Just as it was meant to be, Punahou and Kamehameha are going to a fifth set.
The ILH rivals will play for the fifth time this season on Friday, but only the winner will be crowned state champion.
The Warriors have won three of the four matchups after dominating the first two. But as they knew when they both started this conquest, it always comes down to the last game.
Kamehameha swept Moanalua and Punahou obliterated Mililani in the semifinals on Thursday night, setting up the showdown on Kamehameha-Hawaii’s campus in Keaau. Word around the Hilo hotels is that the Buffanblu will be outnumbered in the stands because all three of the Kamehameha schools will stay to the end, but that shouldn’t faze the Buffanblu. They had Kamehameha down 2-0 in loud Kekuhaupio Gymnasium.
One thing is sure, Punahou’s McKenna Rose Granato won’t run unopposed like she did against Mililani in the semifinals. Kamehameha and coach Chris Blake know how dangerous she is. That puts the onus on Remo Gaogao and Punahou’s middles to beat Kamehameha’s stellar back-row defense.
“We talked to Kenna and the rest of the outsides about composure,” Punahou coach Tanya Fuamatu-Anderson said. “A lot of it is Kenna is such a fierce competitor that sometimes when things don’t go her way it can get the best of her. She really focused on making team hits, and when it was available for her to just crush it, she did.”
Here are the previous meetings this year (Star-Advertiser subscription needed to read the links):
Then-No. 2 Kamehameha made a statement in this one, sweeping the Buffanblu. The Warriors not only dropped Punahou from its perch as No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser poll but from No. 19 in a national poll as well.
The Warriors won 25-22, 25-16.
Three-time All-State selection Alohi-Robins Hardy led the Warriors with six kills, eight assists and eight digs. She had only two blocks against the Ann Kang Invitational Champions, though, but she figures to have way more in the championship.
“Ah, I feel good. It was all about the team. We needed to stick together and that’s what we did. We worked hard in practice, came out and did what we needed to do,” Robins-Hardy said.
Kamehameha returned from a second-place showing at the Durango tournament in Las Vegas, and was set up for failure in front of a statewide television audience and a loud pro-Punahou crowd.
But Kamehameha shook that off to sweep the Buffanblu 25-15, 25-21.
Kayla Afoa and Mia Heirakuji keyed the victory, the former with six of her nine kills in the second set and the latter with solid back-row defense.
The second straight sweep at the hands of the Warriors didn’t worry first-year coach Tanya Fuamatu-Anderson much, if at all, but it did ramp up things in practice the next day.
For the second straight match, the coach emphasized ball control.
“Kamehameha is definitely the team to beat,” Fuamatu-Anderson said. “They are just as sharp as they were the first time we played them, but we are right behind them. They displayed a good example of ball control, and that is the difference between them and us right now.”
McKenna Rose Granato made a stand for the Buffanblu, pounding out 21 kills and Punahou took advantage of Kamehameha errors to win 25-21, 23-25, 15-25, 25-13, 15-13.
“A lot of it was Punahou (got) us into spots and we didn’t play our best match, especially in the first set,” Kamehameha coach Chris Blake said. “Our girls fought back and I’m proud of them.”
Granato, a junior, sealed the deal by moving around and keeping Kamehameha guessing about where it set up its block with six kills in the fourth set. The Warriors gained an ounce of confidence in the third, limiting Granato to a single kill and shutting out Gaogao. That didn’t work the rest of the way, though.
The Warriors win the ILH title by coming back from an 0-2 deficit to beat their rivals at home, winning the league for the first time since 2008.
Senior setter Faith Ma’afala leads the way with 10 kills in limited action after missing much of the season with two sprained ankles. Robins-Hardy and Tiyana Hallums each had 17 kills for Kamehameha while Granato led Punahou with 19.
“This is a big deal to us,” Blake said. “It’s been a while since we have been here and Punahou has always been tough for us so it is good to win the league after a few years.”