Jon Stanley has seen his share of volleyball at different levels.
The Kaiser volleyball patriarch was stunned and satisfied after watching the Cougars rally against OIA powerhouse Moanalua. Kaiser did the improbable on Wednesday night, rallying from deficits of eight points in the second set and 10 in the third for a wild 18-25, 25-23, 26-24, 13-25, 15-9 win over Moanalua in an OIA season opener at the Cougars’ gym.
Stanley has overseen the junior varsity program for the past three years after decades as the varsity head coach. Stanley’s mother and brother passed away in the past year, and he returned recently from a three-way trip to the mainland to “manage affairs.” He was stoked to be back home, watching a Cougars team evolve over the course of 121 minutes on Wednesday.
“That team became a real good team in one game. I’m real impressed with how the whole team played,” he said. “Mike did a great job.”
Kaiser coach Mike Smyrychynski was the coolest cat, or Cougar, on the Kaiser side of the court. The Cougars were already down a key player when Cole Camacho suffered an ankle injury in a scrimmage with Waialua on Monday. Camacho didn’t hesitate to share his two cents. During one break, he walked to the sideline, where the team had huddled, and hollered at them with a loud cheer.
“He is our primary energy source. It’s adversity. You have to overcome. You hav to figure out how to generate energy within yourself,” Smyrychynski said. “They played within themselves, but also did not drop because we were down.”
Kaiser’s serve-receive and sets went from inefficient to smoking hot by the second game, when Moanalua’s lead was 19-11. Brandon Waters, a 6-foot senior, took flight like a 6-4 spiker. His connection with setter Rylan Kwok, who Smyrychynski calls “a converted basketball player,’ was nearly flawless in the final three-plus sets.
Waters finished with 20 kills.
“It felt good. Our bench was definitely hyping us up a lot to keep going. After that, we kept going with the momentum. They’re a great team, Moanalua, so they definitely could come back at any time. We look forward to Moanalua every year, so beating them is definitely a good start to our season,” he said.
Treston Yokota had seven kills, three aces and a block in Kaiser’s balanced attack. Micah Ah See had five kills and two blocks, and Jacob Waters, Brandon’s twin brother, tallied five kills and one block. Kwok amassed 36 assists, one ace and one kill. Steve Cannon added four kills and three blocks.
Moanalua had not lost to Kaiser since 2013. Kaiser’s early inconsistency had plenty to do with the unusually lack of preseason competition due to the pandemic. The personality of the Cougars, though, is possibility built to withstand extreme volatility.
“Our biggest flaw is we never seem to think that any point matters, which is also good because if we’re down by a lot, we don’t really think it matters. They’re a very relaxed, very fun group. That is an issue I don’t want to have happen, but I wasn’t panicking with the time outs. I was not worried and they rewarded my patience with them tonight,” Smyrychynski said.
The third set was a wild swing of momentum, a Hearns-versus-Hagler kind of savagery. Kaiser rallied from a 16-6 deficit.
“Coach kept telling us to stop playing safe, to keep going after it. He just knew we could bomb away, so he kept telling us to keep going for it and we just riding momentum,” Waters said.
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) April 22, 2021
“The problem I identified early in the first set was we were trying not to make mistakes, and that was the mistake,” Smyrychynski said. “So I told them second set, if we’re going to go down, we’re going down swinging. No more safety hits, it’s not worth it. Stay in system serving. Stay in system with what we’re planning on doing, but from now on, nothing’s going to hit the floor on Menehune if we’re not driving the ball to the floor. It seemed to trigger and the boys responded, and even when we were down in that third set, 25 is a long game. One or two big plays can turn it.”
Smyrychynski noted a key block by Waters during the comeback.
“He was left all alone with their right-side hitter. He just timed it and got all of it. That can really swing the momentum back to your team. I gave him a big hug after that one. That was a huge play,” he said.
Moanalua, to no surprise, roared back in set four.
“I didn’t call a time out late. It wasn’t worth it. I just wanted to reset for the fifth set,” Smyrychynski said.
It’s only one match in a brief season that will total just seven. No playoffs. No state tournament. Fourteen percent of senior year in volleyball is in the books. Waters’ twin brother, Jacob, was in the rotation contributing.
“Jacob and Rylan were competing for the setting position all year. Then Jacob jammed his finger about a week-and-a-half ago, so we’ve been riding Rylan pretty much the whole time,” Smyrychynski said.
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) April 22, 2021
Smyrychynski and Stanley met when Stanley retired from his job at Fort Shafter. Smyrychynski replaced Stanley there and has been on the Cougars coaching staff for 15 years. The opportunity to beat the most consistent program in the OIA — Moanalua has won eight of the last nine league titles — was too big to let go.
“It’s a very deep team. The guys on the bench, I told them I don’t care what’s going on. This is the team I’m playing against them and we’re going to ride that team tonight. Might be the last time I ever do that because I don’t like leaving my bench down like that, but tonight was pretty important, I think, for the school, important in particular. We’ve had a lot of battles with Moanalua. It’s nice to come on top every once in awhile.”