If you didn’t know it before, you know it now. Kahuku girls volleyball coach Mounia Tachibana expects a lot from her players.
Sure, she was quite happy that the Red Raiders were in sync and stuck to the game plan in a 25-15, 25-15 sweep of Moanalua in a matchup of unbeatens Wednesday night. In a sense, it was a huge win for Kahuku (7-0), which for the past two seasons could never get past Na Menehune (6-1).
But, simply put, she thought her girls lacked energy and knows that not being ready to give it your all won’t take the team very far in the postseason.
“They did well executing as far as they could,” Tachibana said after the win. “But when they have energy, our game is a lot quicker — the passing is a lot quicker, they read the game a lot better, and even their hits are a lot more consistent.”
So, despite a No. 1 ranking in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10 that came after a preseason upset of defending Division I state champion Kamehameha, Kahuku is not at the top of its game yet.
Which begs the question — if the Red Raiders peak at the right time, will it be enough to successfully challenge for that coveted D-I state title? Coming from the Oahu Interscholastic Association already puts them at a disadvantage. You have to go back to 2002 to find the last OIA team to go all the way, and it was the Red Raiders who did it under then-head coach Mona Ah-Hoy.
The “want-to” factor seems to be there, despite Tachibana’s observations Wednesday night.
“We’re very excited for this season,” 6-foot-2 senior middle Phoebe Grace said. “We have a really good team and we really want it, so we’re going to focus on our mental game and our physical game and we’re just going to focus on volleyball. It’s going to be volleyball, volleyball, volleyball.”
Now that Moanalua has been dispatched, the road to the OIA title will be somewhat easier. If Kahuku can get that, it will be the Red Raiders’ first league championship since 2012, but also their ninth crown since 2001.
In the 45 years of OIA girls volleyball, Kahuku has won it all 10 times.
Tachibana, a former Kamehameha standout, believes its natural for coaches to constantly want more from their players.
“As a head coach, my expectations are a lot higher (than the girls’ themselves),” she said. “We don’t want them to just reach their expectations and goals and never go beyond it.
“I’m probably going to use that excuse all the time, ‘My girls are tired,’ but like I told them, I don’t care. We’re here to play volleyball. This season only lasts for three months, four at the most. That’s how they looked (Wednesday). They did look tired. Even if they did play really good, I would still say they could do better.”
Grace, who had eight kills, five blocks and an ace against Moanalua, has the potential to be a difference-maker in the playoffs and, if the Red Raiders get there, states. And it’s no secret that the middle is where Kahuku focuses first.
“We like to utilize more of our middles, especially at this level,” the coach added. “All of our outside hitters know that no matter what, be ready when it does come. Our setter, ShaRae (Niu), is really good at seeing the blocks, so most of the decisions are actually on her, not on us (as coaches).”
Senior Carey Williams, a powerful outside hitter who made the Star-Advertiser’s Fab 15 as a junior, had six kills against Na Menehune, but she was not always there on the left side pounding away like she can. Kahuku held big leads most of the night, so it was not imperative for the Red Raiders to get Williams into the offense.
“Carey’s just gotta be ready and she knows that,” Tachibana said.
When Williams is on and doing her thing, the middle opens up even more for Grace, and Grace — who is committed to play for Utah — knows just how special her teammate is.
“I definitely believe that Carey is one of the strongest hitters in the state and she really packs a punch with her hit, but she’s also a really smart player and she’s also a very good all-around player and has a great mental game,” Grace said. “She’s just a great player. When ShaRae does set her, she almost always puts it down.”
Moanalua coach Alan Cabanting was impressed with Kahuku’s game.
“Whenever you have that many seniors on the court, like Kahuku, its difficult for us to understand what’s going on and understand the plays that need to be made,” he said. “They sped up the outside even more when they were able to establish the middle. With the inexperience we have, they got the better of us.”