Thursday’s ILH Division II championship volleyball match between Damien and Mid-Pacific has been four years in the making.
The Owls swept the Monarchs 25-19, 25-21, 25-21 on Tuesday to force the deciding match at 6 p.m. at Damien’s gym, and one of them is assured of winning its first-ever ILH crown and the seeded state berth that comes with it.
But positioning at states can wait, both teams want the gold now.
“For us the seeding doesn’t matter more than the title,” Damien coach Don Faumuina said. “For us it has been a four-year plan, especially with Shelby (Capllonch) and Ilana (Sagapolutele) coming into the program. It was something that we worked on all these years and it is something we wanted really bad for the seniors.”
The Monarchs had the opportunity to become the first Division II team to go through an entire ILH season unbeaten, but will be glad to settle with being the first girls team in any sport to play in a championship match.
Damien went co-ed in 2012. Mid-Pacific dropped down to Division II in 2017 but has never quite reached these heights. The Owls haven’t played in the state tournament since 1989 but have already secured a state berth to break that string.
“I think the girls believed they could get here,” Mid-Pacific coach Tommy Lake said. “We talked about it, I said ‘you guys are good enough, we just have to become the kind of team we want to be. I think this group, some of them we have had since freshmen, so they are ready to play.”
Kaehu Keala led the way for the Owls against the Monarchs on Tuesday, burying 15 kills and getting in on six blocks despite being rotated out of the back row for half the match.
“We’re just really stoked. We have been looking for this moment since before the season,” Keala said. “Damien came with a fight, they came in really good but I think we just wanted it more.”
Mid-Pacific’s resurgence began when Lake moved Keala from opposite to middle during the season to improve his team’s defense. Keala said she plays middle in club ball and is more comfortable there, but the biggest difference between the team then and now has been the bond that they forged. That bond will be tested in Damien’s gym on Thursday.
Damien’s Capllonch led all hitters with 17 kills. Monarchs outside hitter Kaira Wengler played through a sprained ankle and and was limited to three kills.
The Monarchs have handled adversity before Tuesday. They went 1-12 at the preseason Ann Kang tournament that sparked their undefeated run. Rather than sit in a corner and pout, Damien’s leaders took the beatings in stride and used them to make them better.
“The Ann Kang preseason tournament was the biggest blessing for us,” Faumuina said. “It was a great experience being a D2 school in a D1 tournament. We told the girls it is a different tempo game so we have to get out and play as hard as we can so when come down to our league if we stay at that tempo we will be ahead and it worked out for us.”