Football Preview Special
Kalani Takase | ScoringLiveSeptember 20, 2023, 3:49pm
Waipahu football • #2
It has not taken long for Eric Stephens to assimilate to his new teammates.
Not the way he makes plays.
Stephens, a senior wide receiver on the Waipahu football team, has been a steady source of production – and eye-popping plays – despite being in his first season with the Marauders (2-3).
"He's just a baller," Waipahu coach Bryson Carvalho said of Stephens, who has recorded team-highs of 29 receptions for 505 yards through five games.
Stephens averages 17.4 yards per catch and has accounted for seven touchdowns on the year, including one kickoff return for score. He opened the season with eight receptions for 146 yards in a loss to Campbell and three weeks later, followed that up with six grabs for 118 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Kamehameha.
"He doesn't look as fast as he is; He doesn't look like he's running fast, but he's covering so much ground, so one, you gotta be ready for his speed. He's very fast, which allows him to beat defenders vertically up the field," Carvalho said.
Wide receiver, however, is just one of the roles that Stephens fills for the Marauders. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound speedster also plays cornerback on defense and returns both punts and kickoffs on special teams.
"His speed also helps him out at corner because really, he can take care of one whole side of the field, or if not a whole side, a receiver, and he's been doing a great job on that side of the ball, too, but I think just outside of that, it's his work ethic, how he approaches the day, how he practices – even his approach toward the season, you could see how the result was gonna be before the season just before of how he works. He's a guy that works hard at what he does and is just good at what he does," Carvalho said.
As a junior at Moanalua last season, Stephens recorded 38 receptions for 570 yards – both team-high marks – and four touchdowns. He earned All-OIA Open Division Second Team honors for his special teams' work, as well as Honorable Mention All-Hawaii recognition.
Stephens put his talents on display against Kapolei earlier this season, when he opened the second half against the Hurricanes with a 95-yard kickoff return to the house. Stephens recorded five kickoff returns for 197 yards in the loss. A week later he tallied three returns for 75 yards against Kamehameha.
"He's a huge weapon. For us, we work on special teams every day and we put a lot of emphasis in it. We spent time scouting and putting in work on that side of the ball because it takes up twenty-five percent of the game, so we want to make sure we're productive in that aspect and having a playmaker like that really helps us," Carvalho said.
He explained that Stephens' athleticism allows his coaches to explore different wrinkles and options.
"There's been years that we've had to have two punt returners because we haven't had a guy with a skillset to field the ball, but Eric gives us that ability to add an extra blocker because he's able to cover sideline to sideline and can make a guy miss and do his thing and then on kick return, I feel like we've done a good job setting things up for him and helping him be successful because he's been close to breaking a few, too – where he's just one defender away – but he's just been consistent and really, we're just trying to use our best guys and Eric is definitely that guy," Carvalho said.
Stephens came up with four catches for 88 yards, including a 55-yard TD reception, and added two kickoff returns for 68 yards in a win over Radford two weeks ago. Over the weekend, however, Stephens took his play to another level.
In a matchup against Waianae Friday – Waipahu's fourth Open-Division opponent this year – Stephens hauled in a season-high nine catches for 127 yards. He was on the receiving end of four of quarterback Elijah Mendoza's six TD passes in the 43-20 road win for the Marauders.
Carvalho's squad was far from full strength; He noted that many players were dealing with illness leading up to the game.
"We didn't really have a great week of practice, just because we kept guys home and that's ideally not what you want when you're going up against an Open Division team. We just wanted to be consistent and play a full game so that was really big to get that win. I felt like we kind of rounded the corner a little bit, so that was good to see and I hope that we can build on that," Carvalho said.
As for Stephens, his touchdowns came on passes of 25, 20, 15 and 16 yards – the first three coming before halftime. His first TD catch was, by far, his most spectacular play of the night, if not season, Carvalho explained.
"That has to be the catch of the year – that was crazy. He catches it almost on his back and gets his left foot in to get the touchdown and then the rest of his body falls out of bounds," Carvalho recalled. "To know exactly where you're at to make that catch and score, that was unbelievable. He just poses a threat on every play; you just kind of know what he's capable of."
Despite it being his first season with the Marauders, Stephens was tabbed as a team captain a few games into the fall.
"After our loss to Kapolei, the coaches kind of re-evaluated a lot of our leaders and we wanted to name three guys on each side of the ball that were the hardest workers, because naturally those are the guys that are gonna be the leaders and he was definitely definitely one of them on offense. You can't question the amount of work he puts in. He doesn't really have a play off – in games he's going both ways but in practice he's going both ways, too – so he doesn't have the opportunity to rest because he's just putting in so much work," Carvalho said.
Stephens, who has scholarship offers from both Army and Navy, has a work ethic that has become infectious amongst his peers.
"He's quiet, not a rah-rah guy where he'll say a bunch and talk a whole lot – he's not one of those guys. He's just a silent leader who puts his head down and works and he uses that as his strength for the opportunity for guys to follow in his footsteps, so he's that kind of guy for us," Carvalho added.
Stephens and the Marauders, the No. 13 team in this week's ScoringLive Power Rankings, have a bye this week before they host Castle on Sept. 29.
Keoki Alani, Konawaena — Threw for 388 yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-37 passing without an interception and also ran in a touchdown in a win over Kealakehe
Logan Andrade, Kamehameha-Maui — Scored on a 30-yard interception return for touchdown in a win over Kekaulike
Zed Anahu-Ambrosio, Konawaena — Caught 10 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a 77-yard touchdown in a win over Kealakehe
Jevin Bolos-Reyes, Kamehameha — Threw for 135 yards and three touchdowns on 4-of-5 passing without an interception in a win over Leilehua
Ethan Bowden, Kamehameha-Hawaii — Ran for 127 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries in a win over Hawaii Prep
Kekai Burnett, Punahou — Recorded six total tackles, including three sacks, in a loss to Campbell
Nazaiah Caravallo-Lawelawe, Campbell — Recorded three tackles and two sacks in a win over Punahou
Kaimana Carvalho, Kahuku — Caught a touchdown pass, ran in a touchdown and recorded two tackles in a win over St. John Bosco
Ofa Falekaono, Maui — Ran for a touchdown and also scored on a 45-yard interception return for touchdown in a win over Baldwin
Xander Hoopai, Kamehameha-Hawaii — Scored on a 5-yard fumble return for touchdown in a win over Hawaii Prep
Makana Kamaka-Brayce, Kamehameha-Maui — Threw for 188 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-22 passing without an interception in a win over Kekaulike
Titan Lacaden, Saint Louis — Caught 16 passes for 147 yards in a loss to Mililani
Tainoa Lave, Campbell — Scored on a 60-yard interception return for touchdown in a win over Punahou
Elias Malapit, Konawaena — Recorded 6 1/2 tackles for loss with three sacks, forced a fumble and scored on a 17-yard fumble return for touchdown in a win over Kealakehe
Aiden Manutai, Kahuku — Scored on a 54-yard interception return for touchdown, and recorded two tackles and one pass break-up in a win over St. John Bosco
Ty McCutcheon, Punahou — Threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns on 31-of-42 passing with one interception in a loss to Campbell
Kini McMillan, Mililani — Threw for 288 yards and five touchdowns on 23-of-31 passing without an interception in a win over Saint Louis
Elijah Mendoza, Waipahu — Threw for 268 yards and six touchdowns on 21-of-34 passing without an interception in a win over Waianae
Ty Perkins, Kamehameha — Caught three passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Leilehua
Tito Ringor, Campbell — Recorded six tackles and two sacks in a win over Punahou
Onosai Salanoa, Mililani — Caught nine passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Saint Louis
Austin Takaki, Konawaena — Caught 12 passes for 153 yards in a win over Kealakehe
T'nias Tavale, Campbell — Recorded 4 1/2 tackles and two sacks in a win over Punahou
Brock Toma, Baldwin — Ran for 105 yards on 22 carries in a loss to Maui
Maui Prep volleyball • #7
To say that Avery Kirkham fills an important role for the Maui Prep girls volleyball team would be quite the understatement.
More like heart and soul.
"She's a really solid, well-rounded player and for years now, I feel like we've been able to rely on her to make plays both offensively and defensively," Na Pueo assistant Sarah Risser said of Kirkham, a 5-foot-7 junior outside hitter.
Kirkham, the daughter of the head coach, is in her third year as a starting pin hitter. She rarely comes off the court as a six-rotation player.
"She's on the court at all times; She goes all the way around," Risser said.
Although Kirkham has a number of varsity seasons under her belt, she had another responsibility put upon her shoulders this fall as her teammates voted her as a captain.
"This year we asked her to step up and she's risen to the challenge beautifully and has been a very supportive and emotional leader for her teammates," Risser explained.
As a freshman in 2021, Kirkham received All-MIL Division II Honorable Mention, as selected by The Maui News. A year ago, Kirkham was tabbed First Team all-league as Na Pueo took another step toward competing with Maui County's top D2 teams.
Risser pointed out that the work that Kirkham put in during the offseason has been instrumental in her continued development, as well as the team's increased success this season.
"Avery really took big leaps in her volleyball development by seeking out more competitive clubs on the other side of the island and working with great coaches who have helped build upon the great foundation she had for herself already, but what's cool about Avery is that she's always been a physical leader on the court, where she's just someone we can rely on for those hitting, passing and serving skills, but each year she levels up and becomes better and better and therefore, so does our program and the girls that she's playing with," Risser said.
Na Pueo looked to build upon its success in 2022 with a head start for the 2023 season. As she had done in her first few years on the team, Kirkham led by example; She was the lone player who attended every single 6:30 a.m. workout since offseason work began in January.
"We told her that we needed her to jump higher and hit harder this year and she really took that to heart and she did workouts on her own, outside of the gym, to make those gains happen and we're reaping the benefits of that. She's not a kid that you need to coerce to show up; She shows her teammates that she's excited and positive about it when they're groaning and grinding their teeth," Risser said.
Maui Prep is off to a 6-1 start to league play this fall. Its lone blemish was a loss in four sets to Seabury Hall (26-24, 25-13, 23-25, 26-24) back on Aug. 30. Since then it has reeled off five consecutive wins, including four straight sweeps — the most recent being a 25-11, 25-19 and 25-20 win over Molokai Friday night.
It was the first time that Na Pueo defeated the Lady Farmers in straight sets.
"A huge part of that win over Molokai Friday was because of Avery's leadership, both physically as a captain and just as a leader on that court. Just as the coaches look to her to lead the way, her teammates look to her to provide that confidence and set the tone so I would say she's a huge factor. We go to her both in the back row and the front row — wherever she is on the court, we really depend on her a lot — and as our program has leveled up, we have more weapons than just Avery, but that pressure on her still remains and she rises to that challenge, both by example and by lifting others up," Risser said.
Kirkham nearly finished with a triple-double Friday night; She tallied 11 kills, 14 digs and served up nine aces. The following morning Kirkham recorded nine kills, 10 digs and four aces in a four-set win over the Lady Farmers.
"She's always been a leader on defense and she adds levels of scrappiness and hustle that we need on defense," Risser pointed out. "She's a really solid passer — she passes out of the middle-back in every spot that we can put her — I would say that both in the front row and in the back row, she's one of our top go-to players and it's pretty rare for her to have an off-moment on the court because she's just consistently solid."
Not only is Kirkham consistent with her play, she's the same way with her emotions, Risser explained.
"I would say something that Avery is really good at is being really level-headed and consistent. She doesn't have really high emotional highs or low emotional lows and because of that her play is then consistent and she's able to be that consistent rock that the girls are looking to on the court," she said.
With only one senior on the roster, Maui Prep will lean heavily on the leadership and experience that Kirkham brings to the court.
"What's different now is we lost a big chunk of seniors last year, when she was a sophomore with a large group of seniors and even though Avery was that large physical leader on the court, she didn't have to be that leader, that captain that the role calls for, but she has stepped up so beautifully this year and has done everything that a captain should do and everything that I would want her to do," Risser said.
Kirkham is also a member of the school's swim team and is involved with student government among other extracurricular activities. Risser noted that Kirkham has figuratively grown up on Maui Prep's Napili campus; Her father, Ryan, is both the upper school principal and the head varsity volleyball coach.
That puts Avery Kirkham is a most unenviably position, at least the eyes of Risser, a former collegiate volleyball player herself.
"I look at it from a lens that's unique from my own life experience and I know I wouldn't have done well with my own dad as my coach," Risser laughed, "so I'm amazed at how well they are able to do it."
Risser, who also coaches club volleyball with Ryan Kirkham, explained that she is often an intermediary for the father-daughter/coach-player duo.
"There are times that Ryan tags out and I tag in, just so it's a different voice, so we made an intentional shift with most of the feedback for Avery coming from me, just to mitigate that dynamic when your dad is the coach, but Ryan does a great job of separating his duties and wearing his dad hat and wearing his coaching hat and wearing his principal hat and I think that because Ryan is such a phenomenal human, and so is Avery, that it works out really positively," Risser said.
Avery Kirkham and Na Pueo (6-1) will try to avenge their lone loss this season, when they visit five-time defending league champion Seabury Hall Friday night.
Maui Prep has never recorded a win over the Spartans, who enter the contest unbeaten and in first place.
First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Adrianna Arquette, Kamehameha — Had 17 kills, five digs, two blocks, one ace and one set assist in a three-set win over Iolani
Rella Binney, Punahou — Had 56 assists, 10 digs, two blocks and one ace in a win over Iolani
Lauren Brown, Maui Prep — Had 14 kills, eight aces and one dig in a four-set win over Molokai
Indigo Clarke, Punahou — Had 13 kills, 12 digs, one and one set assist in a four-set win over Iolani
Sofia Connor, Seabury Hall — Had 14 kills in a three-set win over Hana and 16 kills, five digs, three aces and one-half block in a three-set win over Hana
Chanel Domingo-Felton, Kealakehe — Had 19 digs, two aces and two set assists in a three-set loss to Kamehameha-Hawaii
Kealohi Dudoit, Kamehameha-Hawaii — Had 19 digs and three aces in a three-set win over Waiakea
Maela Honma, Kamehameha-Hawaii — Had 17 kills and 19 digs in a three-set win over Waiakea
Kaila Kalama-Bajet, Damien — Had 25 kills, two aces and one set assist in a four-set win over Sacred Hearts
Khiana Kauweloa, Nanakuli — Had 27 set assists, six digs and one-half block in a three-set win over Leilehua
Emma Lilo, Kamehameha — Had 39 set assists, seven digs, three kills and one ace in a three-set win over Iolani
Haumea Marumoto, Punahou — Had 17 kills, one dig and one-half block in a four-set win over Iolani
Bailey Menor, Waialua — Had 22 digs and two set assists in a four-set loss to Mililani
Bailey Nakanelua, Iolani — Had 40 assists, six digs and two kills in a four-set loss to Punahou
Kayla-Jane Padayao, Campbell — Had 18 set assists, 10 digs, five aces and two kills in a three-set win over Radford
Lilinoe Paschoal, Baldwin — Had 35 set assists, four digs, two kills and two total blocks in a three-set win over Kamehameha-Maui
Callie Pieper, Iolani — Had 20 kills and two digs in a four-set loss to Punahou and had 17 kills, two digs and two set assists in a three-set loss to Kamehameha
Harmony Powers, Seabury Hall — Had 15 digs in a three-set win over Hana
Kelsey Reul, Maui Prep — Had 16 digs and one ace in a four-set win over Molokai
Lexie Uchima, Waiakea — Had 22 digs and one set assist in a three-set loss to Kamehameha-Hawaii
Shereya Ufuti, Kaiser — Had 15 kills, five digs, two aces and one-half block in a three-set win over McKinley
Lulu Uluave, Punahou — Had 25 kills, 15 digs, one and two aces in a four-set win over Iolani
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