Emily Dulaney loves to dish the ball, but when Moanalua needed a jolt, she delivered.
The 5-foot-10 senior had eight kills, seven assists and a block as No. 3 Moanalua outlasted Castle 25-20, 21-25, 15-7 in a battle of OIA East unbeatens. Moanalua improved to 10-0, clinching first place in the regular-season standings.
“Going into it, they were really focused knowing Hula (Crisostomo) our starting libero wasn’t going to be here,” Moanalua coach Alan Cabanting said. “She’s on her college trip. She plays awesome, awesome defense and digs a ton of balls for us. Today, they had to be a little bit more disciplined and pretty much that’s what they did in the first set.”
Dulaney was clutch in the second and third sets. While her team struggled before a raucous, near-capacity crowd at Castle’s gym, she had four kills in the second set to give her team some kind of momentum despite losing the game.
“The second set, give it up for Castle, they just played better and the crowd got into it,” Cabanting said. “The crowd and the intensity of the game got the better of us, and Castle, No. 6, Adolpho, she’s got a really, really nice serve. We got focused again in the third set, and we knew we let that game get by because we were undisciplined. Sarah went on an awesome serving run under pressure and that momentum stuck with us all the way through.
In the third set, she blocked an attempt by Castle middle Savannah Johnson, then came up with back-to-back kills moments later as the visitors took a quick 4-0 lead. After an ace by Ehnstrom (14 assists, three aces, one kill) and a right-side kill by Jeslyn Spencer (eight kills), Na Menehune were up 6-0.
Castle pulled within three, but got no closer. The Knights fell to 8-1, losing a set for only the second time all season.
“Give credit to Alan and his team, they’re a great program. We knew coming in both teams being undefeated had targets on their backs,” Castle coach Grant Tolentino said. “We played great defense and dug some big balls. We made Moanalua scramble. We knew we needed communication and we had to take care of the ball, and that’s where we fell short.”
Castle, at times, played its best volleyball of the season, Tolentino said. The Knights’ best volleyball is likely ahead of them.
“It’s not the end of the season. If we win one of our next two matches against Kaiser or Kahuku, we’ll be second,” Tolentino said.
The top two finishers in the East get automatic first-round byes in the playoffs.
Tayli Ikenaga and Delylah Sanerivi added five kills apiece for Moanalua, which hit .329 despite a resilient Castle back row.
Senior Tihani Ehia led the Lady Knights with 10 kills. Tiara Hookano added six kills and one ace, and Johnson finished with six kills and one block. Alexis Kepa dished 12 assists, while Lindsey Adolpho added eight assists, one ace, one kill and two blocks. Middle Eseta Malufau tallied two kills and three blocks. Castle hit .257 for the match and finished with two aces, five service errors and outblocked Moanalua 7-2.
Na Menehune had six aces and six service errors.
The first set was close until Moanalua went on a 10-3 run to open a 15-9 lead. The visitors opened the lead to 18-11 after kills by Sanerivi and Spencer.
The second set appeared to more of the same as the visitors opened a 3-0 lead. Castle caught fire and opened an 11-7 lead after an ace by Adolpho. Moanalua regained the lead twice, but Castle closed the set with a 5-1 run, tying the game at 20 on a left-handed swing by Ehia. That play had Cabanting questioning a nearby referee, but Castle got a block from Malufau, a kill by Ehia on a roll shot, and a kill by Malufau. Hookano ended the set with a kill.
Moanalua will host Farrington on Tuesday. Castle will host Kaiser on Tuesday and Kahuku on Thursday.