Pa’e lifts Nanakuli to first volleyball crown

Nanakuli libero Kaanela Pae (26) shared a laugh from the sidelines with a teammate on court during a break in the OIA Division II championship match on Wednesday. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

Pearl City came prepared to win a championship.

The Chargers’ biggest obstacle turned out to be a 5-foot-6 back row beast of a libero. Nanakuli sophomore Ka‘anela Pa‘e put as much energy into her defensive craftsmanship as she did with her pre-game introduction dance. With music piping through the sound system during warmups and pre-game, Pa‘e and several of her teammates did their dance moves.

Those moves were pretty good, but they paled in comparison with their defensive prowess in the OIA Division II championship match. With Pa‘e sprawled over the court saving the ball, Nanakuli soared to a 25-11, 25-16, 25-16 sweep of Pearl City for the first volleyball crown in school history.

“It’s a blessing. Me being a sophomore, I just want to pump up my teammates,” Pa‘e said. “We just had to focus more on playing our game. I know we had it in us.”

All those digs took a toll on the talented Chargers, who finished hitting in minus-percentage territory (-.026) despite rearing back and blasting balls all match long. The extra opportunities provided by Pa‘e and her back-row mates were a huge factor. Nanakuli finished with a healthy .288 hitting percentage as setter Cheylah-Marie Marfil dished out 31 assists to an array of teammates. Janae Odom finished with 19 kills and four aces — Nanakuli held a 12-1 edge in aces — and Kanani Diamond tallied seven kills and two blocks.

Carly-Rose Letatau-Kekahuna added six kills, ShayAnn Ho‘ohuli chipped in three kills and two aces, and Puakenekene Cressy-Enos tallied four kills.

For Coach Junius Wong, it was a season of perseverance.

“We had five D-I teams to play right off the bat. We had injuries early on. We were down to seven players at one point,” he said. “But we weathered the storm.”

Wong also had to be a taskmaster at times.

“I’m definitely not the dad type. More like an older brother. We had a lot more toughlove,” he said. “I was real hard on them at practice.”

He traces his style of coaching to his mentors in volleyball and baseball: Roslyn Palakiko and Skip Lopez.

“My coaches at Nanakuli were really loud,” he recalled.

By this point of the season, the discipline and repetitions of practice carried over to the court, and Nanakuli (6-7) is a better team for having an integrated schedule with D-I competition.

“Our main focus has been one point only, one point and then the next point,” Wong said. “This was one of our more clean matches. We had some bumps with serve-receive.”

Now Nanakuli, as well as Pearl City, moves on to the New City Nissan/HHSAA Division II State Championships, which begin on Wednesday.

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