Two years ago, it was Punahou that was the runner-up from the ILH playing in the opening round of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Girls Volleyball State Championships.
Kamehameha drew the top seed, swept Kapolei and Moanalua, then met Punahou in the final. The Warriors won in four sets for their second title in a three-year span. In all, that made it 10 state championships under coach Chris Blake.
Since 2019, only the ILH played a regular season, in the spring of ’20. Kamehameha won the league title, and outside hitters Devin Kahahawai and Maui Robins sat idle with their teammates with no state tournament.
On Tuesday night, the Warriors took a big step toward defending their state title, sweeping ‘Iolani 25-22, 25-17, 27-25. Kahahawai was omnipresent as always with 25 kills and four blocks. Most of the blocks were on her old pal, ‘Iolani’s Mokihana Tufono, who moved from setter to outside hitter for a good portion of the battle because of injuries to Brooke Naniseni and Mari Lawton. Kahahawai seemed to be shadowing Tufono, the hard-hitting 5-10 senior.
Tufono finished with eight kills, three aces and 10 assists in her high school finale. Four years ago, Tufono and Kahahawai were roommates on a volleyball trip.
“It was a Colorado USA holiday training camp. I want to say we were actually in middle school, eighth grade,” Kahahawai recalled.
Lucky-Rose Williams, now a rocket-launching outside hitter at Punahou, also represented Hawaii.
“We were all roommates, me, ‘Hana and Lucky. I was the smallest and the shortest,” said Kahahawai, who is now 6 feet, 2 inches. “When I was younger, I was the smallest one out there.”
Tufono sent Kahahawai a photo of the three of them taken at the camp. They’re wearing red shirts, but only Tufono went on to wear the red of ‘Iolani. Each wound up representing the three best high school girls volleyball programs in the islands.
Tufono signed with UCLA last week on National Letter of Intent day. Kahahawai signed with Texas. Williams is a senior, and Punahou is ranked No. 1 in the state as it awaits Kamehameha in a matchup on Saturday.
The Raiders went as far as they could without two starters. A week ago, they pushed Kamehameha to five sets before losing in the double-elimination tourney. On Tuesday, coach Kainoa Obrey’s team had an 18-14 lead in the opening set. It seemed to be another thriller, five sets, in the making.
Instead, Kamehameha refocused. After eight hitting errors, the Warriors rallied to take the first set. Their service game took over in the second set.
“We told ourselves, hey, they’re going to come out with a bunch of fire, we have to be able to control it, play our game,” Kahahawai said. “Don’t be a 10, but don’t be at a 1. Find our medium or 5. I think that’s what we did. We minimized our service errors and we served really aggressively. I’m so proud of the team for that. We really just flipped the switch and turned it around.”
The serve game is a point of pride for the Warriors.
“Our serves are something we really work on, really part of our plan to put that service pressure on them. We’ve been on that side of the serve, too, and it’s not fun,” Robins said.
Tufono did all she could, and the Raiders got stout efforts across the board. Trying to stop Kahahawai, who simply hit over double blocks most of the night, was too difficult. When Kahahawai wasn’t connecting, Robins did with 18 kills.
Kamehameha’s path to an ILH title requires two wins over Punahou to place first in the ongoing tournament, then a third win over the regular-season winning Buffanblu for the crown. A noisy crowd at Kekuhaupio Gym gave the Warriors plenty of energy, maybe too much in the opening set. They had eight hitting errors before rallying.
From Kahahawai to setters Sierra Scanlan and Marley Roe, to middles Moana Peaua and Adrianna Arquette to libero Payton Oliveira to Robins, it was a steady run to victory. No weak links, and Kahahawai was indomitable.
“Devin played great. She’s so talented offensively, being able to move around the ball. We put a lot of pressure on her as middle-back defense today, as well as some serve-receive work,” Blake said. “I think she competed. She did really well and was able to contribute in all the ways that she can. As a fourth-year senior on our varsity, her and Maui doing those kinds of things on the court helps to settle everybody down. Her pass to the front row as we’re going to the end part of the match was big. She made a big kill to get us to 25, and then the next one on 26, making that play, making that work on 27 was big for us.
“Our middles did a great job. They’re doing the right things, putting the ball in the right spots, and it’s important for them to contribute when they can. Our setters did a great job with distribution. Payton out of left-back was exceptional, made a lot of great, rangy plays. It was a great team win for us,” Blake said.
They’ll be on the road Saturday when they face Punahou. Kamehameha may be peaking, once again, at the right time.
“Oh, they’re a great team. They played a great game against us when we played them on Friday at their place and we’re going to see them the next few times at their spot,” Blake said. “For us, making those adjustments, putting a little bit more emphasis. The more that we see them, the more that we have to make our changes. Punahou’s well-coached, a lot of great players and they’re hungry. It’s a matter of us going into their home gym and stepping up, making some plays.”
Another year, and another top-3 team from the ILH not qualifying for the state tournament. The ratio system provides fair representation by the state’s leagues at the state tournament. The ILH just happens to take volleyball and many other sports to another level.
“With the system working the way that it is, it’s unfortunate, but what it has done is it caused us here in our league to compete, to change and evolve. We played ‘Iolani, I think six times, and Punahou a number more. As you continue to evolve, it comes down to execution. As we got more kids back into the gym, it helps us to be a little more solid, especially for this long season,” Blake said. “Hat’s off to ‘Iolani for all that they did. They’re well coached. They played really well. They played lights out. For us to have to come out and to pull out a sweep was a big step for us. We’re glad we took it.”