So the OIA West is being owned in large part by a team that hasn’t won the league’s Division I title since 2008 — Waianae — and a Radford squad that was in D-II just one year ago.
Click here for OIA West volleyball standings/schedule.
Radford had sole possession of the West lead until Monday night, when Waianae rolled in and toppled the previously unbeaten Rams 25-19, 21-25, 15-9. The Rams and Seariders now share first place in the West at 7-1. For the most part, it was less about any shortcomings by Radford, and much, much more about what the Seariders can do when all cylinders are humming.
The Seariders opened the match with a 10-4 run, maintained the lead and were ahead 20-14 before fending off a late Rams run. The numbers, naturally, were favorable for the team in navy blue.
>> .706 hitting percentage
>> No hitting errors
>> Only two service errors
>> Two blocks
Radford was mostly positive in set one.
>> .313 hitting percentage
>> Three aces with just two service errors
>> Two blocks
In most OIA matches, that’s more than enough to win a game. Waianae, with 6-foot-3 senior Hulili Kahikina soaring for seven kills, seemed unstoppable. Setter Joshua Santana-Kaio had a seamless opening set en route to a 28-assist night. He looked to junior Caleb Kaopuiki just twice, taking what the Radford defense offered.
The second set was a microcosm of what the Rams could do given an extra sterling effort from some unsung role players. The score was mostly even until a kill by junior Micah Sala gave the Rams a 12-11 lead. Radford threatened to pull away, and after a dump kill by Santana-Kaio tied it at 17, it just seemed like the Rams didn’t have enough to defend home court. At times, the gym felt like a Waianae home game thanks to its supportive and loud fans.
Jeremy Ramos, who finished with a team-high nine kills, added one of his five in the second set. Then 6-1 middle Jude Pauulu clutched up with one of his four blocks in the second game. Moments later, Pauulu came up with another rejection, and the Rams led 21-18.
Sala soon ripped a kill from the right on a perfect back set from Blu Kurt Puyaoan (22 assists). Then a hitting error from the back row by Kahikina ended the set. Radford had all momentum.
>> Radford hit .545 with just one hitting error
>> Waianae hit a respectable .290
>> Waianae had five service errors, giving away two more points than it did in the opening game
Of course, the four blocks by Pauulu were a huge factor. And yet, when game three began, Radford also seemed to have an empty gas tank. The Seariders got off an amazing 26 swings in the shortened set, had no service errors and Kaopuiki was at his best. With the defense focused more on Kahikina, Kaopuiki unleashed an arsenal of two-handed push shots, tips, perfectly-placed balls into the block when he did get doubled.
He elevated his game in a way that wasn’t quite as obvious in the first two sets. It’s the kind of evolution that happens with many outstanding teams coming off a loss, but it tends to happen much more often in the ILH.
Radford had no answer for Kaopuiki, who finished with five of his nine kills in the final game. It all starts with Kahikina (16 kills), whose power and explosion from all corners were inspiring. But the play of first-year player Ezra-Koby Barnes (five kills) — Coach Wilhelm Wagner says he was strictly a basketball player until this spring — and Tim Meyshine (three kills, one ace) will be a necessity if Waianae is going to win its first D-I crown in a decade.
“Radford topped us on errors in the second game,” Kahikina said. “Their setter kept us on our toes. But Coach said to keep playing our game.”
Wagner pointed to the exhibition tournament at Moanalua last week, plus the loss to defending league champion Mililani, as the kind of sparks that lit a fire under the Seariders.
“Both games prepared us for Radford. Our guys are playing with great composure and energy. We lost to HBA, but that really helped us,” Wagner said.
It’s another case of iron sharpening iron. It will probably sharpen Radford just the same.
“We have to learn from our wins and learn from our losses,” Rams coach Christine Christe said.