KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Members of the Castle High School community are mourning the sudden death of a beloved longtime volleyball coach, teacher and mentor who died Monday at a very young age.
Several hundred people gathered Monday night at Windward Missionary Church in Kaneohe to remember Danell Yanagida, who was fondly referred to as "Coach Nell."
The Castle High School girls' volleyball team still practiced Monday afternoon, just hours after Yanagida, their head junior varsity coach, died. She was only 33 years old and was also an assistant coach for the boys' varsity volleyball team.
Friends said Yanagida had difficulty breathing Friday and was hospitalized, suffering from severe hypertension and high blood pressure and died at midday Monday.
"She was like a mom to me," said Castle volleyball player Teila Kapihe, a sophomore, who is a middle blocker, the same position Yanagida played when she attended Castle. "She took me under her wing because last year I was the only freshman on varsity and everything was kind of new to me."
Yanagida had deep roots at Castle, the school she graduated from in 1999. She has coached girls and boys volleyball there for the 15 years since her graduation.
"She is the program, actually, she works here, she does all the paperwork," Kapihe said. "She puts all of our needs, actually before her needs, she makes sure everything is taken care of and she's there on and off the court."
Castle Lady Knights' Head Girls Volleyball Coach Grant Tolentino coached Yanagida who played on the varsity team when she was a student at Castle. He said her sudden death leaves an irreplaceable loss.
"She's like a daughter to me, you know, and I lost a family member. You know, I didn't lose a faculty member or an assistant coach, I lost a daughter today," Tolentino said.
"She wore so many hats," Tolentino recalled. "When we needed a doctor, she was the doctor. When we needed a clown, she was the clown. When we needed things organized, she was it. When we needed a treasurer to raise money, she was it. When we needed food on our travels, she was the cook."
Yanagida was also an educational assistant at Castle and taught in the same special education classroom as her sister Dona.
Monday afternoon, school officials met with the volleyball team in Castle's library to tell them Yanagida had died and offer them counseling and support. After school, the team, teachers and staff gathered in the gymnasium to talk about their beloved friend and mentor.
"She will definitely be missed," said Castle volleyball player Tileree Johnson, a junior. "She's touched a lot of people and she's inspired me to do my best. She's pushed me to the brink a lot but she's definitely loved and cared for all of us."
Then the team suited up for practice and later traveled to nearby Kalaheo High School for a scrimmage.
"Coach Nell would have wanted us to move on and move forward," Tolentino said. "She always told us to 'Just suck it up' and that's what we did today."
Tolentino said a pastor who's the father of a team member met with the players to talk about grief and healing Monday and "faculty, counselors and coaches are standing behind them to help them through this."
Tolentino said parents of his team members were hit so hard by her hospitalization they called him, texted him and showed up at his house to express their love for her.
Supporters originally planned Monday night's service as a prayer vigil while Yanagida was still alive in the hospital, but when she died Monday, they decided to gather anyway to remember and memorialize their beloved coach, mentor and friend.