For awhile, let’s say half of the opening set, ShaRae Niu simply looked like a setter par excellence.
Left side, right side, middle, middle and more middle to Phoebe Grace. Regular sets, and later quick sets, quick back sets, whatever was needed, Niu delivered. But then there was this: Kahuku won its 19th OIA girls volleyball championship not just on Niu’s smooth dimes, and not just with great offensive balance or even a terrific, persistent block.
Kahuku’s serve was thundering, unstoppable and the biggest reason why the Lady Raiders swept previously unbeaten Mililani 25-15, 25-15, 25-17 on Thursday night. Fifteen aces with just four service errors. FIFTEEN! That would be sort of like a basketball team bombing 25 3-pointers; I say 25 because Kahuku did this in just three sets. There was practically nothing Mililani, ranked fifth in the state, could do from start to finish. Kahuku had four aces in the first set, then six and five. Six different Lady Raiders posted an ace.
> Carey Williams, five aces
> ShaLi Niu, three aces
> Cheyenne Te‘o, three aces
> Phoebe Grace, two aces
> ShaRae Niu, one ace
> Puao Sao, one ace
It wasn’t about one dominant server, though Williams was almost a one-woman wrecking crew. It’s Kahuku versatility on offense and defense, plus their own productive serve-receive game — Mililani had just one ace to go with five service errors — that makes this year’s team a little bit different from very good Kahuku teams of years past.
It is one of the many reasons why Coach Mounia Tachibana‘s team is and has been ranked No. 1 for the entire regular season. With a quick turnaround coming — the HHSAA state tourney starts on Monday — it’s hard to doubt ILH champion Kamehameha (20 state titles) or even Punahou (nine). But the eye test and the numbers make Kahuku more than just formidable. There’s just so much firepower from any spot on the floor at any time.
Fifteen. It’s hard to find a match like that even in a pairing two completely, extremely opposite teams. There’s a reason, though, to explain Kahuku’s serving superiority. Simple sweat. As the old saying goes, nobody ever drowned in his (or her) own sweat.
Tachibana runs the Lady Raiders through practice, and before they hit the weight room every day, they do their serving drill to close practice. Miss a spot and the entire team runs. They do this every single day.
“We do a lot of serving drills, and if we don’t make our serves, we have to go to the line and run,” said Grace, who had two aces.
“It worked for us back in the day, so why not? Our practices are very intense with a lot of pressure, and it’s all for moments like this. You’re trying to playing as a No. 1 team and that’s a lot of pressure in itself. Our drills are all for a reason. We don’t do a lot of running in our games, but it’s to create more pressure.”
“Coach is really strict on serving,” said Lauolive Tonga.
“If we miss our serve, we run, but the last person, (coach) makes a deal and if she misses, we run double,” ShaLi Niu said.
Her sister, setter ShaRae, was impressed, even surprised by the total number of aces.
“That’s good,” she said.
Tachibana was actually surprised a bit.
One thing that won’t be a surprise is Friday’s routine — unless someone at Kahuku High School decides to help the team celebrate after school.
“We keep moving forward,” their senior setter, Niu, said. “School. Practice. Weights.”