The pursuit of excellence: Punahou’s dynasty evermore

Keau Thompson, Riley Haine, Aidan Tune and Keegan Au Yuen formed the core of an unbeaten Punahou boys volleyball squad in 2022. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.

Thirty-eight, 11 and nine.

That is 38 boys volleyball state championships for Punahou. Eleven under coach Rick Tune, including nine in a row after a Buffanblu sweep of Moanalua on Saturday night at Blaisdell.

The seniors, including setter Keegan Au Yuen, Keau Thompson, Riley Haine and Aidan Tune, clutched the koa championship trophy. Three years since the previous state tournament. It was quite the wait.

“It’s our senior year so it’s a real special moment to share with all these guys I’ve been playing with forever,” Au Yuen said.

They aren’t completely done yet.

“We’re actually all on the same club team (Spike n’ Serve), but when that ends, there’s going to be an actual goodbye for all these guys. I love these guys to death.”

There are college programs awaiting the four. Haine will be en route to USC. Ball State is a landing spot for Thompson. Concordia will have a masterful setter in Au Yuen. Tune is on his way to Pepperdine soon.

Nationally, Punahou has its niche, as well. The dynasty continues.

“They’ve persevered and grinded and sacrificed for one another,” coach Tune said. “It’s a hell of a senior class.”

Punahou’s 2021 season included another ILH title and no state tourney.

“It’s just precious. You really realize how important athletics are to young people and to communities,’ Tune said. “I’m just really thankful for the HHSAA and everybody who makes this possible, and you guys that cover the sport and get it rolling again, there’s nothing but gratitude. It feels really good.”

The match itself, despite Moanalua’s determination, was a 25-18, 25-22, 25-13 sweep that coach Tune graded at “85 percent.” The Buffanblu limited Moanalua’s prolific, skilled outside hitter, Keanu Kawaa, to seven kills.

“I said, you don’t need to do more than you normally do. You don’t need to hit harder. You don’t need to jump higher. You don’t need to move faster. You just do what you normally do and execute at a high level,” Tune said. “We did probably 85 percent execution tonight. I didn’t think we were 100. Our block wasn’t very good tonight. We had enough things going on that we got the job done.”

In the final match, Aidan Tune had 16 kills, two aces and seven digs. Haine tallied 15 kills and 10 digs, and Thompson finished with 13 kills and one ace. Au Yuen had 42 assists in another understated, yet technically phenomenal effort.

Punahou won its ninth state championship in a row on Saturday, May 7, 2022. That’s 11 state crowns under coach Rick Tune. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.

“The athleticism of these guys is pretty special. They work hard for it. This is one of the hardest-working groups I’ve ever had, top to bottom. I’ve had really hard-working guys before, but as a group, this is one of the hardest-working groups I’ve ever had,” Tune said. “We left a lot of points on the table there, but that’s just me and my perfectionistic tendencies. I’m always looking at what we can get better at. And since I have a lot of this group in club immediately following, it’s on my mind. We’ve got to start working on our block a little bit more than we have been.”

The prowess of the ’22 Buffanblu had plenty to do with the superpowers of the secondary contributors like sophomore Kahale Clini.

“Kahale came in, I can’t tell how hard it is to come in and just serve. Kahale was a difference maker coming in and doing that. He’s going to have really bright days ahead. He had some really special players in front of him,” Tune said.

Tune reflected on his senior leaders.

“Keegan’s my quiet floor general. He holds everything together. None of these guys have the success that they have without Keegan Au Yuen floating them the ball at the right time in the right situation and giving them the right set. Keegan is a guy who makes all of it happen. I want to make sure people know, sometimes when you’re small you get overlooked, and I want to let everybody know Keegan Au Yuen just delivered an incredibly technical match tonight. Incredibly technical. He’s a special kid and a special player. Size don’t matter,” Tune said.

Punahou confluence of playmakers was unmatched. Haine’s passing. Thompson’s bazookas from the right side. Tune’s 39.5-inch vertical over double blocks on the left, in addition to his passing skills, made him a versatile boss.

“Aidan’s our steady Eddie. He has our highest passing percentage on the team. He’s got our highest hitting percentage. He’s our best server, consistently putting pressure. He’s another guy that isn’t super flashy, but when you check the stat line at the end of a match, it’s like, holy cow! Last night he passed two-seven after getting aced twice in the first set. He finished with 15 three-passes the rest of the night and he served at 95 percent and gave us 20 opportunities to score points. Those are huge. Even though he comes out with seven kills, he is the guy that does all the dirty work that pulls it all together,” coach Tune said.

Aidan Tune battled through an ankle injury for much of the season. Haine fought through shin splints that still haven’t healed.

“I’m so proud of Riley. He has probably grown the most over the course of the season. His consistency is getting better and better and better,” coach Tune said. “He’s playing at a higher and higher level. Riley’s going to have bright days ahead. He’s a huge kid and what I love about Riley is he keeps it light and to me he’s one of the emotional leaders on this group. I can’t say enough about him and how proud I am of him.”

Thompson’s arm speed and rockets off that left hand were a signature feature of the Punahou attack.

“Oh man. Keau is a terminator, man. He even has that personality. When that ball goes up, he’s either getting blocked or he’s getting a kill, and most times it’s a kill. I think you see he probably has the best arm that’s in the gym. Nobody has a better arm than Keau Thompson,” coach Tune said. “I’m so proud of him. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to be great and he works extremely hard at it. Sometimes, his biggest challenge was just giving himself permission to not be perfect. What you saw tonight, he started out a little bit wobbly, but by the third set, man, he was in full groove. He was ripping his jump serve. He was terminating every ball he got. He’s going to do some special, special things at Ball State. He’s a special player.”

Ball State reached the semifinals of the NCAA Championships.

“Keau at Ball State is going to be lethal. I mean, running that really fast offense with that arm, wooh! I’m expecting really great things from him. I told him the other day, I just want him to be happy. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. I want him to enjoy and love the game, and find his special place on the court,” Tune added. “I think (Ball State coach) Donan Cruz is a great fit for him. He’s a Maui boy. Donan’s a good friend of mine, and (Keau) will be with one of his best buddies, Xander Pink, who graduated (from Punahou) last year.”

Hawaii’s national championship coincided with Punahou’s nine-peat on Saturday, a back-to-back feat after a sweep of Long Beach State.

“I think it just depends on the person. I think UH is wonderful and if it’s a fit for people, it’s a fit. I also think that going away has its benefits and if it’s a fit there, it’s a fit there,” Tune said. “UH is going to have great talent always. They’re going to be competing at the highest level every year. It’s not for everybody.”


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