What have we learned about girls volleyball in 2018?
So far, we already knew that the sport as a whole across the state is down a tad bit. KS-Maui was once the optimum program in the MIL, but finished 7-5. Talent seems to have matriculated to King Kekaulike, which was unbeaten and ranked No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 without having beaten a single ranked team all season.
King Kekaulike lost to ILH runner-up ‘Iolani — ranked No. 2 in the islands and No. 8 nationally. That’s one heck of a quarterfinal draw for King Kekaulike. Hashtag: Consequences of the format. Losing to a nationally ranked team, stretching the match to four sets after not facing elite competition for months — that’s not bad. But does that put Na Alii ahead of Punahou on my next girls volleyball ballot? Well…
BIIF volleyball is down a skosh, too. Hilo got swept by Kahuku, a good team that finished second in the OIA. We’ve seen years when the BIIF 1 was as good or better than the OIA 2. This wasn’t the year.
The most pertinent result from Thursday’s matches, though, was this: Sacred Hearts toppling No. 1 seed Mid-Pacific in the Division II tourney. Sure, SHA is a tremendous team that pushed everyone in ILH D-II, arguably the second-best girls volleyball league in the state. SHA beating MPI is not a shock. A surprise, yes.
But how did MPI end up bracketed with Sacred Hearts in the quarterfinals? It was clear beforehand, and more so now, that the Lancers are better than Seabury Hall and Kohala. Yet, ILH non-champions Le Jardin (ILH D-II 3) and Damien (ILH D-II 2) got better draws, all due respect to the Spartans and Cowgirls.
It has to do with the HHSAA format and the by-laws. It also has to do with the large number of ILH participants in D-II, much like the hulkingly large percentage of OIA schools in any sport and division. (Hulkingly is not a word, but it should be.) Sacred Hearts has earned its way into the D-II semifinals, and if SHA hadn’t been paired with MPI, it would have faced either Damien or Le Jardin — both ranked in the Top 10 most of the year — instead.
There is no magic formula for 12-team formats. Twelve is an even number, but it is difficult for tournament purposes. Eight is clean. Sixteen is perfect. I’ve been for 16-team formats since, well, the 1990s. Bobby Command of West Hawaii Today was the first I knew of to suggest the quadrant/neighbor-island-as-host for at least two sites. The advent of D-II opened doors. We’ve seen meaningful postseason games on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island in the past two decades.
Win. The expansion has been victory repeated with each year that passes. But it still seems strange enough that a top seed had to play a Sacred Hearts team that is borderline Top 10 and unseeded teams didn’t have to.
Suggestion: Expand to 16. Seed teams 1-4 to satiate league champions. Then 5 through 16 are ranked accordingly by the seeding committee either by vote or Sagarin-type power rating. No byes. Play ball. No more imbalanced pairings. Things may still seem strange, but they will be less prone to MPI-SHA or even ‘Iolani-King Kekaulike on Day 2.
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Roughly a decade ago, in the midst of Kealakehe’s football dynasty, a strange thing happened.
Keaau emerged as a force from East Hawaii. All the raw talent and passion finally converged with on-field excellence, and the Cougars gave mighty Kealakehe a scare. With the playoffs looming ahead, Kealakehe had a matchup with Waiakea. Matchups being what they are, Kealakehe had a history of overpowering the smaller Warriors.
Kealakehe made a bold, almost secretive decision. The Waveriders decided to play young reserves against Waiakea. The visiting Warriors prevailed and qualified for the playoffs, nipping Keaau out. A week later, Kealakehe played its normal rotation of starters and routed Waiakea.
Odd, but true.
Fast-forward to 2018. This time, it wasn’t about avoidance. This time, it was about leverage. Seedings. Kamehameha-Hawaii, the frontrunner in BIIF Division II, had one game left in regular-season play: D-I powerhouse Hilo. KS-Hawaii didn’t need to win; first place in D-II was already sealed thanks to an earlier win over Konawaena. But then the Warriors thought critically about the game and realized that the risk of injury against a big, physical Hilo team — hashtag Fear Keaukaha — would not be worth a meaningless win or loss.
That’s when the Warriors informed the Big Island Interscholastic Federation that it would forfeit it’s game with Hilo. Konawaena was informed, and the Wildcats nearly followed suit. If there would be no change in seeding, there was no point in playing its regular-season finale — against D-I Kealakehe.
Then things changed. KS-Hawaii learned that a forfeiture would trigger an long-standing stipulation in the BIIF by-laws. Any team that forfeits a game would lose tiebreaker advantage status. In other words, Konawaena would host a playoff championship game against KS-Hawaii. By the time KS-Hawaii realized the steep consequence, it was too late. As Hilo coach Kaeo Drummondo said, practices had been called off, and there wasn’t enough time — a three-practice minimum — to prep for the game.
So it was a weekend of silence for the Vikings. The Warriors. Konawaena did play its game with west-side rival Kealakehe, winning the game.
Strange things happen, sometimes more often in the BIIF. And this weekend, KS-Hawaii will board its bus for the near three-hour trek to Julian Yates Field. Travel on the Big Island takes a toll, easily turning home-field favorites into bus-riding underdogs.