Defeat was all but certain, yet Punahou found a way to come back and beat Mira Costa on Saturday in the Clash of the Titans boys volleyball tournament.
As a result, the Buffanblu took a 5-4 lead against the Mustangs in the nine years the tournament has been held since 2008.
When Jackson Wedbush thundered a kill for Mira Costa’s 25-20 third-set victory for a 2-1 match lead, the logical conclusion to those who don’t have a stake in it was that the Mustangs would get it done.
But it was not to be. Punahou, the top-ranked team in Hawaii and the winner of four straight Division I state titles, absolutely owned the visitors in the fourth and fifth sets at Hemmeter Fieldhouse.
Just let the following fourth- and fifth-set scores tickle your brain — 21-14 and 15-8. If the word dominance doesn’t come to mind, then write a letter to your Congressman to complain that that word just doesn’t describe that span.
The adrenaline was flowing in the crowd and on the Buffanblu side of the net. The band was playing and it all added up to a steal of the win over the visitors from Manhattan Beach, Calif.
“It’s time to party,” one Punahou player said shortly after the win.
Kana‘i Akana, who had two momentum-swinging solo blocks in the deciding set, had a bunch to say about how the team was pumped up as well as other factors contributing to the victory.
First of all, he described how he, personally, motivates himself to play at certain levels. He said he always tries to play at a 7 (on a scale of 1 to 10) and that when the score reaches 20, he tries to bump it up to a 10. Furthermore, he said the whole team was at a 10 for the whole fourth and fifth sets.
And then Akana talked about what coach Rick Tune brought to the table to get them to the promised land. Tune, by the way, during timeouts, was poised and direct with his players in trying to tell them what their duties were. That competitive face — the one University of Hawaii volleyball fans know so well from his days playing for the Rainbow Warriors in the mid-1990s — was there on Saturday. Intense focus and concentration.
“We went into the huddles and we were a little tense, and he just said to play our game and not do anything different than we usually do,” Akana said about Tune. “He wanted us to attack the middles and once we got the middles going, it was a lot easier for the pins to get kills and credit goes to the middles and the passers.”
In Tune’s words: “We’ve got kids with heart. I think they finally, right in that fourth set, they said, “OK, I need to trust our game plan. I need to trust my teammates. I don’t need to do more than my job responsibility entails. We saw what happened when the front row was working in tandem with the back row. They make it incredibly hard for teams to get points.”
Tune was asked why the Buffanblu were so dominant in the latter stages.
“We got on (Mira Costa’s) tendencies,” he said. “And we made adjustments in the match, and those adjustments gave them a hard time. We took away from what they wanted to do and we got better at doing that as the match went along.”
The Buffanblu, who were swept by Corona Del Mar (Newport Beach, Calif.) on Friday, did not meet the fourth team in the two-day tournament – Kamehameha-Hawaii. The Warriors from the Big Island, under coach Guy Enriques, lost to the two California teams in four-setters in the tournament.
Tune knows just how good those Warriors are, having faced them in the Division I state final in three of the last four years.
“They’re a wonderful team,” Tune said. “That team epitomizes grit, determination, heart, hard work. Guy is my favorite coach. If I had to play for any coach, I would want to play for Guy.”
The Clash of the Titans started when the boys volleyball seasons in Hawaii switched from fall to spring in 2008 and lined up with California’s spring break.
“Mira Costa has been here every year and this is a war,” Tune said. “We’ve gone to five sets the last three times we’ve played them.
“Mira Costa is kind of regarded as the historic top program in California (like Punahou in Hawaii, with 33 state titles in the 47 years of the state tournament), so it’s kind of a Hawaii-California battle. And we bring out one of the other top teams in California. Last year, it was Huntington Beach, who was California’s No. 1 team with a 127-match win streak. Just massive accolades. TJ Defalco, who is contending for freshman of the year (at Long Beach State), got their team, along with their setter Josh Tuaniga (also from Huntington Beach), to a top-10 national ranking right now. That’s the team we brought out last year. Corona Del Mar, there’s four or five D-I kids on that team. Their setter (Matt Ctvrtlik) just committed to Harvard on a full ride. He’s Bob Ctvrtlik‘s son. Bob was a USA player with Karch Kiraly when they won the Olympic gold medal (in 1988). There’s major bloodlines there.”