There’s a certain, steely look in the eyes of the Mililani Trojans.
The proud program won four Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I championships under Val Crabbe since 2011, including back-to-back crowns in ’18 and ’19.
A mid-season loss to Kapolei, now the top seed out of the OIA West, did more than put a rare loss in the standings for Mililani. It helped the Lady Trojans evolve.
After a 25-16, 25-10, 25-18 sweep of Farrington on Monday night, the Trojans did just a bit of celebrating. Then it was all business. Within minutes, Crabbe and her squad broke out of their post-game circle chat. The game faces were back on.
Mililani (10-1) will battle the East’s top seed, Moanalua (11-0), in the semifinal round on Tuesday night — on Moanalua’s home court. That showdown will start at 5:30 p.m.
The Trojans won’t lack for motivation. Ever since that loss to Kapolei on Nov. 1, they are playing with verve.
“Even though we lost a match, it shouldn’t have happened,” said Aria Miller, who had eight kills and four aces. “Even though we are the underdogs, we had a chance to win. Now that we’re in the semifinals, we’re able to push harder than we did before.”
Miller was a big part of the attack and serve game. The Trojans totaled 10 aces, including three by Alexis Rodrigues, who also had seven kills. Jaelyn Tang tallied eight kills and one ace. That balance and the precision of setter Anae Asuncion (28 assists) reminds Moanalua coach Alan Cabanting of some of his powerhouse teams of recent years.
Na Menehune swept Kaiser 25-22, 25-22, 25-11 in the later match on Monday night. Outside hitter Kelia Giusta sat out with an injury, but is expected to play on Tuesday against Mililani.
“We’re trying to get through the injuries the next couple of days. Anya (Gant) did a really good job stepping in there to solidify our passing and get us some points here and there,” Cabanting said. “We do depend a lot on Kelia so when she comes back tomorrow, I wanted to give her one more day of rest to battle it out tomorrow. Mililani is going to be hungry and they’re really good on their serve, so we wanted to make sure the injury wasn’t going to be a factor tomorrow.”
On paper, Mililani is the two-time defending champion. Even after two years without a girls volleyball season in the OIA, Cabanting sees a Trojans team that may be at its peak.
“Mililani’s different in the sense that their serve’s gotten stronger. Their ball control’s gotten stronger. They got a lot more control of the ball so they can place it wherever they want. It’s a really high-IQ volleyball team. I’m jealous to say it’s what I had several years ago,” Cabanting said.
“And they don’t have as many errors. They put it in good spots. They know when they hit the ball they keep it in play, and they put it in spots. A very accurate shot to put other teams out of system.”
A key in the semifinals could be Mililani middle Rheana Deen-Jackson, who had three kills and dominated the second set with four blocks.
Mililani isn’t the only team that has evolved. Sophomore standout Malu Garcia, Moanalua’s 6-foot outside hitter, has developed smoothly this season.
“I think the repetitions we’ve had have helped al lot. Playing with each other a ton. Because we’ve had one or two girls out, we had to reposition and realign things just a little bit,” Cabanting said. “All the rotation call and all that other crazy stuff that happened in today’s match. But when she returns tomorrow, we should be able to get back to normal.”
Moanalua is ranked No. 4 in the Star-Advertiser Girls Volleyball Top 10. Mililani has not been ranked since Nov. 8, shortly after the loss to Kapolei.