by Sena Hughes
Whitworth head volleyball coach Steve Rupe said that senior Kaimi Rocha might be the hardest-working player he has coached in his 14 years at Whitworth.
“When we talked about [how] it’s time to work hard and practice hard; she was always working hardest and practicing hardest,” Rupe said. “There was never an off day for her.”
Despite being described as friendly, fun, happy and approachable, the 5-foot-9 outside hitter is a monster on the volleyball court.
Her humility disguises the fact that she has earned back-to-back Northwest Conference Player of the Year awards, has been selected twice to First Team All-West Region and was most recently honored this season as Second Team All-American.
“She was our go-to person,” Rupe said. “Everybody in the conference knew it and they still couldn’t stop her. She was heads and tails above everybody else.”
At one point this year, she was named Division III Volleyball Player of the Week — a national recognition. She led the NWC points per set, kills per set and total kills in her senior season for Whitworth.
It is for those reasons that Kaimi Rocha has been named the Female Athlete of the Year by The Whitworthian sports section staff.
Rocha has her twin sister and teammate, Ka’ipo Rocha, to thank for spurring her competitive drive and love for volleyball. At age 11, the highly athletic Rocha twins started playing volleyball. Ka’ipo stuck with it, while Kaimi sat on the sidelines for a few months after deciding she didn’t like volleyball. That changed quickly.
“When she saw me get good she decided she wanted to get good too,” Ka’ipo — or “Eeep”, as her sister affectionately calls her on the court — said. “She’s very competitive.”
The Rocha sisters’ chemistry is unique and will be missed by Whitworth volleyball.
“I’ve had some great, great young ladies come through my program,” Rupe said. “But [Kaimi and Ka’ipo], I miss a lot of people, but I’m really going to miss them.”
Overshadowing Kaimi Rocha’s highly driven spirit is her surreal selflessness.
“The best part about Kaimi is she’s selfless,” said Bree Riddle, senior setter and teammate. “She’s never attention oriented. She’s always putting her attention back on the team.”
Likewise, Kaimi Rocha is as dedicated as they come. Ka’ipo Rocha laughed when she recalled how Kaimi likes to remind Ka’ipo that Kaimi never missed a practice in four years of playing.
“Which is hard because I’ve missed a bunch,” Ka’ipo Rocha said. “I’m proud of her work ethic.”
Her incredible determination is one of the reasons why Kaimi Rocha is such an effective leader. Her teammates and coach all said she leads by example.
“She wasn’t going to give you some motivational words to get you going, but she worked hard and she didn’t stop,” Riddle said. “She made everyone better. Being a setter to Kaimi, I’d throw a ball out there that wasn’t even close to a perfect set and she’d kill it and say ‘great job’. I’d say ‘sorry’ and she’d say, ‘don’t worry about it.’”
In addition to her individual honors this season, Kaimi Rocha led the Bucs to their second straight conference title and an impressive 19-7 overall record. One of Rocha’s favorite memories of the year was beating Pacific Lutheran University and University of Puget Sound — both reputably strong NWC teams — back-to-back nights in the Fieldhouse.
“It was one of our goals to make that happen,” Kaimi Rocha said. “It was great at the end of the week to have met our goal.”
The team-first attitude and passion for the game of volleyball shines through Kaimi Rocha.
“I realize that when I play for the love of the game, I do my best and that’s been my driving force, [rather than] to just play because I get recognition or because I want a certain amount of kills,” Kaimi Rocha said. “I just play to be around my teammates and do well so our team can come out on top.”
Kaimi Rocha credits the Whitworth volleyball program and her coaches for teaching her to be more than a volleyball player. She said she has gained irreplaceable skills like time management, working under pressure and overcoming adversity.
“Each year, she’s gotten better as a player and a teammate and senior year she came in and was the captain we needed her to be,” Riddle said. “I’m proud of her for being female athlete of the year. She deserves it.”
After graduation, both Rocha sisters plan on moving back home to the island of Maui in Hawaii, and apply to nursing school together.
“She’s just a quality human being,” Rupe said of Kaimi Rocha. “She led by example. She worked harder than anybody else. She was kind of the whole deal; she had the whole package.”
Contact Sena Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org.