There’s no place like home for Kahuku’s volleyball team.
But home is normally where the heart is, and that heart travelled afar on Tuesday night. Kahuku handed Kapolei its first loss of the season in the OIA semifinal round 25-18, 23-25, 25-21, 25-23 to set up an all-East final on Thursday.
The Division I final between No. 4-ranked Moanalua and No. 6 Kahuku (11-1) will begin after the D-II title match pitting Kalaheo and Leilehua.
Even with restricted capacity due to the pandemic, Moanalua’s gym was crowded and loud, as in Big Red loud, through more than two hours of late-night action. There were roughly 200 fans in red in the gym.
“Thank you so much. We love them. We travel well. Thank you for your support,” coach Tuli Tevaga said. “We’ll see you Thursday.”
By the time Kahuku’s bus departed the Moanalua campus, it was 11 p.m., which means players didn’t get home until midnight or later.
Just 24 hours before the win over Kapolei, Kahuku needed five sets to pull out a 16-25, 25-11, 20-25, 25-17, 15-10 quarterfinal win over Waianae at Kapolei’s gym. That match began at an earlier 5:30 p.m. start time, the one reprieve in the week of playoff battles. It’s just a part of life for Tevaga’s successful program. Players will catch up on their sleep later.
“Our girls have fought through a lot. They have a strong mental game at this point and we have been working really hard throughout the season on our conditioning,” Tevaga said. “I think we’re good on that.”
Emmalei Mapu (17 kills), Makayla Fonoimoana (13) and Mele Taumoepeau (nine) came up big in the clutch, along with a solid, balanced unit.
“I think more so, the fighting spirit. Being in those tight spots and being able to still play level-headed worked out for us. It’s great because we also put them in those situations in practice,’ Tevaga said. “It’s nice to see that fighting spirit throughout the game. Kapolei brought it like they always do, so I’m proud of our team.”
Fans, players and coaches were road warriors, trodding 171 miles in a 32-hour span Monday and Tuesday. It is a 96-mile round trip from Kahuku’s campus to Kapolei and 75 to Moanalua.
Kahuku is certainly not the only volleyball squad to endure or embrace the challenges of what amounts to OIA gauntlet week.
>> Waianae (10-3)
The Seariders eliminated McKinley last Wednesday, then nearly upset Kahuku on Monday, losing in five sets. The Seariders then secured a one of the OIA’s six state-tournament berths with a four-set win over Kalani on Tuesday at Pearl City’s gym.
Today (Wednesday), Waianae will meet Kaiser for fifth place, a match that will affect seeding for the state tournament. Three matches, three days.
>> Kalani (8-5)
Nearly four weeks ago, the Falcons swept rival Kaiser in the midst of a five-match win streak to close out the regular season. A week ago, Kalani outlasted Nanakuli in four sets at Waianae’s gym to begin the playoffs.
On Monday, the Falcons had the West’s top seed, Kapolei, on the ropes before losing in five sets. On Tuesday, they took the first set against Waianae before falling in four at Pearl City’s gym. Between the mileage and late nights, it was quite the post-season chase for the East’s fourth-place team.
>> Kaiser (7-6)
They are the comeback kids. After losing to Castle, Moanalua, Kalani, Farrington and Kahuku during the regular season, the Cougars wound up with a playoff slate that was somewhat favorable. Kaiser knocked out Campbell last Wednesday at Farrington’s gym, a sweep. After losing to Moanalua on Monday in three sets, the Cougars suited up on Tuesday to face Farrington — which had swept Kaiser on Nov. 16.
Kaiser pulled out a wild 22-25, 27-25, 31-29, 18-25, 15-13 win to earn a state-tournament berth. For Farrington, scoring 127 points in a five-set match might be a school record in a loss.
Kaiser will meet Waianae at Kapolei’s gym today in a fifth-place match.
In all, Moanalua, Kahuku, Kaiser of the the Eastern Division qualified for the state tourney. Kapolei, Mililani and Waianae of the West are also in.
The West’s top three regular-season teams advance, while Kaiser, a fifth-place team, squeezed in. If this were a classic ILH format, Kaiser would play the third-place team of the regular season, Farrington, for a state-tournament berth.
Even the ILH uses multiple playoff formats, though. In Division II, it was a double-elimination format for girls volleyball. In the end, the OIA’s weighted process on playoff results mirrors the college and pro format. Win and you’re in.