More than a decade has passed since the Kamehameha Warriors first played in the Durango Classic.
Mid-season travel to Nevada. Disruption of class attendance. Returning to the islands with some jet lag, fatigue and within 48 hours, a key ILH match. Coach Chris Blake wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Warriors placed 10th in the 64-team field in Las Vegas. There were plenty of study halls guided by Blake, a longtime teacher at the school. There was rest time, shopping time, bonding time. Volleyball time.
Kamehameha went 3-0 in pool play at Coronado High School gym, losing just one set. Kamehameha defeated St. Ignatius (Calif.) 25-16, 25-15; La Costa Canyon (Calif.) 25-21, 21-25, 25-20; and South Torrance (Calif.) 25-10, 25-19.
The Warriors then lost to eventual champion Cathedral Catholic (Calif.) 25-15, 25-19.
Kamehameha defeated ILH rival ‘Iolani 25-18, 25-12 and Xavier College Prep (Ariz.) 26-24, 22-25, 25-18 to reach the final of the Silver Bracket. Torrey Pines (Calif.) swept Kamehameha 25-14, 25-13. The Warriors were 5-2 overall at the Classic, playing as many matches in three days as they did during the first round of ILH regular-season play.
“It was a great team growth opportunity for our team. Lots of them stepped up, especially Keonilei Akana, Lagi (Noelle) Sua-Godinet and Bryanne Soares, our captains, and the seniors Tara De Sa, Kayla Faulkner, Mia Goulart, Maluhia Hirahira and Mickayla Baniaga.
The action against the nation’s best programs provided variety and tested the Warriors’ depth. Playing in best-of-3 during the first round of league play is the norm for the ILH, but game reps at the DC were valuable in Blake’s eyes.
Kamehameha (6-1) will host Punahou on Tuesday in a crucial league showdown. Coach Blake chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Monday morning.
HPW: A midseason trip to Las Vegas can be tiring, but there are benefits to playing in the Durango Classic?
Blake: The benefits are good for us. It puts us in a whole different state of mind. We have our study hall. Just the act of getting on a plane makes it more significant. We’re going up to the continent. Talking to the tournament director, we’ve been going up for 11 years. It’s a standing invitation for us. He uses us as a draw for other teams because of the style. ‘Iolani was there this year. Kamehameha-Hawaii was in for the first time. HBA and Punahou have been there. It’s big for the diversity (for the tournament).
HPW: How big was the tournament field back when you first went?
Blake: Initially, it was 24 teams when I coached with Coach Dan (Kitashima) in 1999. We won it that year.
HPW: How many teams are in it now?
Blake: Now it’s 64. It’s the best high school tournament in the nation.
HPW: Who won it this year?
Blake: This year, Cathedral Catholic of San Diego won it. They beat us after we won our pool. We beat them last year. This year we played them in our first match (qualifying round). They’re good. That’s the reason we go up. A whole bunch of different situations that we don’t see here. It causes our team and our leaders to step up.
HPW: What it like traveling with this year’s group? Any particular go-to restaurants or snacks?
Blake: We treat it like a business trip and they understand. After we play on Saturday, we eat at a buffet. This year, it was Bellgio.
HPW: Do you ever think, I am so glad I’m coaching and traveling with a girls team instead of boys? Or is it the opposite?
Blake: No, we’ve been fortunate to have kids from our volleyball community. We’ve got great captains who did a great job of helping to set the tone and expectations. Our captains Keonilei (Akana), Noelle (Sua-Godinet) and Bryanne (Soares) did an exceptional job of leadership on and off the court.
HPW: Did you have the team abstain from shopping trips at all?
Blake: Oh no, it’s part of our trip. A bunch of study halls, rest days. Our flight (home) was a little later, so after our study hall, we stopped at Trader Joe’s and a couple of places.
HPW: Who enjoyed the trip most and the least?
Blake: Our seniors enjoyed it the most. It’s been definitely part of the process every year for them. I think the way that our team sticks together helps us move into our next phase. It’s a good opportunity for us. What happens helps us for the next match against a very tough team.”
HPW: When did the team return?
Blake: We got home on Sunday night. Then we have Punahou tomorrow (Tuesday), Mid-Pacific on Saturday and ‘Iolani next Tuesday.
HPW: The second round means you play only the teams in your quadrant, and the matches are now best-of-five.
Blake: To me, best-of-three is a sprint. Best-of-five is a marathon. You can play excellent volleyball for one set, but sustaining that excellence for two-and-a-half, three hours is tough.
HPW: The OIA went to best-of-five in regular season this year.
Blake: A lot of the teams we talked to said mainland is best-of-five. You can only control what you can control. It’s one of those variables. I’m a believer that if it’s best-of-five, it best prepares you for states. We still support whatever our leagues decide.
HPW: The quadrants in ILH seem like a compromise that allows the middle-tier programs a chance to play the elite programs — ‘Iolani, Kamehameha, Punahou — while still engaging in a format that offers a chance to play in the Division I state tournament.
Blake: We’ll see how it is. It’s a great blend of variety for our league. Last year was playing the same teams over and over. This format presents its own set of challenges.