There’s a lot going on in the mind of Chris Blake.
He may not verbalize everything, but he puts pen to paper often. So much so, that his trusty black composition book may well be his treasure chest.
During Kamehameha volleyball matches, it serves as a shield while the coach instructs his players, particularly for pre-serve directions. The Kamehameha physics teacher also stores ideas and inspiration on those pages, the kind that trigger the start of offseason training, then weave through the complexities of a a full season.
Five years in a row, Blake has figured out the nuances of lifting his team to state championships. After Saturday’s epic 22-25, 25-18, 26-28, 25-23, 15-6 victory over No. 1-seeded Punahou in the final of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Girls Volleyball Division I State Championships, few challenges remain.
University High School once won seven titles in a row, from 1984-90, under coach Raplee Fitzsimmons for four seasons, then under Glennie Adams for the remaining three.
Other than that, it’s hard to find a new pinnacle for the Warriors, who have won state titles in girls volleyball like no other program. Since the sport began state-tournament play in 1969, Kamehameha has now captured 16 championships.
The first five, in ’69, ’70, ’77, ’82 and ’83, came under the direction of Kuuipo Lum.
Dan Kitashima led Kamehameha to six crowns: ’91, ’92, ’94, ’97, ’98 and ’99.
The latest crown may not be the greatest, but considering their youth and lack of starting experience — twice, the Warriors lost to Punahou during the regular season — they played their best volleyball at season’s end.
“We always want to play our best in the last match of the year,” Blake said.
He also said the same the last few seasons; it’s one of the many volleyball mantras in his black book.
Timing factored into this year’s campaign. Sophomore setter Kelci Renshaw was untested when the season started, but locked in and became the glue of the offense, delivering 52 assists in the state final. She recovered from a mid-season ankle injury suffered in pre-match warmups in a loss to Hawaii Baptist, giving Kamehameha a vital cog.
In the state title match, Punahou sustained a blow that had timing of its own. Middle blocker Carina Thompson’s leg injury took some of the wind out of the Buffanblu’s sails after she and Brigitte Russo had combined to make their middle attack so lethal in the early going. Thompson returned, but was hampered by the injury.
“That was big for us. That opened up some opportunities,” Blake said.
Add to that Kamehameha’s defensive prowess. Punahou hitters Tai Manu-Olevao (.169) and Juliana Behrens (.099) combined for 154 swings and 44 kills, but were often negated by a relentless Kamehameha block led by Nicole Sniffen, Misty Maa and Talia Jardin-Fermentez.
Chelsey Keoho led Kamehameha’s back row with 38 digs.
Punahou played well enough to win for 21 matches, and Saturday was another exceptional display of skill. Katherine Brooks, a sophomore, had 21 digs while Lahela Williams (16), Malia Patterson (14 digs, 48 assists), Ali Santi (11 digs) and Rachel Inouye (10) were steady.
The biggest difference came in the final set, when Blake inserted freshman Pikake Laumana. The 6-foot-1 freshman frustrated the Buffanblu at the net with her reach, giving the Warriors one more lethal weapon. It was a tipping point in what turned into a runaway win at the end, just another new wrinkle for the Warriors.
“She’s a great, great kid,” Blake said. “We saw some things in her that we could develop over the season. She went in there and adjusted so many balls and fed them to our libero.”
Co-captain Cara Rosehill was another key contributor off the bench with three kills and 11 digs.
“Cara solidified a lot of things up front and with our serve-receive,” Blake said of the Delaware-bound senior.
Breyandi Andrade also played well, providing Blake with a bench that had almost no dropoff.
When things got tough, down 14-8 in the fourth set, they rose to a new level of intensity.
Blake saw it on the floor, but he was even more amazed while watching the TV replay.
“Seeing the look in their eyes in game 4 and game 5, that was something,” he said. “Once the switch went on in game 4, we knew it would be tough for
Punahou to stop us.
Co-captain Taylor Akana was indispensable: 19 kills (.415) and 21 digs.
“She has such genuine happiness for her teammates,” Blake said. “There was no way she was going to let them down. Her court vision translates very well to Division I (college) and she’ll probably be a libero, but for us, she had to do everything.”
They’re just high-school student-athletes, but at this level, powerhouses like Kamehameha and Punahou are almost seamless in preparation and execution.
Kamehameha had nearly two weeks off between the Interscholastic League of Honolulu season — and a runner-up finish to Punahou — to regroup. That meant more conditioning and a lot of fine-tuning.
Once the tourney began, the Warriors had video reviews daily with their coaching staff.
“The staff definitely prepared these kids for the moment they had,” Blake said.
Coachable players make life easier for Blake and his crew. In fact, left them with one more piece of instruction as the season ended.
“Our girls understand the burden of what they’ve created. All the runs, all the training they’ve done paid off,” he said. “But they’re talking about next year. Hey, let’s enjoy this for at least one night.
“Let’s enjoy this for now.”