Rare is the season when the Punahou boys volleyball team is an underdog.
The Buffanblu have learned to relish the tag. They rallied for a 22-25, 25-18, 25-19, 21-25, 15-5 win at Moanalua on Friday night, overcoming 30 kills by Max Slaughter and a spirited home crowd.
Punahou (13-4) has won the last seven state titles, and nine of the last 10 under coach Rick Tune. The program has dominated the state tourney with 36 koa trophies since 1972. Underdog?
When the Buffanblu swept Castle in Monday’s opening round, few were surprised. Castle, a solid team out of the OIA, didn’t have the height or depth of Punahou, which is always difficult to beat at Hemmeter Fieldhouse.
On Thursday, the Buffanblu dissected a good Kamehameha-Hawaii team, the same unit that split games with Punahou during preseason.
In a so-called down year, after five starters — all playing college volleyball now — graduated, the ILH’s runner-up still sweeps the competition at states. Until Thursday.
Moanalua has been on the cusp a few times. There was Austin Matautia’s era. This one, led by Slaughter, couldn’t quite break the ceiling owned by the ILH. Slaughter had 30 kills in 69 tries against Punahou, but hit below .220 in a mighty effort against double-team blocks practically all night.
Where Punahou stymies most competition is length at almost every position. By the fifth set, Moanalua didn’t try a single swing at the middle, going exclusively to DiAeris McRaven and Slaughter, who faced those double blocks every single time.
Six blocks by the Buffanblu in the fifth did the turnaround trick after being down 3-0. Tune wanted the right emotional response, he said. Punahou provide just that.
“This is what we needed, a real war like this. I’m glad we responded. We got hit in the mouth in set No. 1. We responded really well with a very, very clean second and third set. The fourth set was a close-out set, and we talked about it, and we just didn’t execute well enough,” Tune said.
They were down 3-0 in the fifth when Tune called time out.
“I was really proud they came out and we were a different team. We were the aggressors. Usually, when we get in that situation, we were passive,” he said, noting that the six blocks in the fifth might have been more than Punahou had in the first four sets.
The work at the net was more relentless than magical. Braxdon Simmons, with the 3.5 blocks in the fifth, teaming up with Robert Allen, Jack Deuchar (22 kills), Claudio Clini and more, more active than ever during the most crucial moments. They thwarted the duo of Slaughter and McRaven (13 kills) down the stretch.
“Any time you can get four hands up instead of two, it’s better. Six hands are always better than four,” Tune said with a nod toward the other bench. “Credit to those guys. Those guys battled and play with a lot of heart. That’s a great senior class.”
Now, ‘Iolani, which has beaten Punahou three times in a row since losing twice to the Buffanblu early on, is waiting in the final. As well as the top-seeded Raiders are playing, Punahou may be peaking, too.
“It’s going to be a war. It’s a great opportunity for us to implement the final learning phase, what we’ve learned as a team,” Tune noted. “I think some people don’t realize that we have five new starters on the court. They’re trying to learn to play with that chemistry and that takes time. It also takes time to build that appropriate emotional response for a team that hasn’t been in that situation before. This was necessary for us. We got to finally learn the emotional response we have to do tomorrow, for the entire match tomorrow.”
|1||April 29||Hilo vs. Leilehua||Hilo 25-17, 19-25, 25-22, 25-16||Hilo|
|2||April 29||Kalaheo vs. Farrington||Kalh 25-14, 25-18, 25-16||Kalaheo|
|3||April 29||Lahainaluna vs. Mililani||Mil 25-19, 25-23, 25-10||Lahainaluna|
|4||April 29||Punahou vs. Castle||Pun 25-9, 25-15, 25-19||Punahou|
|5||May 2||(3) KS-Hawaii vs. Punahou||Pun 25-6, 25-14, 25-19||Radford|
|6||May 2||(2) Moanalua vs. Mililani||Moan 25-17, 25-9, 22-25, 25-22||Radford|
|7||May 2||(4) KS-Maui vs. Kalaheo||Kalh 25-13, 25-17, 23-25, 25-20||Moanalua|
|8||May 2||(1) 'Iolani vs. Hilo||Iol 25-14, 25-15, 25-23||Moanalua|
|9*||May 3||KS-Maui vs. Hilo||Hilo, 2-1||Radford|
|10*||May 3||KS-Hawaii vs. Mililani||Mil, 2-0||Radford|
|11||May 3||Kalaheo vs. 'Iolani||Iol 25-19, 25-7, 25-18||Moanalua|
|12||May 3||Punahou vs. Moanalua||Pun 22-25, 25-18, 25-19, 21-25, 15-5||Moanalua|
|13*||May 4||Hilo vs. Mililani||Mil 18-25, 25-21, 16-14||Blaisdell Arena|
|14*||May 4||Kalaheo vs. Moanalua||Kalh 25-14, 25-21||Blaisdell Arnea|
|15||May 4||'Iolani vs. Punahou||7 p.m.||Blaisdell Arena|
|* — consolation|
|1||May 2||(4) Seabury Hall vs. Makua Lani||SH 25-21, 25-18, 25-27, 25-18||St. Francis|
|2||May 2||(1) St. Francis vs. Nanakuli||StF 25-19, 25-13, 28-26||St. Francis|
|3||May 2||(2) Kapaa vs. Hawaii Prep||Kapa 25-19, 25-21, 25-19||Kalani|
|4||May 2||(3) Pearl City vs. University||ULS 25-21, 25-21, 25-21||Kalani|
|5*||May 3||Nanakuli vs. Makua Lani||ML, 2-1||Kalani|
|6*||May 3||Hawaii Prep vs. Pearl City||HPA, 2-0||Kalani|
|7||May 3||St. Francis vs. Seabury Hall||StF 23-25, 25-20, 25-14, 26-24||St. Francis|
|8||May 3||Kapaa vs. University||Kap 25-20, 25-19, 25-18||St. Francis|
|9*||May 4||Makua Lani vs. Hawaii Prep||ML 26-24, 25-20||Blaisdell Arena|
|10*||May 4||University vs. Seabury Hall||ULS 25-19, 24-26, 15-13||Blaisdell Arena|
|11||May 4||Kapaa vs. St. Francis||StF 25-23, 21-25, 25-23, 25-12||Blaisdell Arena|
|* — consolation|