Chris Blake always hopes and plans for his Kamehameha teams to peak at the end of the season.
The Warriors sure looked like a championship team on Thursday night, sweeping MIL champion 25-9, 25-15, 25-16 at McKinley Student Council Gymnasium. Kamehameha (10-5) will battle OIA champion Kahuku in the semifinals at Moanalua gym on Friday.
The Kamehameha-Baldwin match had the potential for a little surprise, but the young Bears never got fully untracked. Several of Baldwin’s key players are only freshmen.
“Whenever you play one of the big dogs, there’s a level of play you can never prepare for at home,” Bears coach Al Paschoal said. “Kamehameha was sleepwalking a bit, but once they woke up they went on a serving run. Our freshmen didn’t quit so I’m proud of them.”
Serving run, yes. From start to finish, Kamehameha’s serving skills were on display, keeping the Bears out of system and off balance. Baldwin (13-1) looked like a team that is just a step away from contending at the highest level. But the Bears certainly couldn’t solve the Warriors’ serve.
Sierra Scanlan had six of Kamehameha’s 11 aces. She also had a busy night feeding the ball to Nadia Koanui on back sets to the right side. Koanui finished with a match-high 13 kills. That took a load off Devin Kahahawai (five kills) and Maui Robins (two). Middles Adrianna Arquette (six) and Moana Peaua (five) were fairly busy, but it was mostly a quick, seamless night as the now-healthy Warriors advanced.
Scanlan doesn’t use a lot of spin on her serves. She’s not even 100-percent sure which direction the ball will go every time.
“We were working a lot in practice on serving our zones. My main focus was to keep my ball as flat, as floaty as I could,” Scanlan said. “It was very hot when we came in here. I was really focusing on my deep serve, floating it to the corners, things like that.”
Kahuku will bring an aura, and the volume, that makes the state championships in Hawaii unique.
“I’m very excited for that game. I think it’s going to be really high energy,” she said.
Kahahawai, one of their most experienced players along with Robins, has seen and heard the electric atmosphere of states before. Kamehameha won the last state title in 2019.
“We minimized our errors, which is really good, and we stayed connected the entire time,” the 6-foot-2 outside hitter and national team member said. “I’m excited. Kahuku brings a really big crowd and that’s something I’d say 75 percent of the team hasn’t seen before. I’m excited for them to have the experience of a state-tournament crowd and it’s really rowdy, super loud. You can’t hear each other on the court. It’s such a crazy atmosphere. I honestly love that.”
Kahahawai knows tomorrow’s opponent well.
“Emmalei Mapu, Kayla (Fonoimoana), they’re great pin hitters. Their two middles are super strong, too. It’s going to be fun,” she said.
Koanui delivered in the clutch. She says she has a secret present for her parents this Christmas, and it wasn’t the 13-kill night against Baldwin.
“I’m really happy for the team. We all did a super good job tonight, every single person in every single aspect,” she said. “On this team, I used to be more of a defensive player, but recently I got switched to opposite. I wasn’t really expecting that many swings, honestly, because we have so many great hitters on the team. At practice, we work on different shots and stuff, and that’s mainly what I was trying to do tonight, to limit my areas and specifically hit certain shots on the court.”
Koanui’s consistency presents one more weapon by Kamehameha for Kahuku to defend.
“It’s a good team win for us, finding ways to execute as best we could. Everybody was in there doing what we had to do,” Blake said. “Different people contributing was key for us and that’s what we’re going to need as we continue to advance through this tournament.”
Blake has guided Kamehameha to 10 state championships, but nothing has been quite like the past year. The ILH postponed its girls volleyball season and played in the spring. Then teams returned a few months later for the fall. The juggernaut league spread its season over a longer span of time than ever to fit the schedule of other leagues, with this week’s state championships later in the fall than ever.
Volleyball in December is quite amazing, especially with two elite programs about to clash.
“You know, they’re well coached. They’re really physical. They won their league. We’re going to have to step up another notch in order for us to continue to advance,” Blake said. “They’re a tough team and it’s a matter of us, hopefully, getting back into it, breaking down some things and then getting into the gym and competing tomorrow.”
(See the game story in Friday’s edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.)