Expectations are, to say the least, large in the land of the Buffanblu.
That’s what can happen when a legendary player and coach is hired as the new girls volleyball coach. Tita Ahuna’s legacy is already cemented. Standout player at Kamehameha. A national title as a player at Hawaii. Two state titles as the boys volleyball coach at Kamehameha. Two NCAA Division II crowns as women’s volleyball coach at HPU.
Taking the mantle at Punahou, where Tanya Fuamatu-Anderson stepped down, isn’t a simple task. Punahou’s 26-24, 25-19, 25-22 sweep of defending state champion Kamehameha on Tuesday opened the ILH regular season with quite an impression.
“I’m happy to get the first one under my belt. We struggled in the first set, but throughout the match, we got better and better. Kamehameha’s a great team. They’re well-coached and you can tell,” Ahuna said of her alma mater. “Their middles hurt us a lot, but we were able to play steady and I attribute that to these girls. They play with a lot of heart.”
Ahuna is already on staff at Punahou as a co-athletic director. Punahou’s arsenal is deep and talented. Senior setter Jaclyn Matias was tremendously deft at distributing to all the right spots, all the right teammates.
“I definitely think that’s not the best we could’ve done. It was a pretty rough start and rough overall game for us, but the only way to go from here is up,” said Matias, who had 41 assists and one kill. “I’m excited to work on it at practice this week.”
Punahou got good production from its middles deeper into the match. Grace Fiaseu had eight kills and three blocks, and Logan Duechar tallied five kills and one block.
“I definitely think we executed. Our middle blockers, they took blockers with them, so us pins had one-on-ones most of the time, which is super helpful,” said outside hitter Lulu Uluave, who had 11 kills and three aces.
The prospect of a best-of-five format in ILH regular-season play — and a 7:30 p.m. start — could have kept a statewide TV audience on pins and needles through late night. Instead, Punahou gained momentum in the second set and never allowed the visiting Warriors to regroup.
Ahuna stayed on the bench, rarely getting up, from start to finish. Her players were in mid-season form on offense and defense.
“It feels good. She’s had a lot of success in the past at Kamehameha, HPU winning the national championship. It’s nice to have somebody with so much success and wisdom, kind of bring that to Punahou and share it for us,” said Lucky-Rose Williams, who had a team-high 13 kills. “She brought this mentality that has a lot of grit, push through everything. Go in this game or practice with a mindset of fulfilling everything we need to get done, to be ready 110 percent.”
The energy level, the camaraderie — Punahou has had these for years and decades. Maybe it feels a bit different with Ahuna at the helm.
“We stuck together through the good times and bad times. Celebrating together is a big key. We stuck together through the whole thing,” Fiaseu said.
The absence of Kamehameha’s Devin Kahahawai made a certain difference. Kahahawai is busy playing for the US National Team until next week.
“If Devin is here, it’s definitely would have a different game, but I’m happy how it turned out,” Uluave said.
Punahou won the 2014 state title under Fuamatu-Anderson. Kamehameha and ‘Iolani have won the last six titles combined in alternating years.