What have we learned: time for volleyball Sweet 16s?

King Kekaulike setter Kalena Vaivai and Na Alii had a tough draw. The undefeated MIL champs, ranked No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, had to play No. 2 and nationally-ranked 'Iolani in the quarterfinals. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

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.

* * *

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.


  1. Tia Thompson (Kahuku's Asst Coach) October 26, 2018 11:21 am

    Luvly article. Maybe the D1 OIA schools should merge with the ILH D1 schools for girls volleyball as they do in football. That’ll probably “up” the competition in the OIA. Btw, how did this article go from volleyball to football (rolls my makas emoji, LOL). Best of luck to the final four teams in D1 and D2.

  2. Respect to the vanquished October 26, 2018 12:16 pm

    While I like the intent of this article, I am also hesitant to fully support it. The first issue, in my mind, is the “formula” that has long been used by the HHSAA to determine how many spots each league has. While the intent is to give each league a “fair” representation in State events, it absolutely does not always mean the best teams make the State tournament. It’s not going to make me any friends to write this, but the ILH’s 3rd place team, year in and year out, would probably have made at least the quarterfinals, if not semifinals, for much of the past 2 decades. Yet, only 2 can make it because there’s not enough participating schools in the ILH D1. Until this issue is fixed, I don’t know if expansion will give the tournament any better quality competition than it has now.

    My second point I already made in another comment. I feel the seeding committee let down a very good King Kekaulike team this year. While they may not have beaten any Top 10 teams this year, they were the #3 team in the Top 10. To seed them below Mililani gave them the toughest possible matchup, Iolani, in their 1st match of the tournament. A team was going to have to take that draw, either Mililani or King Kekaulike, but I wonder if both matches would have been better, were the seeds swapped.

    If going to a quadrant format with 16 teams, at least in D1, I think the best format would be 4 teams each from BIIF, MIL, OIA, and ILH. Each league hosts a “regional”, with a representative from each league, where the winners of each “region” then make the semifinals. Do away with the “formula” and let each league have a chance to send their best to the semifinal.

    Thank you for the article. Great food for thought. Good luck to all remaining teams!

  3. Falcon Future October 26, 2018 1:17 pm

    For right now and the foreseeable future, it doesn’t matter what the format is. ILH will dominate. Adding lower-place teams from other leagues for the state tournament is feeding lambs to lions. Does it really make sense for a neighbor island team to spend money for a trip to Oahu and then get crushed in one hour of play by a ILH team?

    Do you know that you have to go back all the way to 2002 to find the last time a team NOT from the ILH even made it to the D1 state championship match? It has been ILH vs. ILH for the title every year after that! This year will continue the streak.

    This sport might have to just let the ILH play by themselves in a open division.

  4. Tia Thompson (Kahuku's Asst Coach) October 26, 2018 1:22 pm

    @Respect to the vanquished;

    Great points however, girls volleyball has been dominated by the ILH for decades, followed by the OIA and lastly the outer islands. The ILH is very smart by having 4 teams every year to compete in D1 which allows them 2 teams in the State tournament. Imagine if they were like football, only 3 teams, I would assume only 1 team would make the D1 State tournament and the other bid to an outer island team which would widely open up the chase for a title. King K had an awesome season and we would’ve love to have them come to O’ahu in pre-season and challenge the top O’ahu teams such as the power 3 ILH teams or the top 4 OIA teams. Anywho, it ALWAYS comes down to the mental game when playing the ILH teams because the physicality is there to compete with them.

  5. Tia Thompson (Kahuku's Asst Coach) October 26, 2018 1:25 pm

    @ Falcon Future:

    Thank you, I was apart of that 2002 team that won it all! ILH will dominate however it comes down to the mental game. I say merge the top OIA and ILH schools like football and make an Open division. Why not!!!

  6. Sam Montalvo October 26, 2018 6:55 pm

    I recommend defection from HHSAA for volleyball, and creation of a seperate Volleyball Association just as some states has done already. Hawaii receives no added benefits from using NFHS rules and the tournament is just terrible. Coordinators and tournament committee of Volleyball are outdated as well, oblivious to current volleyball culture and event management.

    Change rules from NFHS to USAV or FIVB rules. NFHS rules favor participation and benefits teams with large rosters.

    Develop a Seeding Committee to determine Schools in two or three divisions.

    Limit game team rosters to 12 or 14 players.

    Hold a 2-3 Tournament in Maui. (Use results for next tournament)
    Then a 2-3 day tournament in Big Island. (Use results from both for state seedings). Format: Pool play, then Bracket play. Best 2 out of 3 sets

    Then for States a 3-5 day tournament on Oahu, utilizing the convention center or schools, then an Arena for finals day.
    FORMAT: Pool Play then Bracket Play, or straight Bracket Play with 16 teams, Best 3 sets out of 5.

    Every year rotate sites or every three years at an outer-island site for states.

    On-island competitiions continue as normal for league championships throughout the season. (Results can be used for seeding and tie-breaking purposes)

    Overall it benefits teams, schools, coaches, referees, communities, and the competition integrity. Just a matter of an agreement for funding among all schools.

    If the current system remains, it’ll be a matter of time till volleyball players from around the state (specifically Oahu) will stop playing high school volleyball and just play club volleyball year round, which is already happening in some states.

  7. Over it October 27, 2018 2:09 am

    King Kekaulike is good, but they definitely should not have been ranked 3rd in the state. Losing to Kam HAWAII in straigh sets proves it. Mililani, Kahuku or Moanalua would have beat them. Stop trying to make like they got the short end of the stick.

  8. Keeping it real November 2, 2018 2:52 pm

    Hey Mr. Over It…. try get the full story…king K’s two starting outside hitters were both hurt one just coming back from concussion protocol and the other playing with a torn hip flexor…they both didn’t even play half the match against KS big island and still almost won….if healthy…they would’ve have definitely beat every OIA team and maybe even Iolani…just saying … A healthy Mililani couldn’t even get more than 18 points against Iolani.

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