When opportunity knocks, it’s best to open the door immediately. There just might be the next conference player of the year on the other side.
Such was the serendipitous circumstance of Kelly Balanay ending up at Hawaii Pacific. Balanay and her father, Bernard, were driving around Honolulu while on vacation a few summers ago when Bernard suggested taking a look at colleges.
HPU’s Daryl Kapis was the only coach in his office when the Balanays came visiting and "it felt like the perfect fit," Kelly Balanay said. "I love volleyball and I love Hawaii. It was an easy transition."
Just as Balanay had little trouble making the move from San Diego, the shift to Division II from high school was smooth. The 6-foot middle hitter has been an All-PacWest first-team selection since her freshman year and enters her senior season as the conference preseason player of the year.
"There is a sense of urgency; it is my last year," Balanay said. "I think we’re going to be a really good team, the best since I’ve been here. We’ve been playing well together.
"We are solid at every position and are really good defensively. We do have a new setter (sophomore Pihana Kea) and I’m working hard on making that connection with her. That’s what I need to improve on the most."
Kea (Punahou ’09), who transferred home after a season at Pacific, has helped the Lady Sea Warriors to a 6-1 start. The only loss came last Saturday against No. 20 Seattle Pacific, 25-23, 26-24, 25-18; Balanay had a team-high 11 kills, hitting .400.
"I have a lot of trust in Kelly," Kea said. "I want to get her the ball as much as I can. She’s a solid player.
"Things are going good right now. We’re going to take it one game at a time, not look ahead. For us to win (the PacWest) we need to keep progressing, not be satisfied with where we are and keep getting better."
HPU opens conference play tomorrow at Chaminade (3-4) and then travels to the Big Island for a Sept. 25 match at defending PacWest champ Hawaii-Hilo (5-2).
"The conference runs through Hilo," Kapis said. "As I tell my players, they are the Super Bowl champs until they lose.
"But Chaminade always pushes us and we’re not looking past them to Hilo. I’ve been humbled enough to know that nothing is ever a given."
"Chaminade is one of our rivals and we want to get that first PacWest win," she said. "And playing on the road is always hard. But we’ve been playing well together and our good defense is tying everything together."
Just as things came together to play at HPU.
Her dad grew up in Kalihi and she spent nearly every summer in Hawaii. Balanay also wanted to "have a life" when turning down Division I offers to play at the D-II level.
"I love volleyball and school," the elementary education major said. "This is the perfect balance."