A few minutes with … Kuulei Kabalis

When the Kansas State volleyball team shocked No. 2 Nebraska in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last week, everyone who supports Wildcats athletics took notice.

It’s rare that the Cornhuskers, a national power in volleyball, lose before the Sweet 16. But K-State was able to send them early. It was arguably the program’s biggest win – ever.

Coaches and players celebrated the victory in typical fashion, and enjoyed receiving positive notes and messages through social networking sites on the bus ride home. But one player was overwhelmed by it all.

By defeating Nebraska, junior libero Kuulei Kabalis earned a rare trip home to Hawaii.

On Friday, the Wildcats will try pull off another upset against on No. 15 Pepperdine in Hawaii. And for the first time since high school, Kabalis will get to play volleyball in front of family and friends.

She talked about all that and more before leaving Manhattan earlier this week.

What does it mean to you to be headed home for the Sweet 16?

I’m really excited. Getting the chance to play at home, it just brings tears to my eyes, because I never get an opportunity like this living on the main land so far away. It makes me so excited to know that my family will be there and people I know will be watching me play and doing something I love.

I hear it’s a big deal over there when college athletes return for games. Your coach just told me you might have 900 friends and family in attendance. Is that true?

I think she is exaggerating, but I will have close to 200. I’m not sure on an exact number. We’ll see.

That’s still a lot of people.

I know a lot of people. A lot of the people that I know will be bringing people they know to watch. It will be fun. I don’t know of anyone personally who has come back like this, but when they do come home it’s a huge deal for everyone. Everyone wants to come out and watch you play.

How did you end up at K-State?

This was the second place that I visited. When I first came here I just felt the excitement and that I wanted to be here. I didn’t feel that any other place I visited.

Ever give any thought to staying home and attending Hawaii?

When I was home in the summer I did visit the University of Hawaii, just to see if I wanted to go there, but I knew that I wanted to continue my success somewhere else. That’s a good experience to get the chance to play somewhere else away from the island

How often do you get back to Hawaii?

Christmas or summer. But not often. That’s what makes this unique. I’m so excited. I know I’m the only Hawaiian on the team. It is just so exciting to be able to bring my team with me and show them my home land.

What was the craziest thing about beating Nebraska?

It was the celebration afterward, and just knowing that we were able to pull off a win at Nebraska. It sets the tone for the entire tournament, even though it was just the second round. It was really exciting that I knew I would get the chance to play at home, too.

That probably motivated you to play well, didn’t it?

I was really focusing on Nebraska, so I didn’t have that in my mind. But afterward I switched gears and started thinking about going home. It was really a fantastic win, and it’s just a huge accomplishment for us. We’ve been working so hard all season, and it’s great to have this big win.

I’m sure you’re thinking about getting another big win or two now. How do you make that happen?

I think we can bring — since we are considered the underdogs — something new to the game and show that anything is possible. We have confidence in ourselves and our game. We’re good to go.