It’s not the ultimate goal for Punahou, but a five-set win over ‘Iolani on Tuesday certainly opened the door.
The Buffanblu fought off the Raiders 25-11, 19-25, 25-9, 21-25, 15-9 to earn a state-tournament berth. With the rest of the state’s leagues still in the early stage of their respective seasons, Punahou is the first team to qualify. They did it through the typical gauntlet that is ILH volleyball, and more.
In the end, ‘Iolani and every other opponent could only guess where Punahou setter Jaclyn Matias would send the ball. On Tuesday, the senior relied on middle Grace Fiaseu, who amassed 17 kills and four blocks. The timing on their quick sets was nearly impossible to stop.
“I’ve been playing club with Jackie, so it took a really long time to develop it, and we’re still developing it over time,” Fiaseu said. “Our 1s are there, our 3s and 5s, just trying to spread the offense around.”
Lucky-Rose Williams was a force with 14 kills and six blocks.
“It’s a good team victory today. We all come out and play for Punahou, for this kind of competition. It’s nice to play teams like ‘Iolani that fight hard,” Williams said. “It comes from within. We all have a goal. In each and every one of us, we want to fight. We have that will to win.”
Belle Iosua, a converted outside hitter, emerged with 13 kills, three aces and a block at middle. Lulu Uluave was relentless and finished with 11 kills, two blocks and an ace. Matias delivered 51 assists plus four kills and an ace.
“We work on that every single practice with Grace and Belle, and Belle played fantastic, as well,” Ahuna said. “Hat’s off to Grace and Belle, and Jackie. Jackie set a nice game.”
Grace Fiaseu 17 K, 4 blocks, Lucky-Rose Williams 14 K, 5 B, Belle Iosua 13 K, B, 3 aces, Lulu Uluave 11 K, 2 B, Jaclyn Matias 51 assists, 4 K, ace. @GoPuns def @Iolani_Raiders 25-11, 19-25, 25-9, 21-25, 15-9 for state berth. @HawaiiPrepWorld @StarAdvSports @StarAdvertiser pic.twitter.com/PJ0u5Bw1jS
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) October 27, 2021
‘Iolani played some of its best volleyball of the season. Is there any way to stop Punahou’s offensive machine?
“A magician never tells her secrets,” Fiaseu said. “They were about to triple block me. I don’t think that would faze me. I know where to put the ball. With Jackie and my hitters and my libero, DS’s telling me where to put it, it’s a team effort. It’s not just me alone.”
Last spring, the ILH kept volleyball alive and played its girls season, normally held in the fall. Kamehameha prevailed with the title, and it was done. No state tourney. Rebounding with a state berth in the 2021-22 season just tastes sweeter for the Buffanblu.
“It feels amazing. For me and my seniors this year, it’s amazing,” Fiaseu said.
Longtime coach Tita Ahuna has achieved remarkable feats at the college level, but her first season as Punahou’s head coach is becoming epic.
“We’re very excited. The ladies played well tonight. What can I say as a coach? I live for coaching these types of matches. It’s exciting. ‘Iolani came out strong. So did we. It’s just a matter of who wanted it more,” Ahuna said.
Rewind to last week. Kamehameha was 6-2, and ‘Iolani was 5-2 when they met on Thursday. A win by Kamehameha would seal a tie, at a minimum, for first place. Instead, the Raiders defended their home court and entered their battle with Punahou on Tuesday at 6-2.
Playing on the road, with eased restrictions on spectators, meant the Buffanblu would be in a substantially different atmosphere. They were ready. Punahou was the dominant team, but the grit of ‘Iolani wouldn’t allow a sweep or four-set match. The visitors outscored the home team 90-70 through four games. In any other sport, a wipeout.
In volleyball, the Raiders had every chance to tilt the scales in game five. But the rhythm of the match swayed back to Punahou, which dominated sets one, three and, ultimately, five.
Senna Roberts-Navarro had 15 kills and Anuhea Hauanio-Lore added 12 and a block to pace the Raiders. Ambri Hanohano tallied eight kills and senior setter Mokihana Tufono had 37 assists and one ace.
The top three teams in the state, Punahou, Kamehameha and ‘Iolani, played musical chairs for the past two months. It gets even more intriguing in the playoff tourney, where the winner of a second ILH state berth will be determined.
Technically, Kamehameha is the second-place team of the regular season after defeating ‘Iolani twice in three matchups. That means ‘Iolani needs to finish at least second in the playoff tournament to have a chance at a state berth.
To do that, the Raiders will need a win over Kamehameha on Tuesday, Nov. 9, in the semifinal round of the tournament. If they win that match and the Punahou/Mid-Pacific winner for the tourney title, the Raiders will earn a state berth outright and play regular-season winner Punahou for the ILH championship.
A win by Kamehameha plus a win by Punahou over MPI means Kamehameha would clinch the second state berth. The Warriors then would have their shot at the tourney and league titles.
One twist to the equation: because Kamehameha hosted two of the three matchups with ‘Iolani, the Raiders get to host the playoff match.
Another thought: though Punahou had a better record, coaches and media voted Kamehameha No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 coming into the week, before Punahou’s win over ‘Iolani. It wasn’t particularly close with Kamehameha getting six of the 10 first-place votes, but probably had more to do with looking ahead rather than actual head-to-head results.
With national-team member Devin Kahahawai back from international play and all-state player Maui Robins close to returning from an ankle injury, some voters may have infused their prognostications into the process.