In all the years of the prestigious early season Ann Kang Invitational — since 1989 — the host ‘Iolani Raiders had never come away with the first-place trophy.
That is, until this weekend.
‘Iolani’s three-set win over Oak Ridge (Texas), 25-18, 21-25, 15-9, in the championship game on Saturday afternoon essentially served notice to the rest of the state that the defending HHSAA champs are still a force. Regular contender Punahou was also in the Ann Kang field, losing in the semifinals to Oak Ridge (Corrected from Mater Dei (Calif.).
“Definitely a great way to start,” said coach Kainoa Obrey, who tempered his excitement. “Don’t get me wrong. I think a lot of the message to bring a little bit of the feeling from last season to this is dependent on all of our returning kids — whether they were on the court or not. At least they understand what it took to travel that path to a championship. We’re hoping we can replicate it, of course, that’s what we train for and work for. We want to win championships. We also understand it’s a process. Especially Saige (Ka‘aha‘aina-Torres) as the only senior, she’s been patient, she’s been a good leader in helping teach and just kind of pass the message on. So it helps.”
The Raiders have a new starting setter in junior Kristen McDaniel, who looked up to the task in directing the offense through star hitters Ka‘aha‘aina-Torres and Elena Oglivie. The latter is the reigning Star-Advertiser player of the year and is just a sophomore.
That attack proved overwhelming during the Raiders’ breakthrough march to the state title in 2016. It was clearly still potent in the AKIVT as they combined for 31 kills in the title game.
“Very similar,” Obrey said of this year’s makeup. “Those two carried the workload for us overall. We’re trying to develop more attack in different areas. We do have it, we’ve just got to get more comfortable in utilizing it. Same thing last year, that evolved as the season went. Definitely got work to do, and this will help us lead into next week. We play in Kamehameha’s tournament, so that’s another challenge with local teams that are tough. We’re excited.”
McDaniel (27 assists), a backup setter to Ana Oglivie last season, can feel the weight of expectations stepping into such an important role for a proven team. But she knows she has help shouldering that load.
The weekend’s success was no reason to let up.
“I think it just gives us every single reason to work harder,” McDaniel said. “Especially carrying the tradition that the older girls left for us, our seniors, I think it was a very good message we try to send out to all the other girls. That One Team mind-set is very good, it gives us reason to work harder throughout the season, and become better as a whole team.”
‘Iolani’s Ann Kang title was the first for a Hawaii team since 2014 (Punahou).
“I think (this tournament win) sets the bar high,” Ka‘aha‘aina-Torres said. “The bar was set pretty high from last year, and I think especially with this win it keeps it there. I think that’s just a benchmark and we have to keep doing better. This is just the beginning, I think.”
Here was the all-tournament team:
Saige Ka‘aha‘aina-Torres, ‘Iolani, Most Outstanding Player; Elena Oglivie, ‘Iolani; Carly Graham, Oak Ridge; Molly Russell, Oak Ridge; Natalie Burty, Mater Dei; Savana Greene, Punahou; Kalyah Williams, Long Beach Poly; Sarah Ciszek, Santa Margarita.