Rising up and beating the favored team in two straight matches is a rare feat in any sport and at any level.
Mid-Pacific did it this week, beating Damien on Tuesday and Thursday nights to wrest away the ILH Division II girls volleyball championship from what appeared to be a tight grip by the previously undefeated Monarchs’ hands.
On Thursday night in front of a rambunctious home crowd at the Damien gym, Mid-Pacific scored the knockout blow with a 21-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23 victory for the school’s first league girls volleyball crown.
One quadrant of the gym, the back left corner, was wearing green and left elated. They shared in creating the wild atmosphere.
“Thanks for all the classmates for coming out,” said middle Kaehu Keala, who put down a match-high 25 kills. “They for sure helped us. We came in here knowing the crowd was going to be insane. I think that’s what we were most scared of. They can really get into our heads. But all we were thinking was win or lose, we’re going to put all our effort out there because at the end of day, we have nothing to lose, so we were trying to push ourselves as hard as we can.”
With Emma Porter flying (41 assists) all over the place making hittable sets and a hard as nails defense led by libero Kamalani Kekoolani (16 digs), the going was rough for Damien’s star outside hitter Shelby Capllonch and her teammates.
Three other Owls were in double-digit digs — Erin Goya (14), Shyla Sato (12) and Alyssa Muraoka (11).
Capllonch got her share of kills (20), but not in crunch time.
“I love this feeling and I want to feel it again,” Porter said. “We worked really hard to get where we are.”
Porter and Keala credited one of the team’s managers for the team’s ability to get prepared for such a heavy ball that Capllonch throws down. His name is Kolten Soon and he is also a member of the Owls boys team.
“He hits on us with a girls net,” Porter said. “We’re pretty used to the hardness.”
Added Keala: “Soon, our manager, prepared us with hard-driven down balls. Our back row, they put their body in front of it and get it up. I give props to them.”
Coach Tommy Lake wanted his Mid-Pacific squad to remain steady throughout, and they were.
“I wanted them to be as consistent as they could be,” Lake said. “It’s more of a marathon. It’s not a sprint. Pretty much the whole time, I had to settle them down and say, ‘It’s going to take time to win against a good team like that.’ ”
Lake, a former Moanalua head man,is now the only coach in Hawaii high school history to win girls volleyball titles in both the OIA and ILH. He coached Na Menehune to the 2007 OIA D-I championship.
“I’m really glad we got through this match,” Lake said. “I’m real excited for the girls. They get to play another week.”
Lake’s veteran leadership is starting to make Mid-Pacific into a known volleyball commodity.
“In practice, he pushes us to keep working hard, keep working hard, keep working hard,” Keala said. “But he also lets us roam enough to figure things out for ourselves because it gets to a point where he’s not going to be on the court with us.”
Damien coach Don Faumuina had to devise a lineup with three players out due to injuries in addition to setter Heavenly Campbell going down with an ankle injury in the middle of the fourth set. Later in the fourth, another player suffered an anxiety attack and temporarily left the gym because she was having trouble breathing.
Faumuina is hoping his Monarchs (13-2) get another chance at beating Mid-Pacific (13-2) at next week’s Division II state tournament.
“I thought we had that fourth set (with a 20-15 lead), but we just fell short,” he said. “Hats off to MPI. We’ve got time to heal, so we should be a lot healther at states. I would like to meet them again. We would love to have that challenge.”
Lake said he wouldn’t be surprised if both teams have what it takes to make the finale.
“They’ve got a lot of power and Shelby is such a good hitter,” Lake said.
The Owls will be trying to make some more historic moments at states, where the Monarchs have finished in third place two years in a row.
“I know we’re not known as a volleyball school,” Keala said. “This year, the underclassmen and the seniors are all getting along and on the same page with the same focus on the same goal. We’re happy to be making history.”
One snippet from Thursday’s match is a perfect example of just how much these two teams are fighting each other off. It was the last point of the third set, and twice the ball appeared to be down on the floor — one on each side — and everybody in the crowd including some on the two teams thought the point was over. But it kept going until Sato buried a kill on a set by Porter.
That whole third set, actually, kind of tells the story of the two combatants — 12 ties (the last at 22-22) and five lead changes.
Here’s a look at the final scores of the three matches between the two teams this season:
>> Sept. 15 regular season: At Damien def. Mid-Pacific 25-17, 25-15
>> Oct. 16 ILH D-II tournament: At Mid-Pacific def. Damien 25-19, 25-21, 25-21
>> Oct. 18 ILH D-II final: Mid-Pacific def. (at) Damien 21-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23
Through all of this hoopla, neither team is forgetting about defending D-II state champion Le Jardin, which qualified for states after finishing 9-1 in the regular season, winning a tournament game against University and getting bounced from the ILH race in four sets by Mid-Pacific. They also won’t be looking past another ILH foe, Sacred Hearts, which takes a 9-4 mark into states, nor will they be taking any of the other teams in the other leagues for granted.
And for Mid-Pacific, patience and consistency are the qualities that could get them to the promised land.
“We are good ball-handling team,” Lake said. “It’s a matter of waiting until opportunities present themselves. As far as the team goes, it’s about digging, serving and grittiness.”
The Owls went into the ILH tournament as underdogs, but that tag no longer applies.