Kalaheo kept its dream alive by switching on the fly.
The Mustangs earned a ‘winner take all’ match for the OIA White championship with a 16-25, 27-25, 20-25, 25-17, 15-13 over Radford in what could have been the championship match at McKinley on Wednesday. Since being swept by the Rams last week, the Mustangs took out Roosevelt and now have to beat Radford again to earn their first OIA championship since 2006.
Kalaheo pulled out all of the stops to beat Radford on Wednesday, including doing something it has not done all year. After the Rams broke open a game with a 13-13 score on four aces and five errors, including two net violations, to win the first set, something had to be done. So Kalaheo coach Roberta Downey shook things up.
Downey told sophomore setter Siani Yamaguchi that she would run the show by herself from there on out, scrapping the 6-2 that they had run all season in favor of a 5-1. Yamaguchi was more than capable of carrying the load, earning the “Impact Player of the Match” award from OC16 on the way to the upset win.
“If the passes are tight to the net she is my best stuffing setter,” Downey said. “We needed to make an adjustment so that’s what we did. It’s not a new thing to her, she is a 5-1 setter but it is a new thing to us. She was happy to share that load.”
Yamaguchi’s impact was felt immediately, but it wasn’t rocket science. The Mustangs always spread the ball around to different attackers and Yamaguchi did the same but fed freshman Syenna Masaki a little bit more than the others. Masaki, who had one kill and one error in the first set, exploded for six kills and an ace with Yamaguchi at the helm. The Mustangs were actually down 23-20 in that second set when Downey made yet another change, subbing 6-foot senior Dominike Joseph into the middle.
Alex Jacobsen blasted a kill off Radford’s Rachel Nance to get the momentum back and Riley Lynch buried a crosscourt kill to make the score 23-22, Radford. Breayna Webster brought aloha ball to Radford with a kill, but Masaki got the serve back with a blistering shot.
Then Joseph took over, launching successive kills from her spot in the middle to turn a 24-23 defecit into a 25-24 lead. A net violation tied the score again but Yamaguchi hit Masaki for another kill and Shauntay Sugse ended the set with an ace.
“I told them that nobody expected us to be here,” Downey said about the break between the first and second set. “We worked hard to be here and let’s prove to everybody that we deserve to be here. We are going to make mistakes, but don’t worry about it and just play.”
The Rams responded to win the third set, holding Masaki to two kills and two errors while Arianna Feleti went off for five of her 14 kills in the match. Kalaheo led the fourth set throughout and started the fifth up 2-0 before the Rams rallied and had the Mustangs down 10-7. Kalaheo began targeting Nance and tied the score at 10-all and went to 13-all on another clutch kill by Joseph.
Feleti was called for a lift for the Rams and Masaki sent Kalaheo into a wild celebration when she beat Radford setter Tori Kolomalu for a kill. It wasn’t until after the Mustangs got outside and into a huddle with their coach that they learned that they would have to beat the Rams again on Saturday in order to call themselves champions.
But the Mustangs proved to themselves that they could do it once, so twice shouldn’t be too difficult despite the expected absence of outside hitter Taylor Bitanga, who suffered a concussion and had to be take to the hospital in an ambulance as the Red game was starting.
“My team conditions quite often,” Downey said. “I truly believe that my team is in shape for Saturday and the break tomorrow will bring them even more on fire for Saturday. We are going to miss Taylor if she can’t play, but if she can’t she will be on the side cheering for her teammates. That is the kind of girl she is.”