Cinderella is wearing red to the big dance.
Only, this Cinderella almost didn’t make it there. In fact, less than two weeks ago, the very young ‘Iolani Raiders were on the verge of playoff elimination, on the brink of fading away just one year after winning the state title. The Interscholastic League of Honolulu playoffs, in all its madness and drama, easily could have spewed out top-five teams Maryknoll or Punahou to accompany champion Kamehameha to the state championships.
Instead, it was ‘Iolani that gritted through. The Raiders have continued a magical ride, ousting Waianae, Kamehameha-Maui, and on Friday night, Kahuku, from contention. A 25-13, 25-6, 25-8 rout of the Lady Raiders left quite an impression.
Now the Raiders (10-7) are in the state finals and, naturally, big blue is waiting atop the mountain. Top-seeded Kamehameha swept Kapolei on Friday, setting up an all-ILH duel for the crown.
‘Iolani? The Raiders handled the biggest Cinderella story in the tourney, Kahuku, in three quick sets. Coming out of the OIA as the fifth-place team, Lady Raiders had edged No. 2 seed Moanalua in five sets at Na Menehune’s court on Thursday. It was powerful volleyball with a twist: Kahuku’s back row defense was superb with 90 digs.
On Friday, ‘Iolani never let it get to that point. Saige Ka‘aha’aina-Torres (18 kills) and Elena Oglivie (14) often leaped above double blocks to do their damage. Both hitters credited setter Kristen McDaniel (29 assists).
“She started sending it out to the pin,” Ka‘aha’aina-Torres said of the sets that were as high as the antennas.
“For me and Saige, we always expect to see two blocks,” Oglivie said. “We worked on our connection (with McDaniel), slow to fast. The first step is slow, then seeing the ball out of her hands.”
Kahuku hadn’t seen anything quite like it during the regular season and playoffs.
“When (our players) took themselves out of it mentally midway through the first set, it got tough,” Kahuku coach Mounia Tachibana said.
Kahuku might have been fatigued after playing the late match on Thursday, busing home 35 miles, getting up early for school on Friday, and busing again back to town.
“I don’t think that made a difference,” Tachibana said. “We got the players out early, did a scouting session and went to the game. It’s definitely mental, and we’re just a young, new team. It’ll be fun to see where we go.”
The Raiders hit a whopping .390 for the match. Digging everything. Challenging everything. The right pass and set almost every time. Yet, it was all so composed and intense, when the match ended and the bench erupted onto the court, the passion was almost surprising.
“We’re a very emotional team off the court,” said Ka‘aha’aina-Torres, the only senior.
‘Iolani coach Kainoa Obrey and his staff had their team completely prepared. In a way, Kahuku’s state-tourney success — the Lady Raiders traveled to Hilo and won in five sets on Monday to reach the quarterfinals — was as bright a warning signal as anything could be.
“Coach Mounia did a great job,” Obrey said.
The young ‘Iolani squad has matured and grown. They don’t look like the same team that opened the season.
“We talk about how each year, each team is a little different. We’ve got new contributors, new kids on the bench,” he said.