Punahou played all its cards so well.
After losing in the ILH final, at home, swept by Kamehameha, the Buffanblu tinkered and adjusted.
They brought Jaclyn Matias to the forefront, sharing setting duties with Chloe Kaahanui. Grace Fiaseu stepped up. Madisyn Beirne and Kaia Dunford, their seniors, continued to pound away.
It still wasn’t enough in the state final. Kamehameha prevailed 21-25, 25-21, 25-16, 25-21 to capture its 10th state championship in the past 17 seasons under Coach Chris Blake. It was a crescendo effect as Kamehameha rose to power, toppling regular-season winner Punahou in the league playoffs.
The steadying influence of Blake’s staff, and the poise of seniors like HHSAA Most Outstanding Player Keonilei Akana were invaluable. Akana finished with 22 kills and 11 digs, bringing heat from the left, right and back row. With sophomores Devin Kahahawai (15 kills, seven digs) and Maui Robins (13 kills, eight digs) launching from all directions, and middle Langi Sua-Godinet (five kills) playing efficiently (.385) as always, setter Bryanne Soares (50 assists, eight digs) was on point start to finish.
Tara De Sa? The senior libero was impeccable again with 28 digs, adding four assists.
It was a tough go for any defense, even one as grizzled and tough as Punahou. Akana, a commit to USC, finished with 67 swings and never tired. There weren’t many new wrinkles between the two rivals in their fourth matchup of the season.
“They did a really great job, I think. After the first set, we just told each other that this could be our last time playing together,” Akana said. “If we were to stay together as a team, then we could do great things and finish the end game.”
Talking it out was key, Robins said.
“We just talked about flushing the first set. Putting it away. This is a new game and we have a good history of coming back and I think we all believed and trusted in each other,” she said. “No nerves. We turned our nerves into excitement.”
Matias, a reserve setter, came on strong late in the season and finished with 30 assists in the state final. Kamehameha hadn’t played against her much until tonight.
“It was definitely kind of, it was hard,” Robins said. “We saw Punahou multiple times after we swept them (in the ILH final), but it wasn’t against us. We would scout them at their games. We would see changes in their lineup and it was difficult because they put new people in and we didn’t quite know what to do against them.”
Kamehameha will celebrate. Again. Then comes the quest for a crown in 2020. Akana, Sua-Godinet, De Sa, they will all be at college by then.
“Our seniors are definitely the glue of our team,” Robins said. “We have a lot of young people on our team. Sometimes, they play around and our seniors keep us in check, so we’re really grateful for that.”
Blake has grown into a different coach over the many years, appreciative of the players who were there at the start.
“Today, before our match, Sarah Lau, one of our graduates, she came and visited us. She remembers what it was like. She didn’t want to say much to the girls, but it’s a good reminder for us to understand we play for the ones who have came before us. The ones who play with us now do what they’re supposed to be doing, but we always want to make sure we’re always playing for the ones who will follow in our footsteps. It’s our kuleana to do so. Our girls played their hearts out, withstood a great Punahou team and came out with the dub tonight,” Blake said.
Blake and his team were unfazed, even as Matias delivered a variety of sets, sometimes acrobatic.
“Some of the tape we had on them, we wanted to see the tendencies, but she did a wonderful job distributing the ball. We were a little nervous in the set one, didn’t serve as well as we wanted to. When they’re in system, they’re tough to beat,” he said. “I think we made a decision on the service line to make sure we were getting after it a bit. I think it made it a little easier for us on defense to be able to come and convert, but it came down to what we were doing here in the back, which allowed us to play the defense we needed to be successful.”
End game, a mantra for the 2019 Warriors, was owned by Punahou in set one.
“They were hungry and they took it to us at the end of game one, Our kids trust the process, one play at a time, we were able to separate in game two, and we knew in game three and game four, they would come at us hard. Watching the resilience in the eyes of our kids, I’m very proud of what they did tonight,” Blake said.
The space Blake and his staff gave to the Warriors during some time outs was a constant through the season. It was a level of trust that is different, even rare. And now, Kamehameha has 10 titles under Blake, 22 in all since the start of state championships 50 years ago.
“Each challenge is different. The adjustments and the things we did as a team and staff got us into this position. Our saying is makakau, which means to be ready. Every single thing we have done today is a reflection of all of our process,” Blake said. “Punahou took it to us and we’re very proud of our play. I’m proud of our team.”
|1||Oct. 21||Moanalua vs. Waianae||Moan 25-20, 24-26, 25-19, 23-25, 15-13||Moanalua|
|2||Oct. 21||Punahou vs. Kahuku||Pun 25-19, 25-19, 19-25, 25-21||Punahou|
|3||Oct. 21||Waiakea vs. Kapolei||Kapo 25-15, 25-18, 25-13||Waiakea|
|4||Oct. 21||KS-Maui vs. Le Jardin||LJA 25-21, 20-25, 25-19, 25-14||KS-Maui|
|5||Oct. 24||(4) King Kekaulike vs. Moanalua||Moan 25-17, 25-17, 25-19||Moanalua|
|6||Oct. 24||(1) Kamehameha vs. Kapolei||KSK 25-20, 25-14, 25-20||Moanalua|
|7||Oct. 24||(3) KS-Hawaii vs. Punahou||Pun 25-12, 21-25, 25-20, 25-23||McKinley|
|8||Oct. 24||(2) Mililani vs. Le Jardin||Mil 22-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-20||McKinley|
|9*||Oct. 25||King Kekaulike vs. Kapolei||Kapo 25-23, 25-16||McKinley|
|10*||Oct. 25||KS-Hawaii vs. Le Jardin||KSH 25-20, 25-22||McKinley|
|11||Oct. 25||Moanalua vs. Kamehameha||KSK 25-22, 25-19, 25-18||Moanalua|
|12||Oct. 25||Punahou vs. Mililani||Pun 25-22, 25-12, 25-20||Moanalua|
|13*||Oct. 26||Kapolei vs. KS-Hawaii||Kapo 25-16, 24-26, 15-8||Blaisdell Arena|
|14*||Oct. 26||Moanalua vs. Mililani||Moan 14-25, 28-26, 15-12||Blaisdell Arena|
|15||Oct. 26||Kamehameha vs. Punahou||KSK 21-25, 25-21, 25-16, 25-21||Blaisdell Arena|
|* — consolation|