Condensation has led to inspiration for the Punahou Buffanblu.
The Buffanblu girls volleyball team took the best shots Le Jardin could offer and swept the Lady Bulldogs 25-14, 25-18 on Saturday night in the semifinal round of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu playoffs. Punahou will meet rival Kamehameha for the league championship on Tuesday at Hemmeter Fieldhouse.
Junior Lucky-Rose Williams paced the unbeaten Buffanblu with nine kills (.300), seven digs and one ace. The 6-foot-1 outside hitter was at her best when the visiting Bulldogs carved into Punahou’s lead. Williams answered with tips from the back row and smashes from the left side to stymie a resilient LJA defensive effort.
“If I had to grade us, we started with a B-minus or C-plus, but we ended strong. I give Le Jardin props,” Williams said.
Jaclyn Matias had 23 assists, seamlessly distributing to her vast array of weapons, along with 13 digs. The Buffanblu got 10 kills from their middles, Kaleinani Simeona-French (five, .556) and Grace Fiaseu (four, .300). Belle Iosua tallied four kills and 11 digs, and right-side hitter Halo Yoshiki came up with three timely kills and a block. Libero Katharine Yoshimoto tallied nine digs.
Senior Ellie Diersbock led Le Jardin with four kills. Senior Alishya Roman had three kills and sophomore Nene Hawkins tallied three kills, two aces and two assists. Senior setter Nive Tuileta had nine assists and two kills, and sophomore Reese Diersbock added two kills.
As a team, Punahou hit .274, patiently wearing down a tough Le Jardin defense. Having a persistent mindset was part of coach Tanya Fuamatu-Anderson’s pre-game chat. Williams tapped into some renewed energy from her coach’s reminder.
“Every game, the team comes up a set of goals. Reset, mindset, consistency, keep that foot on the gas pedal,” Williams said.
Fuamatu-Anderson was stoked.
“I honestly feel great and happy, and excited for the girls,” she said. “We knew coming in that Le Jardin is a strong team. You don’t take them lightly. They have a lot of studs. They’re well coached and we respect them.”
“They’re just super steady,” Le Jardin coach Lee Lamb said. “I knew we had to play some quality volleyball. We started off in a tough space and we just weren’t able to recover. We had moments in there, but we just weren’t able to string them together. They’ve got 18, 20 kids on the varsity roster and I think any one of those kids could start at most other programs.”
A slew of hitting errors by the visiting Bulldogs helped Punahou open the first set with an 8-2 lead. An ace by Hawkins cut the lead to 13-10, but the Buffanblu took full command as Williams countered with three kills to open her team’s lead to 18-12. After a block by Yoshiki, Punahou had a 23-12 edge.
Punahou hit a lull in set two as hitting errors helped Le Jardin get within 13-12. Then, the Buffanblu again surged to the finish line with a depth and breadth.
Now, after half as many regular-season matches and a shorter playoff format, the crown is in reach for Punahou. Defending state champion Kamehameha ousted ‘Iolani in the other semifinal to reach the title match.
“It’s going to be a tough game, exciting to watch and play in. It’s the game of the year,” Williams said.
The gauntlet is the same every year, but the suddenness of the coming final is like nothing before in ILH girls volleyball.
“The kids definitely adjusted to the shortened, abbreviated season,” Fuamatu-Anderson said. “We’re excited. We get to play for the title. Kamehameha is a great team. Maui Robins and Devin Kahahawai are two big hitters. We had to continue to play our game.”
The title match in an empty gym. Players and coaches have gotten used to the scenario to some degree.
“The moment may not seem as big and real without fans and the band and loud music, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re paying for the title,” Fuamatu-Anderson said. “Everybody kept climbing and evolving in the ILH.”