There are weddings, there are plans, and there are wedding plans.
Kamehameha’s girls volleyball program seems to work everything out, even championship week and matrimony.
On Saturday, hours before Kamehameha took the court at Blaisdell Arena and swept top seed Punahou for the Division I state championship, coach Chris Blake jumped in his car and headed to Ko Olina. His sister, Holly, was getting married. He arrived, walked her down the aisle, partook of the ceremony and raced back to the Kapalama campus. The bus left promptly at 5:30 p.m.
The day before, it was assistant coach Alohi Robins-Hardy who fulfilled her role for a wedding. The former two-sport all-state player of the year had been a key part of the program all season.
“The team didn’t know she wasn’t going to be there (at the state final) until she told them,” Blake said.
That was on Thursday night after Kamehameha swept Kahuku in the semifinal round. Robins-Hardy boarded her flight to the mainland for her sister’s wedding.
“Alohi is a great role model. They were emotional. They were sad, someone as important as Alohi. We’re glad to have been part of her growth. She’s shown them how it’s done, staying in shape and getting ready for her opportunity,” Blake said, referring to Robins-Hardy’s professional career.
For the current Warriors, this was an ascent for the ages. Through 10 previous state championships going back to 2005, a variety of Kamehameha girls volleyball teams had endured difficult paths to the crown. The 2021-22 season was different.
Maui Robins with the final kill, Kamehameha sweeps top seed Punahou 25-18, 25-15, 25-22 for the D-I state title. Devin Kahahawai 16 kills, Robins 14 K, Adrianna Arquette 12 K. @HawaiiPrepWorld @StarAdvSports @HHSAAsports @KSKAthletics @GoPuns pic.twitter.com/6IfFAeVbdT
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) December 12, 2021
It certainly measures as a pinnacle that most observers. Losing four of five matches to Punahou, then sweeping the talented, tough Buffanblu in the Division I state final, surprised just about everyone.
Not the Warriors. Not after a 25-18, 25-15, 25-22 demolition win over the top-seeded, top-ranked Buffanblu.
“Not at all. I think we just, in the locker room, we said Punahou hasn’t seen the true us. We haven’t played the game we know how to play,” said Devin Kahahawai, the tournament’s most outstanding player.
The 6-foot-3 senior led Kamehameha (12-5) with 16 kills.
“This is our last chance, win or lose, we’ve got to leave it all out there. We’ve got to come out here with a strong start and show them who we truly are and how we truly compete,” she said.
Imagine that. Taking a championship match right to your nemesis, giving it a rare loss in the most lopsided fashion possible on the biggest stage.
It starts at the top. Coach Chris Blake’s 11th state title may go down as the sweetest. When Kahahawai was with the national team and Maui Robins was recuperating from an ankle injury, the Warriors had their struggles in preseason and the regular season. Hosting the Hawaii Invitational, Kamehameha lost in the semifinals and looked on as Damien beat University for the tourney title.
“We didn’t really have our entire team in the gym. We didn’t have everything in our practices until three months into the season,” said Blake, who became head coach in 2003. “Over the length of the season, everyone developed and grew so much, but it was new even for us, coaching so long. There were so many challenges we had to go through.”
The Warriors made progress, but with Punahou and ‘Iolani making big strides through the ILH schedule, the future seemed to be a giant question mark for the blue and white.
>> Sept. 21 — Punahou def. Kamehameha 26-24, 25-19, 25-22, Hemmeter Fieldhouse
>> Oct. 1 — Punahou def. Kamehameha 25-23, 25-22, 25-19, Kekuhaupio Gym
>> Oct. 19 — Kamehameha def. Punahou 21-25, 25-23, 25-21, 19-25, 25-9, Kekuhaupio Gym
The loss on Oct. 1 is one that Blake sees as one of the turning points.
“Devin was with the national team. Maui was out (ankle injury). Punahou was without Lucky-Rose (Williams). The team we put out there played really hard, but it was also a match where we grew the most,” he said. “A lot of people were put into contributing positions. They learned they had it in them. Our setters stepped up. Nadia (Koanui) did some amazing things.”
But, at the time, the evidence seemed to point in a different direction. By the end of the regular season, the question was whether Kamehameha would even qualify for the state championships. A close win over ‘Iolani in the ILH tournament saved the season.
>> Nov. 9 — Kamehameha def ‘Iolani 22-25, 25-19, 21-25, 25-23, 15-12, Father Bray Athletic Center
>> Nov. 12 — Punahou def. Kamehameha 28-26, 21-25, 25-15, 25-20, Hemmeter Fieldhouse
>> Nov. 20 — Punahou def. Kamehameha 21-25, 25-16, 25-23, 25-19, ILH tournament, Hemmeter Fieldhouse
The latter two losses to Punahou, with a full Kamehameha lineup, seemed to be all the Warriors would muster. The caveat, of course, is Blake and his coaching staff, and their history. The mantra, to peak at the end of the season.
Experience was a factor, too.
“Maui is so knowledgeable. Her experiences, her volleyball IQ. She’s been there before. She saw her sister go through it,” Blake noted. “Because Devin and Maui are so different in personalities, yet they get along so well, it makes it that much harder for teams to defend against us.”
The only team to take a set from Kamehameha at the state tournament was Kapolei in the opening round. The Warriors were up 2-0 and with a 20-16 lead, rested Kahahawai. Kapolei was opportunistic, took the third set, and is now duly noted.
It wasn’t just the near-perfect run at the big dance. No team scored more than 20 points on the Warriors with Kahahawai on the floor for a full set until Saturday, when Punahou scrapped for 22 in game three.
> def. Kapolei 25-20, 25-17, 22-25, 25-17
> def. Baldwin 25-9, 25-15, 25-16, McKinley gym
> def. Kahuku 25-13, 25-20, 25-15, Moanalua gym
Momentum swings often began with serve. Payton Oliveira, Robins, Sierra Scanlan, Marley Roe, Kahahawai, Sydnee Sniffen. Assistant coach Daryl Tamashiro’s passion for the serve game has benefited the Warriors for years. It showed immensely this season.
“The beginning of year, we can spend up to an hour on serving techniques,” Tamashiro said. “They all had to go a long way in terms of having consistency.”
Robins returned from her ankle injury with a tweak in her serve game.
“She changed her float (serve) to a standing float from a jumping float. She was finding a little consistency in hitting areas. As an older person, I don’t care about float, top spin. Hitting the area is more important. To have that understanding is helpful for us,” he said.
The block was constant, too. Adrianna Arquette (12 kills, .800 in the state final), Moana Peaua, Kahahawai, Robins plus a boost from Tia Kapihe.
“Yes, I think it was our best match of the season. We’ve been working so hard since preseason,” said Arquette, a sophomore. “At the end we all played for each other and (Princess Bernice) Pauahi (Bishop), we just came through.”
Kahahawai ramped up defensively with three blocks in the opening set against OIA champion Kahuku. If she wanted, the lengthy, springy Texas-bound could do just about anything. But the priority, of course, was the crown.
The back row remained a strength. When Robins wasn’t busy swinging (14 kills), she picked up a team-high 15 digs and had one of her teams five aces. Oliveira was consistent all season in the back row and finished with seven digs in the title match. Setters Scanlan (22 assists, 12 digs) and Roe (18 assists, two aces) were smooth.
“Marley, in our debrief said, ‘I’ve been looking up to you guys since I was seventh, eighth grade and to be part of this is an amazing thing’,” Blake said.
At 48, Blake has spent most of his life as a student, volleyball player, teacher and coach on the premises of the campus. If there were and still are opportunities to build or revive programs at the next level, he won’t say. More than that, he just isn’t very interested. Not with the support his wife, Jamie, has given him, and not with children hitting their high school ages.
“To be in the situation that I’m in is a blessing at our alma mater, representing Kamehameha on and off the court. This is an honor. That’s where things are going to be for awhile,” Blake said. “I think I have so much more to learn, so much more to be done in growth and development. I’m blessed to be surrounded by a wonderful group of coaches, and coaches I’m able to learn from. The enjoyment of this season will be for the ages because it was so unique. I have so much further to go to be better for our program and our school and our princess.
“It’s a big deal.”
One of Blake’s favorite moments of Saturday night came after the match.
“One of my fondest memories after we got our medals, getting to go over to the side, sing our alma mater with our supporters and fans. I never realized how much it means to us because it’s been so long since we had a crowd,” he said. “Punahou’s ‘Buff Nation’ were amazing. The energy in that gym, you just forgot because it wasn’t there.”
It was on campus where he got his first chance to coach thanks to then Kamehameha boys coach Tita Ahuna, now the girls coach at Punahou.
“Tita was my coach when I was playing (at Kamehameha) my senior year. She was just out of college. She got me my first head coaching job. I was at UH, played ball for a year, and a new coach came in. She asked if I wanted to catch, and I started with the intermediate boys team as an assistant,” he said. “She got me into coaching and I always thank her every opportunity I have. I’m thankful to be part of her coaching legacy.”
Kahahawai’s career is done in high school volleyball. She will move on to Texas soon enough, but the memories will last.
“I think just the little small talks we had during games, that’s what I’ll remember. In the locker room, they were all around me cheering for Texas. It was awesome,” she said. “It’s the little things that made us who we truly are, that I’ll never forget.”
Blake felt grateful as the post-match festivities carried on.
“I want to thank our league and Chris Chun, the guys at the HHSAA, for putting together an amazing state tournament and amazing season through all the challenges. The environment in the NBC yesterday, to have crowds again, it was amazing,” he said. “We went through two years with no fans and to have no limitations, to see everyone there, that energy from the crowd was amazing.”
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) December 12, 2021
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) December 12, 2021