The senior-night portraits on the gym wall below the Punahou School seal said it all.
Just two weeks into the ILH regular season, it might be over for the Buffanblu and the rest of spring sports, no thanks to the COVID-19 disease that has become a pandemic outside of the islands. Jack Deuchar made the most of it with 14 kills and two aces as defending state champion Punahou outlasted ‘Iolani 25-18, 26-24 at noisy Hemmeter Fieldhouse on Thursday night.
The robust crowd of Punahou and ‘Iolani fans got front-row seats to see Deuchar put on an often brilliant display of power and precision. Setter Keegan Au Yuen dished 21 assists in all, giving Deuchar opportunities aplenty. The Buffanblu crowd often chanted, “Deuuuuu-charrr!” (pronounced DU-ker) after his spikes.
“We really had no idea this would be our senior night until about noon today, so to see all the people in the crowd, and those signs, on such short notice it feels very special,” Deuchar said. “Out of all the negatives that have come out of this, one thing good is it’s made me a lot more grateful realizing that this a privilege to play for a school like Punahou, and not to take it for granted.”
Though none of the state’s high school leagues had announced any postponements or cancellations of spring sports, the Buffanblu took no chances and held their senior-night ceremony after the match.
“I haven’t had a chance to really reflect on it. Mixed feelings, I guess,” longtime Punahou coach Rick Tune said. “Mixed because on one hand, I don’t know if this is going to be our last match, but if it is, on the other hand, I’m glad we had a chance to acknowledge a really special class of four guys who have really given a ton to this program. We had to honor them.”
‘Iolani coach Jordan Inafuku is hoping for another shot down the line.
“I think we have a lot more in us than that. We have a lot to work on. It showed in the match. We’re going to have some motivated players at practice tomorrow,” he said. “We got beat in serve and pass. We’re physical enough. It’s a good battle at the net by both teams. We lost the serve-and-pass battle. We knew that’s one of the things we need to work on coming in. We’ll be on track in the practice gym.”
Like his counterparts in blue, Inafuku is hoping for the best short- and long-term future for prep volleyball this season. He’s not certain if the league will stop the season or not.
“I’m not sure that would be the best decision if that’s the decision. I get the seriousness of the disease and I get why the professional leagues are doing it. I’m not sure these are, for the most part, big enough gatherings for that to be a consideration,” Inafuku said. “This being an exception. This was a great crowd. For our boys, that’s something we can’t control, so we don’t spend time thinking about it at all.”
Families did a rush job on the blown-up portraits for Punahou’s four seniors, which include Deuchar. The 6-foot-7 outside hitter is everything he was as the Star-Advertiser boys volleyball All-State player of the year last season, but with more vertical, more back-row flexibility, more power, more passing. More everything.
“He was amazing. He was a man among boys today. He really took it up a notch. USC is getting someone special. He’s just scratching the surface,” Tune said. “That doesn’t just happen because he’s big. Jack had to bust his butt to for a year to get in the physical condition he’s in now in order to play that way. I just want people to know that’s not just because he has great genes, which he does, but that’s hard work.”
Word around Hemmeter varied about the possibility of a postponed or cancellation of spring season. One possibility, Tune said to his seniors, is that the ILH first round play out — with no spectators in attendance — and then the season could be put on hold until the threat of coronavirus blows over before playing a mini-sized state tournament. There are possibilities, but none of them are in the hands of the coaches and players.
With ‘Iolani 2-0 and Punahou 3-0 coming into the showdown, plus an electrified vibe in the gym, it felt much like a playoff or state-tourney battle.
“This was a well-played match, as good a match I’ve seen in match No. 4 ever, maybe in the history of high school volleyball, by both teams, both sets of players,” Tune said. “The winner is the fans. The fans got treated to high-level volleyball. I think we showed that Hawaii can still produce some top-end talent.”
The specter of a shortened season, or perhaps a season untouched by the virus, casts a strange, almost surreal existence for Punahou and all of the teams playing this spring. Tune, however, expects a supercharged practice on Friday.
“It’s never ordinary or regular. I expect my second team to be so jazzed that they wished they could’ve got on the court (on Thursday), and they want to try and take down the starters. That’s what I hope and that’s what I think is going to happen,” Tune said.
‘Iolani’s craftsmanship made it an intriguing battle of finesse versus Punahou’s power at times. Matt Biondi had seven kills and an ace, and Kupono Brown finished with four kills against a well-prepared defense. However, Punahou was cleaner in the back row and won the battle at serve with five aces, including four in the opening set. ‘Iolani finished with two aces.
“That was the big emphasis for us, serve receive. Without a doubt. We practiced it. We drilled it. We talked about it. We dreamt about it. That was, by far, the most important thing,” Tune said.
Junior libero Xander Pink had a stout performance for Punahou.
“He takes the pressure off all the other guys who have to pass and swing,” Tune said. “I think that’s a great lib wants to do. Wyatt (Nako) on the other side is a great lib, too. He did a great job for Luke and Kupono.”
Jordan Deshawn Hepting, a 6-9 senior, played a solid role with two blocks. ‘Iolani had six blocks, including two by Kilo Scanlan and three by Biondi, the transfer from now-defunct St. Francis.
Inafuku and his squad know Deuchar well from their years together in club volleyball. Deuchar didn’t get a kill until the first-set score was in double digits, but he caught fire. His kill gave the home team a 13-12 lead, and his back-to-back aces opened the margin to three points. After another kill, Punahou led 17-13 and finished out the opening game without a serious challenge.
After consecutive hitting errors, ‘Iolani trailed 12-9, and a kill by Deuchar, who was on-point from every spot on the court, opened the lead to four. Punahou led 17-14 after Deuchar rammed the ball of the head of a back-row defender, but the visitors rallied. Ryan Sunada’s kill on an overpass tied it at 19, and Biondi’s lone ace gave the Raiders the lead.
After a hitting error by ‘Iolani gave Punahou a 25-24 lead, Kawai Hong ended it with a roof on setter Kaina Alvarez (16 assists, one kill, one ace).
Punahou hit .412, committing just three hitting errors. ‘Iolani hit .186, including nine hitting errors.