Le Jardin takes set off No. 2 Kamehameha as new ILH girls volleyball format gets underway

Kamehameha’s Keonilei Akana (10) and Le Jardin’s Nive Tuileta (15) battled at the net during this 2019 matchup. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser (Aug. 27, 2019).

Using Kamehameha’s three-set victory over Le Jardin on Tuesday night as a small sample, the ILH’s new girls volleyball format is already a success.

For years, some of the league’s D-II programs have consistently been in the Top 10 statewide, but instead of competing at the league or state level with the big girls in D-I, these smaller enrollment schools could only go as far as the D-II state title.

Not any more.

A compromise of sorts was struck in the offseason and now those D-II bigwigs are up in the top division.

It’s not a traditional setup, but both coaches Tuesday night — the Bulldogs’ Lee Lamb and the Warriors’ Chris Blake — see the benefits for all.

They both also know that the system is not perfect. Fortunately, it’s on a one-year trial basis that can be tweaked.

The biggest plus for the ILH is that (due to the increase of D-I teams from four to eight) three of its D-I teams will make the state tournament instead of the usual two.

Another plus is there will be some intriguing matchups like Tuesday night, when Le Jardin — a perennial D-II power — grabbed the first set off Kamehameha — winners of two of the last four D-I state titles and nine of the last 14. The Warriors got by, 22-25, 25-22, 25-19, but nothing about the victory was easy.

This gives hope to the three other new D-I schools that came up from D-II — Mid-Pacific, Sacred Hearts and Hawaii Baptist.

Here’s the format:

The four higher enrollment schools — Kamehameha, ‘Iolani, Punahou and Mid-Pacific — are in Quadrant 1. The three lower enrollment schools — Hawaii Baptist, Le Jardin, Maryknoll and Sacred Hearts — are in Quadrant 2.

All teams will play all seven other teams once and then will return to their quadrant to play the three other teams another time.

The first-place team from each quadrant will qualify for the D-I state tournament, and the third D-I state qualifier will be determined by a tournament involving the other six teams.

The format guarantees at least one state berth to the smaller enrollment schools, but it does not guarantee that the league’s best three teams will make states, which could be construed by some as an unfair drawback.

“We all voted and wanted to come into D-I,” Le Jardin setter Nive Tuileta said about her Bulldogs. “We know we can compete with all the big teams, Punahou, Kamehameha, ‘Iolani, so we came in here for a reason and we’re really excited. The other teams (Mid-Pacific, Sacred Hearts and Hawaii Baptist) I believe, are also thinking they can compete at this level.”

The Bulldogs’ move up to the higher-rent district almost didn’t happen. According to Lamb, the Bulldogs were ninth in line in ILH enrollment.

“We asked several schools to swap and Damien agreed,” said Lamb, who added, “Anybody in Quadrant 2 benefits from it.”

Lamb isn’t complaining about the quirky format, but the competitive side in him sees the inherent problem of not making it easier for the third-best team to get the third state berth.

Kamehameha hitter Keonilei Akana isn’t complaining.

“I like it,” she said of the new format. “We get to see different faces and different competition, unlike last year when we were going against just three other teams.”

Said Warriors coach Blake, “It’s going to increase the amount of competition and we’re going to have different looks all the time. The format is interesting. It’s important for us to win our Quad and you’ve got to handle the teams in the other Quad so you stay on the up and up because those games count.”

Under the new system, the overall ILH champion will be determined by a playoff game between the Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 champion, with the winner facing the winner of the tournament for the third state berth.

At the lower ILH levels, five Division II teams will play five Division III teams once in the regular season before playing teams in their own division a second time. The postseason tournament will remain the same as last year, with the D-III winner moving up into the D-II tournament. Three teams will qualify for the D-II state tournament.

Le Jardin’s Daniella Miranda-Johnson (3) bumped the ball back over the net against Kamehameha. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.


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