Title tilt: Punahou, Kamehameha reach volleyball final

Friends off the court, Punahou's Lucky-Rose Williams (left) and Grace Fiaseu (right) of Punahou will battle friend and competitor Devin Kahahawai (center) of Kamehameha on Saturday for the Division I state championship. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

This season, the busiest intersection between Punahou and Kamehameha is not on Wilder Ave.

It is not on Makuakane Street, either. Where Punahou and Kamehameha have met most often, with the most incredible explosions of skill and power, is the volleyball court.

There will be one last showdown for No. 1-ranked Punahou and No. 2-ranked Kamehameha on Saturday, on the biggest stage. The two storied programs will square off in the Division I final of the New City Nissan/HHSAA State Championships at Blaisdell Arena. The D-I title match will be at around 7 p.m., following the D-II final.

That’s when friends turn into sworn, well, frenemies for two, maybe three hours. Punahou’s 25-13, 25-20, 25-15 sweep of the home-gym team, Moanalua, was a display of pure, unsurpassed volleyball IQ at the prep level. Balance was a crucial factor against a Moanalua squad with more height and length than usual.

“We’re not forcing it, but when our passes are there, we can do more things, and I felt we passed well,” Punahou coach Tita Ahuna said.

All of Moanalua’s immaculate defensive positioning and grit kept the ball from touching the hardwood time after time. But many a long rally ended with Lucky-Rose Williams (11 kills), Grace Fiaseu (11) and Belle Iosua (10) using guile and finesse rather than sheer muscle to score points.

It was practically a masterclass.

“We like to push and pull. Once we swing, swing, swing and then every once in awhile we go push shot, we go tip,” Williams said. “That is really efficient for us and that’s what got us here.”

Moments later, as the crowd filed out — Punahou had somewhere around 300 boisterous fans — Kamehameha’s rocket launcher settled into a comfortable spot. Devin Kahahawai, who had 16 kills in the Warriors’ 25-13, 25-20, 25-15 sweep of OIA champion Kahuku, greeted Wiliams and Fiaseu. Then it was time for snapshots by some friends and family.

Lucky-Rose Williams and Grace Fiaseu are two reasons why Punahou has an opportunity to win its first state title since 2014. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

“For us to win,” Williams said, “our serve-receive has to be on point. We have to put balls away and we have to play amazing defense. With those three things, we can do it.”

The Buffanblu (12-2) have certainly done the job against Kamehameha (10-5). The teams met five times during the ILH regular season and double-elimination playoffs. Punahou won four times and lost once. The first two matchups were sweeps by Punahou. Kamehameha then eked out a five-set win at Kekuhaupio Gymnasium. Punahou won the last two meetings, both in four sets.

“With the support we have, it’s definitely going to help us a lot,” Williams said. “We’ll definitely make it difficult for (Devin) tomorrow.”

Kamehameha hit the ball with precision and immense velocity, particularly when setters Marley Roe (20 assists) and Sierra Scanlan (18) fed the ball to Kahahawai. The national-team outside hitter brought some of the heaviest missile shots of her senior year over and through Kahuku’s tough defense. Still, the Warriors showed balance outside and at the middle. Adrianna Arquette (10 kills) and Moana Peaua (six) were effective at the middle, and Robins brought eight kills from either side.

“Our attackers hit for a pretty high percentage, which is pretty good. Offensively, we didn’t have too many errors. Adri played well. Mo played well,” Kamehameha coach Chris Blake said. “And both Tia (Kapihe) and Nadia (Koanui), although not showing up in kill stats, did a great job of slowing down the touches, playing that ball up so we can get that ball back in our offense and distribute.”

The long season in ILH, then the pause as the OIA and the rest of the state caught up, made this week one of new surroundings for many of the Kamehameha Warriors.

“We’re in a new gym that we haven’t played in before and against a new team, too, that we haven’t played (this year). The main thing that we tried to do is keep an open mind,” Robins said. “And made sure that we adjusted quickly. Kahuku is a really good team. I honestly don’t think that’s their best game. I’ve seen them play before. They’re totally lights out.”

Kamehameha senior teammates Devin Kahahawai (left) and Maui Robins celebrate after a three-set win over Kahuku on Friday at Moanalua’s gym. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

Kahahawai, who was selected on Thursday to play in the Under Armor All-American game, had five kills that night in Kamehameha’s quarterfinal win over Baldwin. She had just 10 swings as Nadia Koanui (13 kills) had a steady flow of open looks. Still, Kahahawai came away with a bit of dissatisfaction with her performance.

“I definitely told myself, I said I didn’t play as well as I could, so this is my redemption game,” she said. “I just wasn’t happy with how I executed my shots yesterday. I did come out a little slow today. In the first set, it wasn’t looking too good for me, so I told myself between sets, hey, I need to snap out of this and I need to come out firing. I did that in a way, but there’s always things I can still improve on.”

Ahuna’s legacy as a player and college coach spoke volumes before she became Punahou’s coach this season. Going up against Kamehameha’s dynasty — 10 state titles since 2005 under Blake — is a challenge, and both coaches relish tests of all kinds.

“One thing, Chris’ teams at Kamehameha get better and better with each and every game, so we’ve got to bring our game. They’re going to come out firing,” Ahuna said.

It has been a long time since Kamehameha, the 2019 state champion, has lost to any opponent four times in a season, let alone five. But this is not a normal year.

“Our setters continue to learn over the course of this long season, it’s always been growth and development. We never want to peak too early. Our goal is always to play our best match in the last match of the season,” Blake said. “We’re definitely going to have to play better than today.”

Kahahawai was not present for Kamehameha’s first two meetings with Punahou. While the Warriors have steadily improved, it’s difficult to read Punahou, which has been at a peak level for a long time.

“What they’ve got is working,” Kahahawai said prior to Punahou’s match with Moanalua. “I’m excited to go home and watch my girls Grace, Jackie (Matias) and all of them compete. It’ll be fun.”


  1. Opinion December 11, 2021 6:55 am


    No doubt, the best team money can buy put on a show last night. Was interesting seeing all the actual tuition paying students sitting on the bench watching the game like spectators. Punahous football team would beat most of the OIA teams also, instead of finishing 3rd in a in a 3 team league.

  2. Opinion December 11, 2021 6:21 pm

    If winning at all costs is what the school stands for then definitely money well spent. Wonder if the parents of kids sitting on the bench paying 27k a year agree that’s money well spent.

  3. Opinion December 11, 2021 9:43 pm

    Woo, That’s an expensive 2nd place. Posting for a friend….

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