You want some fun? Kahuku head coach Mounia Tachibana has the sport for you, then. No surprise there … it’s volleyball.
Still, it was interesting that the word “fun” came to mind for her after her Red Raiders beat host Kamehameha in the grueling three-set final of the Kamehameha Invitational girls tournament at Kapalama on Saturday.
After the match, she told Hawaii Prep World how her girls are so focused and nervous that they sometimes forget why they’re playing. It’s that three-letter word. Remember?
“During timeouts, I said to reset and refocus and have fun,” Tachibana said. “I think both sides struggled on both sides of the net. I know both sides can play so much better. Maybe it’s because it was a long day, all these emotions. We were kind of nervous because we were playing the No. 1 team in the state and they are very good and very smart players. Every time we come off, it was, ‘Reset, refocus and always have fun.’
“When I looked at the girls, I could tell they were nervous as hell. They were so nervous. They’re trying to fight with themselves more than their opponent. I make them smile. Don’t forget to have fun. Overall it is a fun game. It’s a fun game, playing that top seed, that No. 1 team in the state.”
Yes, yes, yes. Fun, fun, fun. Especially when you knock off that top team in the state and the coach, Chris Blake, happens to be your former high school coach at Kamehameha.
Kahuku playing so sharply this early in the season comes as as a bit of surprise. The Red Raiders made it to the state semifinals a year ago (when Kamehameha won it all), but they’re not in the habit of walking into Kekuhaupio Gym and walking out as a champion.
It was the first time Tachibana has beaten the Warriors, but it’s not the first time Kahuku has a win over Kamehameha. Blake can’t remember the last time, but he said it’s happened in the same tournament.
It’s so early in the season that this Kahuku victory won’t mean too much when all is said and done, but it is a start.
“Anything can happen at the end of the season, but for now, we’re very, very excited about this win,” said Tachibana, who has 10 players back from last season and believes this team is way more advanced in dealing with the mental parts of the game.
“I think they (the Red Raiders) are a lot more ready this season. They knew they could have done it and took care of everything last year, but mentally they just weren’t ready for it. They’re challenging themselves a lot, compared to last year. They say, “Coach we could have taken it.”
Two Red Raiders who have stepped up in the concerted effort to develop the right attitude are outside hitter Carey Williams and setter ShaRae Niu.
“Carey a lot more confident,” Tachibana said. “She’s still a whopping 5-foot-7 or 5-8 on the roster with shoes on. She came into that gym for summer training and she looked so focused. She looked ready and it does make her look tougher.
“ShaRae has come a long way. She did very, very well mentally. She is touching pretty much every single ball that comes her way. For her to just challenge (our) middles, challenge herself. We used a lot of the middles throughout the whole tournament because that is what we want. Other teams, they don’t do that. If there is an off-pass, they automatically go to the outside and something safe. We want her to be comfortable in setting all three positions no matter where that ball is. She took that challenge and is running with it right now.”
Niu talked about the communication and chemistry factors.
“One of the biggest things as a team is that we decided that working together on and off the court is a big priority for us,” she said. “So we make sure communication is a huge thing with us. That’s what’s helping us a lot this year. We have really good communication with each other as well as chemistry.”
No, this wasn’t a fluke. Kahuku beat Kamehameha in three sets and, as Blake said, the Red Raiders deserved to win. But beating Kamehameha once is not much, when you get right down to the nitty-gritty of it all. Take ‘Iolani last season for instance. The Raiders beat Kamehameha a handful of times, but not in the match that mattered, the state final.
Blake gave his assessment of Saturday’s contest and the whole tournament.
“One of our goals is just to make sure we are getting better every day,” he said. “And I think our team showed a lot of potential and showed some signs that we’ll be getting better. In order to get better, you have to be pressed and we were pushed a lot. We expect everybody’s best match. We definitely got that against ‘Iolni in the semifinals and we definitely got that against Mililani this morning and definitely got that against Kahuku today. Kahuku is a very seasoned team and they’re hungry and when you put those things together, it makes it a very tough team to play against.”
Kamehameha went into the tournament ranked No. 1 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10, with Kahuku at No. 2. It’s likely those positions will be reversed when the new polls come out Monday.
Don’t expect the Warriors to stay down for long.
“It’s early in the season and part of our process is to grow,’ Blake said. “We’re not expecting perfect play right now. What we are expecting is for them to do the best they can based on the situations that we’re putting them in. For us, we’re still looking and searching to see what our players can do. With a bunch of new players joining our group, finding out what they can do. The tournament does a great job of that.”