The balance of power shifts in ILH girls volleyball, in Division II, but the onus is on Damien to keep its momentum.
The Lady Monarchs are ranked No. 5 in the Star-Advertiser Girls Volleyball Top 10, the highest among D-II teams.
“I think our team is pretty humble. We put the work in,” outside hitter Kody Wengler said.
“We humble ourselves. We just keep pushing,” setter Kenna Wengler said. “We never settle for minimum.”
When Damien met Mililani recently for an exhibition match, it was a mix of starters and reserves getting playing time. The D-II squad from Houghtailing Street met the challenge from one of the OIA’s top programs.
“We played starters in the first set and we did pretty good,” Kody Wengler recalled. “We won. After that we mixed it up a little bit, had fun with it.”
Kenna Wengler had to be asked more than once before she answered another question: who won?
“We still battled, though,” she said. “We won, 3-2.”
No. 5 Damien sweeps St. Andrew’s 25-7, 25-19, 25-11 in the opening round of ILH D-II double-elimination tourney. Kenna Wengler, Kody Wengler 7 kills each. @DamienMemorial will meet University, which defeated HBA in four sets, on Sat. @HawaiiPrepWorld @StarAdvSports @PrioryPride pic.twitter.com/NuADaake1D
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) November 3, 2021
Getting out of the ILH’s D-II gauntlet and into states is never a given. For more than a decade, Hawaii Baptist has won titles and contended otherwise. Four state koa trophies in all, the most recent in 2015, all under the tutelage of Myles Shioji.
For two seasons, now-defunct St. Francis was the queen ship, winning the state crown in 2011 and ’12 under Sonja Samsonas.
Then, the uprising moved to Le Jardin Academy, where Lee Lamb guided the Bulldogs to state championships in ’16 and ’17.
Sacred Hearts, under Raymond Patcho, secured its first D-II state title in 12 years during the ’18 season.
Don Faumuina led Damien to its first girls volleyball state title in ’19, then retired. Under Chad Giesseman, the Monarchs are inching closer to an ILH championship and a return to the state tourney.
It isn’t simple, and it is far from easy. Unlike D-I in the ILH, where the regular-season winner earns an automatic state berth, first-place finisher Damien was rewarded with the No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage. The top four ILH teams that emerge from the double-elimination playoff tournament will qualify for the state tourney. Damien took a big step forward with a 25-7, 25-19, 25-11 win over D-III champion St. Andrew’s Priory on Tuesday.
“I’m proud of my girls. We’ve been working hard. I was worried about a letdown, but every game, we picked it up,” Giesseman said.
The second round gets a bit rowdy. While Damien hosts University on Saturday afternoon, Le Jardin will host Maryknoll. LJA is ranked No. 10. Maryknoll has been ranked as high as No. 7 in the coaches and media poll.
University has been on the cusp since the start of preseason. Twice, the Jr. ‘Bows nearly knocked out Damien in tournaments. In the regular-season opener at HBA, ULS was swept and lost three of its first five matches.
Since then, the Jr. ‘Bows have won four in a row, including a stunning 25-18, 25-15, 14-25, 25-16 win over HBA on Tuesday. The last team to sweep University? Damien, which lost middle Tiani Souza to a knee injury during the win over St. Andrew’s.
Coach Giesseman, his players and staff went silent when Souza hit the hardwood. The entire gym, including roughly 50 socially-distanced and vaccinated parents/spectators, was in complete silence for several minutes as trainers tended to Souza.
Raiatea Campbell, a junior, had three kills and one block at middle. With the injury to Souza, reserve Hailey Pancipanci has a bigger role. She had three kills on Tuesday.
“Our third middle (Pancipanci) is really good. She’s very athletic. She’s been getting some quality reps and experience. We’re very confident with her,” Giesseman said. “We lose a lot without Tiani, but we’re very confident that Hailey will do a pretty good job for us.”
Souza, he added, is more than a good athlete. The junior has a motor that is unmatched and a drive that is uncommon.
“Tiani said, ‘Coach, I’ll be back, I’ll be back’,” Giesseman said.