In the words of Val Crabbe, it was Pi‘i Gora who had the most magical of words.
No. 3-ranked Mililani was deep in the hole in hostile territory. Kapolei, the No. 9 team in the state, wasn’t overtly unfriendly, nor were Hurricane fans. However, the ‘Canes could smell victory. It was oh, so close, with Kapolei up 2-0 on Monday night after taking the first two sets 25-19 and 25-14. This matchup of unbeatens in the OIA West looked nothing like a showdown.
Epic? Not exactly.
The Lady Trojans went back to the bench and regrouped, eventually winning in five sets.
“Coach Pi‘i said the magic words, not me,” said Crabbe, the longtime Mililani head coach. “I was turning in the lineup (for the third set).”
Seniors Aysia Miller and Falanika Danielson remember precisely what Coach Gore said.
“Before the third set, he said, ‘We’re going to go to five sets. We have the heart and we have the drive to push to five sets and we’re going to win this match. From that point we were driven,” Miller said.
Danielson and Miller’s younger sister, sophomore Aria Miller, were instrumental in the comeback. Lineup changes took time to adjust to, Danielson noted.
“We were preparing for their ball control, especially their big block,” she said. “I think in the beginning, we were struggling with adjusting to a new lineup, and also a different type of lineup. We didn’t start with high energy, but once we got an incentive and a goal together, from that point on we kept building up.”
Setter Nicole Kimura was a major asset in a limited role, entering in the latter part of sets to give Mililani two setters — Aysia Miller had 36 assists.
“I really like it when we go 6-2. I was originally an outside hitter. It allows me to loosen up my game and contribute more for my team,” she said.
Kapolei was frozen at times as Kimura weighed her options: the hard-hitting Danielson, the relentless attack of Aria Miller, or the right-side swing of Aysia Miller.
For Kapolei, it was a painful lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. Had the match been in the old best-of-three format, the ‘Canes would still be in first place.
“Guess who pushed hard for best-of-five?” asked Kapolei coach Naidah Gamurot.
The OIA made the change in the offseason at the bequest of coaches league-wide. Going best-of-five better prepares OIA teams for the league playoffs and state tournament. Kapolei nearly pulled out the fourth set, but allowed Mililani to rally and even the match. It was some of the best volleyball of the young season for the Hurricanes.
“They did play well. There were times when the defense was awesome, the offense was awesome and the blocking was awesome,” Gamurot said.
Mililani had not permitted more than 16 point in a set during regular-season play. Kapolei had not surrendered more than 22, and only twice had they allowed 20 or more. The ‘Canes were responsible, on this night, for giving the Lady Trojans serious adversity for the first time in OIA West play. When Mililani returned the favor, Kapolei ran out of gas in the fifth set.
The good news for Gamurot is that there is no mystery anymore.
“I was afraid of was,” she said, “what if we don’t get our five-set match?”