Moanalua head coach Alan Cabanting is an upbeat guy, so it wasn’t surprising to see him smiling and talking positively about his Moanalua girls volleyball team on Wednesday night.
Na Menehune — ranked No. 5 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Top 10 — had just dispatched Kailua 21-16, 21-17 and he was talking about how his team — missing three starters — had stayed focused and disciplined and how the team turns “great” when that happens.
But just how great they are going to be won’t be known until the tougher competition comes around. Na Mehehune (7-0) haven’t played their OIA East Division I rival, the Kahuku Red Raiders (7-0), in league play yet. Then, there’s the playoffs in defense of last year’s OIA title, which was the school’s first since 2007, followed by, hopefully, the states.
“I’ve told the girls that this year’s competition is open,” Cabanting said. “We have to play our best and if we do that consistenty, there’s an opportunity for us to be in the championship.”
When asked to clarify if he meant the OIA or state championship, the coach said “both.”
“We are one of the best serving teams,” he added. “And that puts teams out of system, like (Wednesday night against Kailua).”
Moanalua scored six of its 50 points on aces against the Surfriders (4-3 and in first place in OIA East Division II) — Emree Sato and Katy Ehnstrom with two each and Erin Fujitani and Emily Dulaney with one apiece.
Jojo Kruize bashed her way to 11 kills, Dulaney contributed six kills and six assists, and Ehnstrom had two blocks and three kills. All of the hitting was done with the help of not one, not two, but three setters. Sato led the way in that department with 11 assists in a backup role to Bryanne Yasui (three assists).
Fighting back from seven different Kailua leads in the second set was perhaps the brightest thing of the night for Cabanting, who has noticed that the second set is usually where his team struggles the most.
With conviction after the match, Kruize said it was Na Mehehune’s “training and mental strength” that got them through.
That mental strength will come in handy because tougher competition is on the horizon, and repeating as OIA champion will not be easy. The states is a bigger nut to crack. You have to go back to 2002 to find the last OIA team to win a state Division I title. Before that you have to go back to 1981, 34 years ago, to find the last OIA team to do it. Kailua, under coach David Kealoha, got the job done then. Besides those two, it’s been all Interscholastic League of Honolulu teams that have raised the state banner.
A year ago, Moanalua advanced to the state semifinals, where it lost a four-setter to eventual champion Punahou, 25-19, 25-18, 23-25, 25-18.
Cabanting is trying to impress upon his girls that it’s about time an OIA team (that goes by the nickname Na Menehune, preferably) takes the states, and that’s why he wants them to play their best from here on out.
Moanalua’s biggest test of the season so far will come Monday at home against Kahuku, when one of those teams will be a loser for the first time.