Mililani volleyball standout hitter Falanika Danielson was asked recently if she liked the OIA’s new five-set format.
Her answer gave a clear picture that the league’s competition is out of balance.
“I like playing five sets, but I would rather play five with teams that have the same level,” she said. “It gets draggy. I’m not trying to downgrade anybody, but sometimes matches end with lopsided scores like 25-8, 28-9, 25-8.”
In the ensuing dialog, Danielson brought up an idea that would help the OIA avoid dreaded mismatches.
“I know our coaches are talking about trying to establish, like football, the Open, Division I and Division II … so we would mix in with the ILH and play top teams over and over again rather than playing all of the other teams around the (OIA) West. It would be good and competitive and keep us playing at a higher level. … Incorporate more of the top OIA and the top ILH together — because we have the ability to stay up with them (the ILH).”
From an idea on paper to a new three-tier (instead of two) format, however, is likely to be a challenging process, even if an overwhelming majority of people involved wanted to go in that direction.
Two coaches Hawaii Prep World reached out to are all for it, but the two leagues’ volleyball administrators spelled out the would-be difficulties of making such an idea happen.
Deren Oshiro, the Hawaii Baptist athletic director and volleyball coordinator for the ILH, mentioned his league has not formally discussed any type of agreement with the OIA.
But, Oshiro said, “Other people outside the league have asked me about it. If it happened, I’m not sure how all that would work. I think like anything else, the devil is in the details. In the ILH (from intermediate to varsity), we have up to 65 teams playing 400 matches. We have more than enough teams to play. Everyone would want to see exciting matchups and level playing field, but logistically, it would be really difficult.”
The football alliance made by the OIA and ILH that brought a full slate of interleague competition in Open, D-I and D-II came about for a variety of reasons. For one, the ILH has only six varsity football teams and was in desperate need of competition. For another, the OIA was suffering from an uneven playing field that, at times, put children in harm’s way when a perennially strong team with 60-plus players was suiting up against a traditionally weaker school scrambling to field a full team on the field every week. The benefit for the OIA was also boosted with the influx of $1 million per year from the community to be divided among its member schools for the two years of the pilot program.
The need for the leagues to align for volleyball is not nearly the same as it was for football, and there’s no guarantee there would be any community financial help if volleyball went on the three-tier path. In addition, there are no safety issues like in football, where the likelihood was high of a first-year player in the starting lineup facing an all-league, D-I college recruit.
Even though the ILH has enough teams to compete against, the private-school league did make a drastic change this year due to not enough teams in its top level. Instead of four squads (‘Iolani, Punahou, Kamehameha, Maryknoll) playing in D-I, the ILH brought up four of its stronger D-II schools (Le Jardin, Mid-Pacific, Sacred Hearts, Hawaii Baptist) to enhance the competition.
On the OIA side, the wide disparity of levels is obvious.
>> In 97 matches so far this season, 65 were won in a three-set sweep (67 percent).
>> In those 97 matches, 34 ended with one team failing to score at least 20 points in any of the three sets (34 percent).
One possibility, without the two leagues having to commit resources to bring about some sort of alliance, could be for the OIA to institute three divisions within its own schedule instead of two.
“That’s something that would have to be introduced as a proposal to the (OIA’s) AD council and they would have to vote on it,” OIA volleyball coordinator and Kalani AD Greg Van Cantfort said.
Van Cantfort, however, was not speaking about the idea of aligning with the ILH, which he believes would be a lot more difficult to do.
“It’s (breaking the OIA into three tiers) kind of intriguing, I think,” Van Cantfort said. “You’ve got some elite teams, mid-range teams and weaker teams. It would be a possibility worth discussing. Another way it could come to us is at the coaches’ evaluation meeting. To go to interleague right now, I wouldn’t necessarily see that. If you do it for one sport, then it opens up other sports wanting to do it. What’s next? Boys basketball, girls basketball? Or soccer, where we have huge blowouts. (Because of the two leagues’ autonomy), I don’t see a lot of people going for that.”
Two coaches of powerful volleyball programs, one from the OIA and one from the ILH, would be all for three divisions at the league and state level with some kind of OIA-ILH alignment.
“I’m absolutely for it,” Punahou coach Tanya Fuamatu-Anderson said. “I know a bunch of us have talked with the coaches at our level and everyone would definitely be open and consider that option. I know the coaches from the OIA side who I have spoken with would welcome that. We’ll see. I don’t even know if that’s a possibility. We love the idea. It would help balance things out in the state tournament, but it’s an administrative decision.”
Said Alan Cabanting of the OIA’s Moanalua Na Menehune: “It would be awesome. The more we play the top ILH teams the better. Now, we don’t get to play them until the very end. Tradition has been on the ILH side. If we get used to playing them match in and match out, it will be better for our kids.
“It would allow our kids to understand … whether they’re at Mililani or Moanalua or Kahuku, even if they don’t go to a private school, they’re still going to be playing those teams. It allows for colleges to see all of our teams, not only in the ILH, but also exposes the public school kids who otherwise would not be exposed to be able to go to play in college.”
Kahuku of the OIA was the last public-school team to win a Division I state tournament — in 2002.
Last year, Mililani finished third at states in D-II, followed by Kahuku in fourth and Moanalua in sixth.