The two liberos were front and center in the amazing dig-fest at the Hawaii Baptist gym on Friday night.
But those two liberos just led that charge. Everyone else had a hand (pun intended) in it.
It’s an exaggeration, of course, to say that hardly any volleyballs hit the floor during the Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division I girls second-round championship match between Kamehameha and Punahou. But if you were there watching the hitters pound away and the defensive specialists and the other well-rounded players keeping the ball in the air for what seemed like five minutes at a time, you’d have a clearer idea of that thought process.
So, let’s introduce the liberos, shall we? On one side, you have Kamehameha’s Kyra Hanawahine. On the other side, it’s Punahou’s Brandee Markwith. And then there were all of the others dashing to get into position and diving for balls.
“Literally, everyone was helping out (with the digging),” Kamehameha hitter Kayla Afoa said after the Warriors’ wild 20-25, 20-32, 25-23, 25-14, 15-9 victory over the Buffanblu.
Afoa started to rattle off the names of the Warriors’ daring diggers during the after-match interview — Anela Johnson, Hanawahine, Kili Robins, Ililani Kamaka — but stopped after a while with a big smile, realizing she would have had to continue to mention every name on the roster who played.
You could start a list on the Punahou side, too: Markwith, Mehana Ma‘a, Emi Pua‘a, Nikki Lum and on and on.
Part of the reason for Kamehameha’s strong comeback was its ability to get to more of the low, close-to-the-floor balls than Punahou, especially in the fifth set. Kamehameha kill attempts that the Buffanblu were getting to previously somehow were hitting the floor, with the defensive hands coming in a split-second late.
So now, the Warriors (13-4) play at first-round champion ‘Iolani (14-2) today for the overall league championship and a seeded berth into the D-I state tournament. Punahou (11-5) is done for the year, unable to defend its state title and out of the big show for the first time since 2005.
The first set of Friday’s match was all Buffanblu, but the Warriors made a game of it in the second set despite being on the short end of a 32-30 score. That set was tied 18 times. Interestingly, Kamehameha never lost the lead from 4-3 all the way until the Buffanblu went up 28-27. During that span, the Warriors were precariously holding on to a 1-point lead 17 times.
Eventually, Vae Malufau‘s block clinched the set for a 2-0 Punahou lead.
Even though the Buffanblu led by as many as six in the third set and appeared ready to sweep, the knowledge of how tough the Warriors played in the second set should have been enough to put them on high alert.
Afterward, Punahou coach Tanya Fuamatu-Anderson said her team relaxed with that big cushion and that it was a mistake.
Sure enough, Kamehameha got by, barely, before dominating the fourth set and riding that high all the way to the win in the deciding fifth. Freshman setter Lexis Akeo had nine of her 57 assists in the shortened, clinching set.
The Warriors have been involved in the state tournament every year since 2001.
“It’s a tradition for our school to go to states and it’s great that we get to carry that on,” Afoa said.
Kamehameha has won 17 state crowns and will be going for its seventh ILH and state titles under coach Chris Blake. The Warriors last won it all two seasons ago.
In four head-to-head matches this season, ‘Iolani has won three against Kamehameha.
2015 ILH girls volleyball key matches
>> Sept. 8: Punahou def. Kamehameha 25-22, 25-20
>> Sept. 12: ‘Iolani def. Punahou 25-20, 25-21
>> Sept. 15: ‘Iolani def. Kamehameha 25-15, 25-18
>> Sept. 29: Kamehameha def. Punahou 25-19, 19-25, 25-18
>> Oct. 1: ‘Iolani def. Kamehameha 25-23, 25-22
>> Oct. 2: ‘Iolani def. Punahou 25-22, 25-11
>> Oct. 8: ‘Iolani def. Kamehameha 24-26, 20-25, 25-18, 25-23, 15-13
>> Oct. 10: Kamehameha def. Punahou 15-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-20
>> Oct. 20: Punahou def. ‘Iolani 25-20, 25-17, 25-17
>> Oct. 22: Kamehameha def. ‘Iolani 25-21, 25-17, 25-21
>> Oct. 23: Kamehameha def. Punahou 20-25, 30-32, 25-23, 25-14, 15-8
Overall championship game
>> Oct. 24: Kamehameha at ‘Iolani, 3 p.m.