He is sometimes a cherubic ruler of this dynasty, but Craig Paranti says it’s not quite the same this season.
Then again, how could anything ever be? His Huntington Beach squad was a senior-heavy juggernaut last season, a dynastic program synonymous with elite California prep volleyball. The win streak, 121 matches in a row, finally came to an end in 2016, and with that also came the graduation of five seniors.
And yet, here they are. The Oilers made their return to the Clash of the Titans tournament on Friday and looked like anything but a program reeling from the loss of talent, skill and depth. Not at all. Six-foot-eight senior Alex Anastassiades was unstoppable from any angle, delivering kills with power, finesse, roll shots and tips to go with his fastball. There isn’t a single angle or shot he struggles with, at least from what he showed against ‘Iolani with his 17 kills (.419).
The lineup is a treasure chest of college volleyball branding, to some extent. Anastassiades, who loves cheering for his teammates during his very few moments on the bench, is on his way to Long Beach State soon. Teammate Noah Franklin will play at USC. Setter Aidan Knipe, just a sophomore, is the son of Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe. It goes on and on. Their 25-22, 25-22, 25-15 sweep of ‘Iolani, along with Punahou’s struggle with a much smaller Kamehameha-Hawaii team should send warning signals to Buff Nation.
The host team was in self-destruct mode until it was down to the Big Island Interscholastic Federation dynasty 20-8. It was, judging by the eerie silence of the 250 or so fans at Hemmeter Fieldhouse, something completely unseen until this night. After all, the Buffanblu, at 12-0 i the ILH coming into the match, hadn’t lost on Oahu. They hadn’t even been truly challenged.
KS-Hawaii? Never is there a scrappier team. Coach Guy Enriques’ team came up with digs and miracle life-support-acrobatic-parallel-to-the-ground saves going full speed away from the net and beyond the end line again and again and again. It is beyond words, really. On one play, two back-row defenders went headfirst for a ball well beyond the serve area, side by side. One of them got a piece of the ball before his body pounded on the hardwood. That gave a third chaser, also beyond the line, just enough time to keep the ball alive and the Warriors sent that ball over the net, only to lose the point.
This is what Punahou faced all night, and it is how KS-Hawaii, with twins Avery and Addison Enriques — the coach’s sons — stabilizing the back row and either side at net, they can stay with any foe. It didn’t matter that the Warriors lost the set, or that they hit just .125. They actually outblocked Punahou 5-3 in that opening game, had only two service errors and simply want to wear every foe down with long rallies. The Warriors are, in many ways, the jab-and-run version of a volleyball team, showing occasional bursts of power. Maybe less Floyd Mayweather and more Sugar Ray Leonard. They are something to behold.
In the end, Punahou overcame some adversity, both beyond its control and self-inflicted. Outside hitter Ethan Siegfried was late to pre-game and sat for a long stretch of the first set. Starting setter Jameson McKibbin was sick with a stomach bug all night, then struggled in the match before being replaced by Buddy Scott.
Once Scott entered, the tone changed, the momentum shifted and KS-Hawaii started reeling. Scott, at 6-5, dished smoothly to Kana‘i Akana (six kills) and Ryan Wilcox (five) as Punahou rallied all the way back and brought fans to their feet with the comeback win.
The Warriors finished the match hitting .190 and still competed to the end. Punahou hit .414 in the second game and still struggled to shake off KS-Hawaii. Punahou finished with 14 service errors, got outblocked 8-4, but won with authority down the stretch. Longtime coach Rick Tune seemed patient enough, at least in the first game.
“I think they were trying to figure out what was happening. They were getting their butts kicked,” he said. “They haven’t really been pushed since Best of the West. We knew that going in, (KS-Hawaii) was going to battle. We had to reset our block quickly, go to different options, and we didn’t do it. Our passing fell apart.”
Therein lies the rub. Being so dominant in an ILH that is a tad bit younger and less powerful means the Buffanblu haven’t had a lot of iron-sharpens-iron, hand-to-hand combat in league play.
“We’ve got to be better at playing in transition, playing long rallies, understanding situations,” Tune said. “Kamehameha-Hawaii just scrapped. We let balls get down without us getting on the floor. We need to play defense more like they do. We talked about it and practiced it all week, but we didn’t do it in the match. They did.”
Yes, Tune and his staff are acutely aware that KS-Hawaii is not a typical team by any means. What they do, they do extremely well, putting their heart and soul into every defensive stand.
“We’re not used to the ball coming back over the net,” Tune said. “This match was necessary for us, a total gift if we respond to it properly.”
That’s Coach Tune, always the cerebral strategist and analytics forerunner, usually chill when any battle gets heated. Usually. But even this seven-time state-championship coach — Punahou has won the last five state titles under Tune — couldn’t restrain himself on this night.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I lost my cool.”