The depth is real, but the emotional consistency is total Punahou.
The Buffanblu not only defeated Kamehameha for the ILH boys volleyball title on Tuesday night. They did it with proper measurements of finesse, power, verve and poise. The 25-17, 25-11 win said less about Kamehameha, which is arguably the second-best team in the state, and more about the way Punahou peaked in the most important stage of the season.
“I’m really proud of all the guys. They all had a little struggle at some point in the two sets and they worked through it. That’s what good players do,” Punahou coach Rick Tune said. ”They can recalibrate and their whole game doesn’t fall apart. Maybe one part isn’t working for the time being, but they just keep grinding with the other stuff and eventually the whole game comes online,”
Punahou finished the shortened spring season at 12-0. Balance is power for the Buffanblu, which got strong performances from Keau Thompson (seven kills), Nate Loose (five kills, three blocks, ace), Riley Haine (four kills), Aidan Tune (three kills, ace), Ryder Hsiung (two kills, two blocks), Noa Haine (three kills, two assists) and setter Keegan Au Yuen (18 assists, two kills).
“Overall our season was really great. Every day at practice was always intense; We came out, did everything we worked on, and overall it’s been a great season,” said Thompson, one of the many talented juniors. “I definitely saw, every time we played Kamehameha, their intensity and level of play just constantly went up. We knew, being our last time we were playing them, it would pretty much be a dog fight. They were great rivals, and we came out and did what we had to do.”
Thompson, according to Tune, attacks the ball with a certain savagery.
“We have such competitive spirits playing volleyball. As soon as we step on the court, we’re all working our butt of to just win,” Thompson said.
Another junior, Riley Haine, saw no surprises on the court.
“We had a couple of bumps, I think, but overall, we played pretty well and it’s the outcome we wanted, so I’m pretty stoked on that,” Haine said. “We had a short time to put in the work, gave it all in every game, only 10 games in the regular season. The hard work paid off. Almost our whole starting team is juniors.”
Junior Aidan Tune is one of the players who misses the longer season, the longer matches.
“It feels different this year, I guess. It doesn’t really feel like a win, to be honest. Just kind of different competition, I guess,” he said.
Loose, a senior, was borderline cherubic about the perfect season.
“It was an awesome indoor season. I’m so glad we got to compete. Just played a really solid game of volleyball against Kamehameha in the finals. We brought it home. It’s awesome to end it on such a bang,” he said.
Skill-wise, this group was outstanding, even compared to Tune’s previous teams. Under his watch, Punahou has won the last eight state championships.
“This is one of the best serving teams I’ve ever had. They serve at close to 90 percent on the season. When you put that kind of pressure on a team, and they’re not easy serves, either, that plays a lot into how we can keep pressure on a team,” Tune said. “There’s a lot of trust. We’re pretty far along on the continuum of what we can do and what we feel comfortable doing, so we can switch gears when we need to and run different things. It’s a testament to how hard these guys work. These guys are all gym rats. They can be in the gym eight, nine, 10 hours a day and be fine with it.”
Kamehameha, guided by longtime coach Randy Nako, began with some new wrinkles.
“Their middles were throwing the ball back across body a lot more. They weren’t settling for the away. Their pins, we knew they were going to try to throw it off our outside hand on the line, so we made an adjustment there,” Tune said. “They ran some 30s and 40s that they didn’t run a lot the first two (regular-season games), but it was part of their offense this time. We were kind of ready for those adjustments.”
Punahou fell behind 4-1 in set two before Tune called time out.
“We just talked about getting our whole offense online. We were avoiding a couple of guys, going to them on bad balls. We just needed to get them in a rhythm. We want to make the defense respect everybody on the court. If we eliminate an option ourselves, then the defense can really key in,” Tune noted. “It’s really important that early in that set, we keep everybody in rhythm and online. That’s when our offense is clicking at its best.”
The hub of the wheel was Au Yuen, with all his consistency. He is also a junior.
“I feel excited and happy that we won our last game, but life continues. You’ve got to get off the high train a little bit. It’s definitely a good experience,” he said. “It’s a really short season because of COVID and we usually have state tournament, but this year we’ve got to take what we can get. I’m just glad we had a season.”
The preparation is also off the court.
“We study this team quite a lot and we dissect film before every game. Coach Rick did a good job of giving us our assignments and us just executing them,” Au Yuen said. “We’re able to pass the ball better every game. Riley Haine, Aidan Tune and sometimes Keau Thompson’s in there. I definitely want to give credit to Xander Pink for the team’s success. Nothing would be possible without that first pass from him.”
Haine summed it up for the efficient Buffanblu.
“Thanks, boys for a great season. It was super fun to play with all of them. One main thing is, Coach said we have to be the predators, not the prey. That’s kind of my mindset for every game now. It gets me in the right mood. It gets me thinking, I want to pounce on them, keep your foot on the gas,” he said.
He and his teammates are already looking forward to club season, and then school season — and a potential return of the Clash of the Titans preseason tournament at Hemmeter Fieldhouse.
“Last year was kind of a letdown. Really stoked to be able to play this year again. It feels really awesome to win,” he said.
Tune is a master planner, a coach who embraced analytic numbers long before they became popular in pro sports. A short preseason and regular season was something new, and he adapted.
“It feels a little weird not to have kind of a celebration, not to have parents come out of the stands with lei, but it doesn’t take away from the work ethic, the grind mentality, all of the things that they had to do all season,” Tune said.
Last, but not least, he praised his seniors.
“The thing I want to say most about this senior class is that they were very, very professional. The decisions they made, value them first, which is what we are all about. Nate is usually an opposite, but he played out of position the whole year and trained like heck in the middle. You saw what a difference he made in the middle,” Tune said.
“Noa, he’ll do whatever the team needed hm to do. Sometimes, we put him in at setter, sometimes at outside hitter. Even though he’s committed to BYU as a setter, he’s probably our best leader. He’s our most vocal team member. They brought nothing but positivity this year. Ryder Hsiung, Jon Suh, they’re there every practice, working super hard,” Tune said.
He relied on the hustle and toughness of libero Xander Pink.
“Xander is like Mr. Consistency personified. He’s a Division I libero, no doubt about it. The has been the most consistent I’ve ever seen him play.”