Hawaii men’s volleyball: Old King Kekaulike teammates Colton Cowell, Don Thompson share a moment

Emmanuel College opposite Don Thompson, a King Kekaulike High alumnus, played his first career match in the Stan Sheriff Center on Thursday night. / Photo by Brian McInnis

It probably should’ve been a kill. It sure looked like it was about to be one from press row.

Then Colton Cowell dove headlong over the courtside barrier and popped the shanked ball back into play. UH managed to toss it back over the net on the third touch and somehow wound up winning the point.

The player Cowell and Hawaii deprived of a kill? That would be Cowell’s old King Kekaulike High School teammate, Don Thompson, now an Emmanuel College senior opposite.

There was little drama otherwise Thursday night in Hawaii’s 25-13, 25-15, 25-15 sweep of the Lions of Georgia to move to 3-0 on the young season.

“After, he was talking, and he was like, ‘man, why’d you have to steal my kill like that?’ ” a smiling Cowell said afterward. That prevented Thompson from reaching 10 kills; he finished with nine on a team-high 24 swings.

It was a night of interactions between the two, pre-match, mid-match and post. (Although, Cowell’s night was pretty quick; he was done after pounding six kills on seven swings in Set 1, and UH inserted basically everyone on the bench from there in playing 20 people.)

“You don’t necessarily get the opportunity to see such a close friend across the net at the Division I level,” Cowell said. “And both of us coming from Maui, it’s a smaller community. Getting to see him on the other side of the net tonight, getting to see how much he’s improved over the years.”

For Thompson, it was a seminal, surreal moment in a far-flung athletics career that almost never happened.

“He’s pretty much the kid who taught me, got me into volleyball,” Thompson said after the match. “Definitely wouldn’t be here without him. It’s definitely cool to see what he’s doing. That kid’s a stud. It’s super awesome to play against him … I’ll remember this one for a long time.”


Thompson, in part at Cowell’s urging, went out for the King K volleyball team his sophomore year. Prior to that, he was known as a basketball player, the best on King K’s team, according to Cowell. Thompson is now 6 feet 4.

“I wasn’t even thinking about playing volleyball,” Thompson said. “I was just playing basketball, and he was telling me ‘it’ll help you jump higher, you should come out, we need a middle.’ From that, he took me under his wing. Within the next two years he taught me a lot. … You learn so much from a player like that.”

Cowell, who is a year older, recalled, “He showed up to the trial and it clicked, immediately, and he became the best middle in the Maui Interscholastic League.”

The Na Alii advanced to the state tournament both years as the MIL champ, 2014 and 2015, winning a match as the No. 4 seed before being drummed out in the semifinals by elite Punahou, which still reigns as the eight-time defending champion.

“But it allowed us, from Maui, to step into that larger talent pool. Test the extent of our improvement,” Cowell said. “Now, as you can see with Don and I, we saw the talent and we embraced the challenge of getting to compete at a collegiate level.”

Cowell watched and listened with pride Thursday as Thompson was introduced as being from Haiku, Maui, drawing cheers from the 2,168 in attendance, a group that included Thompson’s family.

Thompson said of that moment, with the same loyal fans he’d watched on television countless times, “This is my dream. I love this place so much.”

Cowell plans to watch Emmanuel’s matches the next two days; the Lions face Grand Canyon on Friday and Harvard on Saturday in the first match of the days at 4 p.m. UH follows with Harvard Friday and GCU on Saturday.

For his part, Thompson has marveled as Cowell has emerged from a fringe walk-on prospect to the Rainbow Warriors’ prodigious, undersized outside threat.


“He’s worked hard for everything he’s got. I definitely could see him doing this and going on and playing professional,” Thompson said. “He’s got a lot of stuff to do in this sport.”

Said Cowell, “It’s all love. He’s a brother to me. It’s incredible to come from such a small community and getting to compete together in a place like the Stan Sheriff Center.”

COMMENTS

  1. Pukalani boy January 9, 2020 10:53 pm

    Rip em maui boyz!!


  2. diamonds808 January 10, 2020 9:22 am

    So great to see stories like this! Colton is such a great person and I can see him encouraging others to join volleyball and helping them through the process. Both have worked so hard to get to where they’re at – just awesome to see local boys accomplish what they set out to do. Although playing for the “other” team, I can only imagine Thompson’s feelings as he got cheers from fans in the SSC. 🙂


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