‘Iolani stuns Punahou to win 1st ILH boys volleyball title since 2003

'Iolani celebrated after closing out Punahou in the fourth set to win its first ILH boys volleyball championship in 16 years. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

Boys volleyball in Hawaii has historic names and, for decades, many of them hailed from Punahou.

For now, at least, there is a reprieve for the rest of the field. ‘Iolani’s 23-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-19 win over Punahou for the ILH championship on Tuesday night confirmed what the league and the rest of the state has seen this spring.

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The eternal dynasty in blue is no longer the favorite. ‘Iolani (10-4) will enter the upcoming state tournament as the likely top seed among league champions, while Punahou will be in the unusual position of — probably — hosting an opening-round match Monday when the big dance begins.

‘Iolani ended a 14-year ILH title drought (the boys volleyball season moved from the fall in 2006 to the spring in 2008). Punahou had beaten the Raiders twice during the regular season, but ‘Iolani won the last two, including a five-set classic on Apr. 17. Three days ago, the Raiders swept the Buffanblu for the ILH tournament title at Kekuhaupio Gym, setting up the winner-take-all battle tonight.

Now the Raiders, at least the seniors, are in the spotlight. Coach Jordan Inafuku is keeping an eye on the competition.

“The state tournament will have a lot of good teams. We’re watching the OIA (playoffs) on TV. We got to play a lot of those teams in our tournament. I’m expecting a high level at the state tourney,” he said.

‘Iolani’s Kupono Browne (13) celebrated a point with his teammates in the deciding fourth set against Punahou. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

‘Iolani’s efficiency was wondrous for Raider fans, and left Punahou fans in disbelief. The crowd of roughly 1,000 at Hemmeter Fieldhouse saw some of the inconsistency that had derailed the Buffanblu this season. The Raiders, with more experience and plenty of explosiveness, had just seven hitting errors for the night, hitting .384. The back row was superlative, led by Jarin Simon.

Setter Shane Harimoto had 43 assists and three aces, and his dump shot late in the third set was his only kill and kill attempt. Punahou coach Rick Tune called Harimoto the best setter in the state. Harimoto may also be the most patient and most trusting.

“He’s learning how to be more and more of an elite setter,” Inafuku said. “Thinking about what the blockers are doing, how we’re setting up our plays.”


Junior Kupono Browne led ‘Iolani with 18 kills with just three hitting errors.

“It’s kind of fun for him. He’s the young one so he can just be the excited one and have a lot of emotion,” Inafuku said. “That’s right up his alley. He’s terminating the ball for us (and) that’s his job.”

Kawika Lee was relentless and finished with 12 kills.

“Pretty incredible, don’t you think, that he’s an All-State basketball player and doing a lot of volleyball things, not just jumping and being athletic,” Inafuku said. “Real steady for us. A leader for us.”

Makani Hiltner, a senior, has been perhaps the biggest surprise.

“He started playing volleyball last year. He was a baseball player, so he’s had a good development over the last few months,” Inafuku said.


The Raiders also got five kills and three blocks from junior middle Kalawai Scanlan.

“Punahou has some amazing athletes nationally. We expect it to be very difficult to stop them. He’s hitting against the best block they can put up, so a lot of credit to him,” Inafuku said. “I’m sure he’ll bring it through the state tournament. A very explosive athlete.”

‘Iolani’s Kawika Lee (12) went up to block Punahou’s Jack Deuchar (16) in the third set. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

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