Big blue evolution: Moanalua defends OIA boys volleyball title

Moanalua's sweep of previously unbeaten Mililani makes it nine OIA championships in the last 10 seasons. Eight of those titles were under coach Alan Cabanting. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.

A 36-inch vertical and precise accuracy don’t always go together for outside hitters.

Keanu Kaawa is that rare one. The 6-foot-4 senior had 22 kills and four aces as unbeaten Moanalua roared past OIA West powerhouse Mililani 25-17, 25-13, 25-22 for the Division I boys volleyball league crown on Wednesday night. It is the eighth OIA crown under coach Alan Cabanting.

Kaawa’s explosive vertical and elite body control, plus an ability to deceive defenders, was on full display at Radford’s James Alegre Gymnasium. His adjustments in the third set against a defense that caught up to him were crucial.


In the third set, he had eight kills and two aces. As Mililani’s double block became effective, Kawaa countered with cross-body hits.

“They would take my angle so I started going line,” he said.

The evolution of this season’s Na Menehune squad accelerated after two days of battle in the Clash of the Titans in mid-April. Facing perennial powerhouses was a daunting task for all opponents, from local high schools to mainland teams like Huntington Beach (Calif.) and Redondo Union (Calif.).


At the Clash, Moanalua lost to Kamehameha-Hawaii 25-23, 31-29, 21-25, 25-19; Punahou 25-12, 25-18, 25-19; and Francis Parker (Calif.) 26-24, 25-23, 27-25. Na Menehune finished by defeating ‘Iolani 25-19, 25-20, 21-25, 25-20.

“We learned we can’t be hitting the ball straight down,” Kawaa said. “We’re going to be facing bigger and stronger blocks, so we’ve got to keep things high, go farther and stay simple. We can’t get fancy. I feel like we improved from that Clash of the Titans tournament and we learned a lot.”

Moanalua wasn’t always efficient offensively, but there was tremendous effectiveness on defense. Na Menehune limited Mililani’s Manase Fetulimoeata to seven kills. A 9-3 advantage in blocks was big for Moanalua. Keola Demello (five blocks) and Christian Tafao (three) led the way. Another big factor: Kaawa’s passing.


There’s room for improvement, even for the OIA champs. Hitting errors will be punished deep into the state tourney. But that defense and ballhandling precision could take Moanalua far.

The New City Nissan/HHSAA Boys Volleyball State Championships will begin on Monday with play-in matchups. Quarterfinal and semifinal round matches will be at McKinley and Moanalua gyms on May 5 and 6. Championship-day action (May 7) will be at Blaisdell Arena.

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