Two epic showdowns, two stunning sweeps and one unforgettable birthday dance.
ILH girls volleyball is as unpredictable as ever and 2018 state champion ‘Iolani is at the top of the heap. The Raiders’ 25-22, 25-15, 25-22 victory over Punahou on Thursday night revealed one truth about the level of talent, skill and coaching in the state’s toughest volleyball league: depth still matters.
Punahou (1-1) had just come off a sweep of ’19 state champion Kamehameha on Tuesday. The Buffanblu put their immense array of talent to work, and setter Jaclyn Matias delivered to each of her hitters with surgical precision. Kamehameha, without Devin Kahahawai, played well enough to win against almost any other team in Hawaii. The Warriors missed their national-team difference-maker, though.
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) September 24, 2021
On paper, Punahou’s depth matches up well with ‘Iolani (2-0), but coach Kainoa Obrey’s Raiders brought a bit more to the table on Thursday night. Brooke Naniseni is the volleyball equivalent of a high-scoring sixth man on the basketball court. The junior had eight kills and proved to be a major advantage off the bench.
“We were super engaged and competitive. I think it worked well for us,” Naniseni said. “We have our things to work on, and we’re going to keep working.”
“Our energy was super high and we wanted to take care of business,” said Senna Roberts-Navarro, who finished with nine kills. “We’re going to keep working hard in the gym, get better and better every day.”
At the middle, Punahou’s combo of Grace Fiaseu and Logan Duechar combined for 12 kills, 3.5 blocks and two aces. However, ‘Iolani setter Mokihana Tufono found middle Mari Lawson for eight kills with high efficiency (.500 hitting percentage). Lawson also had a kill from the right side and delivered a well-executed back set in the middle of a rally.
“That was good. We practice it, so that’s huge for us,” Obrey said. “Our kids work hard to do different things and just be volleyball players, I think, which helps us. We’re fortunate to have good kids that are willing to work really hard, that want to be really good. They put a lot of time and effort in it. It’s fun to watch them play, enjoy themselves and play freely.”
Punahou’s opening match on Tuesday gave the Raiders a chance to do some basic scouting.
“It helped me with blocking. It helped me track the middle better,” Lawson said.
The Raiders didn’t completely overwhelm the Buffanblu. They simply had an extra weapon or two in most rallies. That was especially valuable on a night when Anuhea Hauanio Lore was often unstoppable. The senior finished with 15 kills with only two hitting errors (.406) on 32 swings, even against double blocks.
“That just fires me up,” she said.
Hauanio Lore’s vertical was eye-popping, even against the talented Buffanblu. Her offseason training was beyond anything she had done before.
“Over quarantine, I was working with coach Geno Hawkins. We were working pretty hard every day, 6 o’clock in the morning every day. I give a lot of credit to him,” she said. “A lot of running, squats, lunges, weight lifting. Just getting those legs ready and prepared for five-setters like these. We ran hills a couple of times, just steep hills, which is a lot of fun.”
Once Obrey was done with post-game chat, the Raiders got up and celebrated Hauanio Lore’s 17th birthday. They circled her, began running hand in hand around her as they sang “Happy Birthday” at full tilt. Earlier, she woke to hear her mother singing to her on Alexa.
“It meant a lot. It’s a great day,” she said.
The rigor of ILH play has just begun.
“We’ll celebrate and we’re happy,” Obrey said. “Beating Punahou’s not easy. Tita (Ahuna) is bringing a good, positive energy to Punahou so we knew we had to work hard. The girls studied. They’re hungry and they performed.”