From afar, it did not seem like the Punahou Buffanblu were in need of a transformative moment.
On Friday night, the seven-time defending state champions showed what they are made of with a stunning 25-22, 25-16, 31-29 sweep of nationally-ranked Corona Del Mar (Calif.) on the last day of the Clash of the Titans.
“It was their senior night, so that’s to be expected, just like we would of our team,” Corona Del Mar coach Sam Stafford said.
Jack Deuchar was elemental with 17 kills, three blocks and two aces to lead Punahou, which had lost to league rival Kamehameha earlier in the week, then fell to ninth-ranked Huntington Beach (Calif.) in four sets at the Clash. Kawai Hong added 12 kill, an ace and had all three of his blocks in a crucial second set against CRM, which entered the match ranked No. 12 nationally by MaxPreps.
Everything seemed to click for Punahou before a raucous, occasionally rowdy home crowd that included around 100 students on senior night. The Buffanblu (9-1 ILH) met before the match in what longtime coach Rick Tune described as a “heartfelt meeting.” The veteran coach is a stickler for fundamentals and technical precision, but Punahou gravitated to a new level of something less measurable. The Buffanblu played their best match of the season.
“I’ve never been as proud of a team as I am right here. This team had some major challenges for the last month-and-a-half. It took a pretty heartfelt meeting before this match, and these guys really bought it. It’s less to do with winning the match, and more to do with the way they played. They played the way we always knew they could play, but they had been getting in the way of themselves,” Tune said. “This is why we all coach. It’s not for the wins and losses. It’s for the huge growth moments like this. The guys, I’m really proud of these guys.”
Tune has a well-earned reputation as a calm, decisive leader, which is why his emotions after the game were both startling and revealing about the road this year’s Buffanblu are on.
“We had to be real honest with each other. We had to be real direct. You know, we could’ve taken that a lot of different ways, and they chose to take it the right way. The results speak for themselves, and I’m not talking about wins and losses. I’m talking about the way they played,” he said.
Jakob Kimura had four kills and two blocks, and Braxdon Simmons had four kills plus one block. Libero Shea Suzumoto was outstanding in the back row and added one ace. Robbie Allen tallied three kills and Claudio Clini chipped in with two kills. Setters Connor McInerny (22 assists) and Keegan Au Yuen (16 assists) were seamless in execution.
The third set was telling of how difficult Punahou was to conquer. Corona Del Mar had a 24-19 lead, but could not stop the onslaught. At 24-21, it was the 6-foot-7 Deuchar who scrambled backwards beyond the end line to dive for the ball, and the Buffanblu rally continued.
“We had a great dig, it was going to the back wall and I knew it was game point. I had to get it up. I just went for it and gave it my all, played for my teammates,” Deuchar said. “Luckily, we got the ball and got the point.”
Tune and his staff were both amazed and unsurprised.
“We wouldn’t have made about 80 percent of those plays 24 hours ago. We were a completely different team 24 hours ago. Credit those guys on what they decided. We just talked about it. We said, life’s full of all these little decisions that you have to make, sacrifices you have to make, choices that you have to make in order to give you the best shot at getting where you want to go, and they did that tonight,” Tune said. “The student support is awesome. This is a true family.”
Deuchar is just a junior, but his sentiment was seasoned and poised, as usual.
“This is the first match that we’ve played together as a team, for each other. Put aside our individual aspirations, and we fought as a team and it showed,” he said. “We were No. 1 and No. 2 last year, and the year before. We lost a lot of seniors, but it feels great to hold that standard.”
In less than 24 hours, the Buffanblu will face a Kamehameha squad that rested its starters for most of the earlier match against Huntington Beach (Calif.). It was a calculated, even necessary move for the weary Warriors. For now, though, Punahou needed to play with one heart. Tomorrow can wait.