There is willpower, and there is what the St. Francis Saints do with it.
They channel their inner greatness. If there ever was a calmer, more positive and cohesive team, well, there may be many, but not quite on the level of this Saints squad. An incredible 15-25, 19-25, 25-18, 25-19, 15-12 championship victory over No. 1 seed Kapaa earned second-seeded St. Francis its first boys volleyball state crown.
But it’s more than that. The way they were coachable. Accountable. A joy to coach, at least in the eyes of Dandi Holder. She was exuberant as she described her happiness for the senior-heavy Saints (13-2).
“That’s our team’s M.O. All year long we never gave up. We fought adversity, always picked each other up. There was never a time when we got down on each other. We stayed positive,” Holder said. “They’re very nice kids. They’re awesome kids. That’s why this win tonight means so much because these kids put in so much hard work. They deserve every bit of it.”
The three-day stretch of high-level volleyball took a toll on both teams, but the Saints were especially worn down.
“The boys were hurting from the five-set (match against Molokai) the night before,” Holder said. “We actually took them to Honolulu Cyrotherapy this morning. It doesn’t hurt. They came out and did as much as they could. They tried their hardest. The boys motivated themselves. They knew what they had to do in order to get the ‘W.’ Everybody did his job.”
Wembley Mailei, the football standout who also played basketball, could have been the most worn out of all. In the first set, he couldn’t register a kill in seven swings. In fact, the Saints had 23 hitting errors in the first two games and seemed on the verge of being swept by a talented, smooth Kapaa team.
It turned around. Mailei finished with 17 kills, a relentless attacker wearing down a tough Kapaa defense. The Saints looked to their rock on the hardwood, setter Jesus Garcia.
“We were kind of worried, but Jesus is our leader, our captain. He told us to play together as the team,” Mailei said.
Mofuike Hafoka, who hustled for a block and three kills in the final set, tallied 12 kills and a team-high 16 digs. Middles Boris Vukovic and first-year player Lanson Umufuke combined for seven kills and four blocks, and they found a way to contain Kapaa’s attack after game two.
“We needed to clean up the outside. They were getting a lot of swings,” said Vukovic, a 6-3 hoopster. “We tried our best.”
Holder enjoyed the luxury of having Umufuke, another 6-3 senior, provide excellent depth in the middle. The football player had never played volleyball until this spring.
“We had some crucial blocking. We had a two-week break coming into state. We had one player injured, so we had to get back into the groove again,” Holder said. “Everyone stepped up to the plate when they were needed.”
Garcia, though, was chosen the tourney’s most outstanding player for a reason.
“He’s legit,” Holder said. “He feeds our hitters. He holds things together. He’s our glue.”
Now, the Saints’ seniors leave with a crowning jewel. Some, like Mailei, leave with their first state championship. Vukovic, Mailei and Kordel Ng — the latter didn’t suit up due to injury — now have one more to go with two D-II state basketball titles.
“This was an opportunity,” Mailei said. “Our moment to represent for St. Francis.”
|1||May 3||(4) Hawaii Prep vs. Pearl City||PC 25-23, 25-23, 25-19||St. Francis|
|2||May 3||(1) Kapaa vs. University||Kap 25-19, 25-20, 19-25, 19-25, 15-8||St. Francis|
|3||May 3||(2) St. Francis vs. Konawaena||StF 25-17, 25-17, 25-21||Kalani|
|4||May 3||(3) Molokai vs. Kalani||Mol 25-23, 17-25, 25-19, 27-29, 15-10||Kalani|
|5*||May 4||University vs. Hawaii Prep||HPA 28-26, 21-25, 15-8||Kalani|
|6*||May 4||Konawaena vs. Kalani||Kaln 23-25, 26-24, 15-7||Kalani|
|7||May 4||Kapaa vs. Pearl City||Kap 25-19, 26-24, 25-14||St. Francis|
|8||May 4||St. Francis vs. Molokai||StF 25-22, 15-25, 27-25, 21-25, 16-14||St. Francis|
|9*||May 5||Hawaii Prep vs. Kalani||HPA, 21-25, 25-20, 15-10||Blaisdell Arena|
|10*||May 5||Pearl City vs. Molokai||PC 25-22, 25-17||Blaisdell Arena|
|11||May 5||Kapaa vs. St. Francis||StF, 15-25, 19-25, 25-18, 25-19, 15-12||Blaisdell Arena|
|* — consolation|