(Here’s the extended version of last Tuesday’s Punahou-Kamehameha boys volleyball match story.)
When in doubt, the Punahou Buffanblu waste little time trying to be cute.
No, they go to their hammer, Larry Tuileta. The 6-foot-2 sophomore pounded 20 kills, including 11 of his team’s 16 in the opening set as No. 1 Punahou swept No. 4 Kamehameha 25-17, 25-20 before about 500 fans at Hemmeter Fieldhouse.
Punahou improved to 6-0 in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, widening the gap with the Warriors, who fell to 5-2. Coach Rick Tune’s Buffanblu moved one step closer to clinching one of the top two spots and automatic state-tournament berths.
“We’re getting better and we ironed out some things that had been giving us trouble. The good thing about a good team is they have a lot of room to grow, and they want to grow,” Tune said.
Kamuela Grugier-Hill led the Warriors with seven kills. Puna Kaniho had 10 assists and Kui Aikau-Osurman added six.
“They’re the No. 2 team in the nation. Great athletes,” Kamehameha coach Kainoa Downing said of the Buffanblu. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We didn’t dig though. You’ve got to dig.”
Tuileta hit .833 in the match, using a mix of power and finesse from the left, right and back row. He also had a team-high four digs. Punahou had the past week free and went to work on basics while teams like Kamehameha were extremely busy with the Hawaii Invitational.
“We get to work on more things individually. I worked on serve-receive and digging, 45 minutes a day,” Tuileta said.
Kamehameha had no answer for Tuileta.
“We’ve been playing together for eight years,” Ma‘a noted. “I like to ride Tui from the beginning. He’s real steady. Once we get the groove going, then I feel comfortable going to some other people.”
While Punahou worked on fundamentals for a week, Kamehameha played six matches at the tourney, as well as a league match during a four-day span.
“It’s like what we did coming back from Best of the West, then that next Tuesday playing atKamehameha,” Tune noted. “It’s tough to get that energy to get up and play at that top level again.”
In the eyes of Kamehameha coach Kainoa Downing, though, it’s Punahou Micah Ma‘a who is irreplaceable. Ma‘a finished with 25 assists and one kill, using his height (6-1) and flexibility to contort into position again and again for flawless sets.
“They’ve got great volleyball IQs. Micah Ma‘a is setting unbelievably great offense. They’re nothing without him. I’m just going to put it that way,” Downing said. “He’s one of the best setters out of this state in a long time. He’s better than (former ‘Iolani setter Kawika) Shoji. He’s a technician. He knows how to run an offense. He’s just a great, great player. He takes the ball in a perfect location every single time. He’s the biggest difference. A huge difference.”
Ma‘a refused to bask in the compliment.
“No, no, no. No. No. Not even close,” he said of the comparison.
The last time the two powerhouses met, Punahou escaped with a three-set win at Kamehameha.
“Keku (Kekuhaupio Gym) is a pretty tough environment. It’s pretty nasty in there. It’s different. The lighting’s not great,” Ma‘a said. “We have a good vibe in here (at Hemmeter). Coach wanted to run the middle a lot more, we ran the gap pretty well. I have great upperclassmen. They help me a lot. Stepping in as a freshman is hard, but my teammates make it easy.”
This time, Ma‘a continually went to Tuileta, who had seven kills during a 13-6 run midway through the first game. With Nicholas Andrews patrolling the middle, Punahou opened a 17-9 lead.
Kamehameha got within 23-17 after a rotation violation on the Buffanblu, but Tuileta got a blast over the right side and Sean Greubner’s roll shot ended the set.
Kamehameha hit a solid .318 in the first game, but did little to alter Ma‘a and the Punahou attack.Punahou didn’t commit a hitting error and hit .615.
Kamehameha took its first lead, 3-2, in the second set and stayed close. Punahou led 16-12 before committing three service errors and two hitting errors, allowing the visitors to tie it at 18-all.
Punahou then went on a 5-0 run to put the game and match out of reach. Tuileta drilled three more kills, while Kupono Fey crushed one from the right side and Daniel Andrews roofed Savili Bartley. Another Fey killed closed the match.
For the match, Punahou hit 525 with just five hitting errors. Nicholas Andrews finished with five kills and Gruebner had three. The Buffanblu had two aces and nine service errors.
Kamehameha hit .239, including 11 hitting errors. The Warriors had two aces and four service errors.
“We got closer, but they probably outdug us 5-to-1. We didn’t pass in this one,” said Downing, who guided the Warriors to the state title last year. “We’re trying to find where we need to be as a team. The best thing is Punahou is a great team and comes from a reign of great champions, and we’ll keep chipping away. We have to get ready for Maryknoll on Thursday.”
Punahou will host Mid-Pacific tomorrow.