After 20 state championships in girls volleyball, including eight with Chris Blake steering the ship, some fundamental principles haven’t changed.
Blake saw his Warriors methodically, patiently delete OIA powerhouse Kapolei from the title chase on Friday night with a 25-18, 25-20, 25-23 sweep at sultry McKinley Student Council Gymnasium. There were no bells and whistles, nothing cute tactically for Kamehameha (14-2). Just solid, on-the-move adjusting against a big, powerful Kapolei squad that reached the OIA finals.
“Kapolei’s a solid team with a lot of bigs. We know Kapolei will battle. They’re so skilled and senior heavy,” Blake said. “They forced a lot of balls to 5 (Amryi Paris), but I’m not sure if that’s because of our serve pressure. They were keying on our middles.”
Warriors setter Lexis Akeo (39 assists) splurged with sets to her vast array of machine-gun hitters, from Kili Robins (15 kills) to Keonilei Akana (nine) to Maile McClure (eight). Between a patient attack that finished with a .216 hitting percentage and a defense that earned an edge in digs (59-44), it was a grind in each set.
Each game, Kamehameha never flinched and held a 20-15 lead. The biggest lead in game one was the final seven-point margin. In the second set, Kapolei led twice, at 2-1 and 12-11. The Warriors took command with a 9-2 run, capitalizing on two Kapolei hitting errors while middle Braelyn Akana had a step-out kill and Robins blasted three kills.
The third set was the best by Kapolei, which led 12-8 after back-to-back kills by middle Michelyn Pilila‘au (10 kills). However, the Warriors went on a 12-2 run, sparked by a block and a kill from Robins.
The Hurricanes kept it close, getting within 24-23 after consecutive aces by Anela Pakaki-Pias, but Keonilei Akana ended the match with her final kill.
Now it’s showdown time between this year’s ILH champions, Kamehameha, and last year’s state champions, ‘Iolani. The Warriors won three of four matches with the Raiders during league play.
“We have our work ethic. We keep grinding and play for each other,” said Akeo, who also had seven digs. “We’re all excited to play ‘Iolani again.”
Robins, who led the Warriors with 15 kills, is ready.
“They’re a great team. Strong defense and strong offense,” she said. “We’ve been training for this. This has been our goal since day one.”
For Blake, the hunger and poise are equal parts, it seems. He has not lost one iota of competitive drive, yet his team is as even-keeled or more as any team in the tourney.
“We’ll enjoy this win for awhile. Then we’ll get some video together and talk tomorrow,” he said.
After cooling down, the Warriors were outside in their school bus, chatting and waiting. Blake and his staff huddled on the sidewalk, planning their plan. Some things just never change.