Depth, talent at middle sparks Punahou in 26-24, 27-25 win over ‘Iolani

Punahou withstood a gritty performance by ‘Iolani to win in two tight sets, 26-24 and 27-25, on Saturday at Hemmeter Fieldhouse. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Apr. 3, 2021).

Another big test and another big win for the Punahou girls volleyball team.

Grace Fiaseu, Kharlie Simeona-French and Lucky-Rose Williams each had seven kills as the Buffanblu hung on to edge ‘Iolani 26-24, 27-25 on Saturday morning at Hemmeter Fieldhouse.

Tanea Loa added six kills while Jaclyn Matias dished out 29 assists. Matias also had three kills and seven digs.

Punahou is 4-0 halfway through the regular season of Interscholastic League of Honolulu play. It took maximum composure to eke out a homecourt win over a tough, talented Raiders squad.

“It was a good thing that ‘Iolani pushed us. Nobody had pushed us that way, but it was the first time had so many errors,” Punahou Coach Tanya Fuamatu-Anderson said. “It was a good lesson. I was proud of them for remaining calm, not getting frazzled.”

Senna Roberts-Navarro led ‘Iolani (2-2) with 10 kills and one ace. Mari Lawton added nine kills and one block. Setter Mokihana Tufono had 21 assists, two aces and two blocks. Brooke Naniseni added five kills.

“This season is different and we’re trying to discover ourselves, discover what we can do. We’re trying to replace a pretty good player using multiple positions and doing some different things on the court,” ‘Iolani Coach Kainoa Obrey said, referring to former All-State player of the year Elena Oglivie, now playing for Stanford. “We’re in a good spot. Our girls competed tremendously. Punahou’s coached up well. They’re good, but I like, definitely, how we played for sure.”

Fiaseu and Simeona-French were crucial in the middle, each hitting .667. Fiaseu, a junior, had one block and two digs. Simeona-French, a senior, had two blocks. That helped immensely as ‘Iolani challenged Williams consistently at the pin. She hit .167, but added one block, one ace and five digs.

Simeona-French’s play was also vital with fellow senior Halo Yoshiki resting with a minor injury.

“We had to put Belle Iosua to the right,” Fuamatu-Anderson said of Iosua, who normally starts in the middle. “It’s a great opportunity for Kharlie. She’s a stud. We’re so fortunate she has such a great attitude even when she doesn’t get as much playing time. We brought her in after the Le Jardin game and she’s helped us dominate in the middle.”

The opening set was a quick splash by the visiting Raiders, who led 3-1. Punahou roared back and seized a 14-11 lead after a kill by Williams. After the Raiders tied it at 17 on an ace by Roberts-Navarro, Matias pinpointed a dump shot, Williams delivered two kills, including a smooth roll shot, and Simeona-French pounded a kill to give Punahou a 21-19 lead.

However, back-to-back hitting errors cost the home team. With a 24-23 lead, a hitting error by Williams from the back row kept ‘Iolani’s hopes alive.

Fiaseu then came up clutch with a kill, and Naniseni’s hitting error on the left side ended the first set.

The Raiders trailed 8-3 in the second game and appeared on the verge of losing all momentum. They still trailed by five at 12-7 when they turned the tide. The presence and cheering by the ‘Iolani boys volleyball team, which later played Punahou’s boys, seemed to have an effect.

Tufono came up with an ace, and two kills by Lawton helped the Raiders tie the game at 14.

From there, it was a duel of swapping points — with a six-minute delay at the scorer’s table during the battle. Consecutive kills by Roberts-Navarro gave ‘Iolani a 25-24 lead.

However, hitting errors by Roberts-Navarro and Naniseni handed the lead back to Punahou. Williams then put the match away with a kill over a double block and off the back row.

Punahou’s serve-receive was also a factor, but in the end, play in the middle is at an elite, constant level.

“Our middles, man, they’re work horses. In practice every day, getting the repetitions they need. They’re probably sick and tired of me saying we have to work on our basics, our quickness, our timing, tracking the pass, understanding where you need to go on every type of hit,” Fuamatu-Anderson said. “Knowing what’s going on defensively, staying balanced. Our kids in the middle, they’re hard workers. They often go unnoticed. It’s sometimes a thankless job, going in and sometimes not getting set at all, being decoys. But I’m really proud of them.”

There’s one trend the longtime coach hopes comes to an end, one-and-done style.

“I thought our serving and back row play was pretty good for the most part in comparison to how our warmups went this morning. Warmups were not good,” she noted. “Somehow, the girls were able to heighten their focus and give us great opportunities to run our offense. We knew ‘Iolani was going to come in firing, but we want to be better prepared.”

‘Iolani is optimistic about what happened against the unbeaten Buffanblu.

“I liked how we dug the ball. The numbers probably weren’t the greatest, but I like to see our newer players move around and get digs. I like when we were swinging aggressively. There were some times we got a little tentative, but I like the way the ball moved around the court to different attackers,” Obrey said. “We served well. We got them out of system. That’s probably one of the bigger things we try to focus on just knowing year after year, that’s what we have to do well to compete in this league.”

All five ILH teams will qualify for the playoffs. The same mantra is true every year: evolve or get passed by.

“It’s all about discovering how you’re feeling, how you react, how you respond and how you’re going to get the most out of yourself in these moments when you’re having adrenaline or emotion running in your body,” said Obrey, who guided ‘Iolani to state titles in 2016 and ’18. “We’ll be better next time out so we look forward to it.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email