After a recent run of four- and five-set thrillers in girls volleyball, back-to-back sweeps by Kahuku and Kamehameha on Thursday night felt like a pause.
Kahuku isn’t complaining. The OIA champions swept Hilo 25-11, 25-14, 25-16. The same goes for Kamehameha, which swept MIL champion Baldwin 25-9, 25-15, 25-16. Kahuku and Kamehameha will have a showdown on Friday night in the semifinal round of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Girls Volleyball Division I State Championships at Moanalua gym.
It was business as usual for Kahuku, which had a strong contingent at McKinley Student Council Gym for the 5 p.m. match. Makayla Fonoimoana and Emmalei Mapu each had 11 kills as coach Tuli Tevaga rolled in reserves and kept her starters fresh.
“I feel good. Our team finally is getting to the point where we’re fighting and playing our game,” Mapu said.
Freshman Chalei Reid tallied eight kills and one block. Kalikokukahimakawai Schilling added five kills and two blocks. Hehea Pulotu had two aces. Madison-Marie Mamizuka dished 18 assists and ShaCe Niu dished 14.
The gym wasn’t as loud as it was for the OIA championship last week, when Kahuku’s football team showed up in force at Moanalua to cheer on the Lady Raiders. Instead, the football squad stayed back home to prepare for Friday’s OIA Open Division title game. That also means they won’t be there when Kahuku and Kamehameha meet in the girls volleyball state semifinals.
“We just feed off the energy of the crowd, especially from where we’re from, everybody’s family so we know that’s our side (of the gym) cheering for us,” Mapu said. “The football team’s getting ready for their game tomorrow, but our families are here to support no matter where we are or where we play.”
Tevaga and her team stayed for the first set of the Kamehameha-Baldwin match. She was pleased with her team’s ability to connect with so much at stake.
“It’s one thing to have that communication, but sustaining it for the whole match, I think they were able to do that tonight,” the former Kahuku standout player said. “I think when they start to think too much into the game, that’s when they get quiet. Some of them, their personalities are different, but for the most part, simple communication as the ball’s coming, down ball, free ball, the basic calls that should be called throughout the game should not be a problem.”
Tevaga knew the challenges of traveling to play on a big stage could affect Hilo.
“That’s the disadvantage of having to travel from a different island. The late travel, making sure flights are open, family availability. It’s a challenge, but (Hilo) still did well,” she said.
By the time Kamehameha was done with the young Bears of Baldwin, it wasn’t 10 o’clock or even 9 o’clock. The doubleheader at McKinley Student Council Gym was done at 8:23 p.m., and everyone headed home for a good, long night’s rest.
Hilo’s defeat didn’t make a lot of sense on paper. The Vikings had rallied on Monday to oust Waianae in five sets. The same Waianae team had pushed Kahuku to five sets last week in the OIA playoffs. But there’s something about a game-day plane trip for a team that hasn’t traveled all season that makes a key difference.
Vikings coach Kaleinani Kahananui, better known as Kaleinani Kabalis back in the day, knows her team didn’t play its best.
“I wish that our girls showed up a little more. I know their potential. It’s a different crowd. We didn’t play with any crowds,” Kahananui said. “I wish we had more time to push them. Sometimes, you’ve got to take a loss and a win at the same time.”
She played at Hilo for one season before transferring to Moanalua, then went on to play college volleyball, as did sisters Kahala and Kuulei. Kahananui and Kahala are co-head coaches at Hilo, carrying on a family tradition. Their mother, Carla Carpenter-Kabalis, was an assistant coach at UH-Hilo during its NAIA title run in 1988.
Kaleinani Kabalis was a powerful, precise and relentless player who excelled at every position. The shortened volleyball season, however, didn’t allow teams to have preseason tournaments, and that showed for neighbor island programs like Baldwin and Hilo on Thursday.
“Kahuku is always solid, period, since I was playing. Anything is possible and they came out banging. They’ve got great setters and hitters, and they pushed through,” Kahananui said.
(See the game story in Friday’s edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.)