The Kamehameha Warriors have won 10 state championships over the past 16 seasons under coach Chris Blake.
Still, when Punahou hosts Kamehameha for the Interscholastic League of Honolulu girls volleyball title tonight, the Buffanblu won’t be star-struck. Punahou (8-1) split with the Warriors during the regular season and earned the top seed in the single-elimination playoff tournament.
Behind the versatility and consistency of their 6-footers, Punahou swept a game Le Jardin squad on Saturday night to reach the final. Kamehameha (7-2) eked past ‘Iolani 25-18, 23-25, 25-13 on Saturday morning.
“Hopefully, we’re in a better place. The challenges that we’ve been through over the course of these past weeks have got us here,” Blake said. “ ‘Iolani is a tough team and we got their best on Saturday. It forced us into being better. I think we definitely hav to be better (on Tuesday) in order for us to be successful. That’s a very talented Punahou team.”
Returning all-state performers Devin Kahahawai and Maui Robins are relentless hammers, but depth and defense are also key for Kamehameha.
“I think everybody kind of did their jobs. (Mari) Lawton had an exceptional match as well as the other big girl, (Senna) Roberts-Navarro. And Moki (Tufono) does what Moki does. She was exceptional,” Blake noted. “For us, we had to continue to be steady. We passed the ball relatively well. We tried to be persistent, make sure we kept on going and take advantage of our opportunities.”
Punahou presents unique problems for any opponent, even dynastic Kamehameha.
“They are one year older one year better. They lost a few players (to graduation), but they’re solid. They have very good size across the board. A setter (Jaclyn Matias) who runs a very good offense,” Blake said. “Lucky-Rose (Williams) was out the second time we saw them. They have the lefty on the opposite (Halo Yoshiki). Because she’s left-handed, she poses a unique challenge. The two middles (Kaleinani Simeona-French and Grace Fiaseu) are exceptional.”
In a matter of hours, the ILH girls and boys volleyball seasons will be done. Pau.
“It was quick. Looking back on where we started on Mar. 1, eventually we put some things together,” Blake said. “Punahou is definitely a different team than when we saw them on Mar. 25 and Apr. 15. For us, it’s definitely going to have to be a great team effort to do well.”
Last year, he recalled, Kamehameha trailed ‘Iolani 2-0 before rallying to win in the ILH semifinals. If the current best-of-three format had been in play then, the Warriors would not have gone on to win the state crown.
“We wouldn’t have had that crazy, epic match, but we have to adjust and we’re very thankful to have our season, for sure,” Blake said.
The boys final, also between Punahou and Kamehameha, will begin at 5 p.m. The girls will follow at 6:30. Both matches will be televised.
In a normal season, the regular-season winner would play the tournament (round two) winner for the league title. This year, the playoff winner will be champion.