Maybe it was the energy of roughly 100 fans in the building.
Maybe it was just that eternally powerful Kahuku mana. It took all the Kapolei Hurricanes could muster on Thursday night to pull out a 25-16, 25-23, 23-25, 26-24 quarterfinal win over the Kahuku Red Raiders.
The ‘Canes, top seed from the West, improved to 11-0 and will meet West rival Waianae in the semifinals on Monday. The win gave Kapolei a state-tournament berth, but Kahuku had the ‘Canes wobbly against the ropes. After seeing their Red Raiders struggle for two sets, fans were at a fever pitch in Kapolei’s gym. Somehow, the tiring ‘Canes managed to come up with enough plays at the end of game 4, including a big roof by Michelyn Pilila‘au to end the match.
In the first two games, Kapolei looked magnificent with setter Olivia Transfiguracion sending sets all over the floor to her array of weapons. Tihani Guzman (14 kills, three aces), Anela Pakaki-Pias (13 kills), Amryi Paris (12 kills, one ace) and Pilila‘au (10 kills, two blocks) worked together like a spiking machine.
But the third set was Kahuku’s turn to shine, and as Waianae struggled in the earlier quarterfinal following the second set, so did Kapolei. Much of it was Kahuku’s resilience and pride. ShaLi Niu, who is a commit to George Mason, was the sparkplug with seven kills, 13 assists and two blocks. With Niu doing more setting, Kahuku’s slammers went to work: Ana Kemoeatu (12 kills, block), Katelyn Erickson (11 kills), Lauolive Tonga (10 kills, two blocks, Penina Matau (three kills, three aces).
Keaupunilani Kamakeeaina (23 assists, one ace) and Niu gave Kahuku some of its best highlights of the season after looking sluggish in the first two sets.
“That was probably one of the best games we’ve played in a long time,” Niu said.
Kahuku (8-5) couldn’t quite keep up in the fourth set, battling evenly until the final two points in Kapolei’s 26-24 win. Niu was a huge factor, but the Hurricanes simply showed the effects of fatigue.
“A lot of us coaches have asked (the OIA) constantly to play (best of) 5 sets during the regular season instead of (best of) 3,” Kapolei coach Naidah Gamurot said. “It’s the mental and emotional part that makes a difference. We need those three-hour matches earlier in the season.”
Time constraints have made best-of-3 a preferable format for administrators. Between junior varsity, varsity white and regular varsity matches, the notion of best-of-five creates a late-night scenario nobody wants. Gamurot, though, suggest that only the varsity play best-of-5.
The intensity of Kahuku-Kapolei hasn’t changed, regardless of format.
“Kahuku is always good. The seeding doesn’t matter. They hung tough. That’s a good thing as you go on in the playoffs,” Gamurot said.
Waianae is playing its best volleyball now. So is Kapolei.
“There’s going to be a lot more intensity,” Gamurot said of Monday’s semifinals. “It’s going to be upped a couple of levels. They’ll come ready to play. Everybody on both teams knows each other.”