KAHULUI >> Pukalani, in case you’re foreign to the island of Maui, is a place where deer once roamed free, nibbling on greenery across the long, rolling slopes of Haleakala.
It’s picturesque, with a panoramic view of West Maui and the Central Maui plain. The Kamehameha-Maui campus is no less impressive, a vast expanse spread over what seems like miles of lush acreage. No kidding, I made a wrong turn and got lost for a few minutes on the first day of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Division I Girls Volleyball State Championships.
A security guard told me that deer are in the area, hiding in the gulches until the humans are gone. Then they show up and eat ti leaves and grass on campus, the only place in the area that still has deer food, apparently. I’d love to shoot video of that.
It’s also interesting that next to the school is a gulch, and at the top are a row of beautiful houses, all part of “The Cottages of Kulamalu.” Yes, this is what Upcountry Maui has evolved into. Former ranch lands and empty pastures that are now worth millions and millions of dollars, all in the vicinity of a pristine private-school campus. Even King Kekaulike High School is just two blocks away.
Not the sort of thing anyone in these parts would’ve imagined 50 years ago. Go back further and folks were just glad to have running water and indoor plumbing. My mom grew up in Kula when she wasn’t on Oahu dorming at the Territorial School for the Deaf and Blind. She missed Maui all her life and longed to return, but most of the family eventually relocated to Oahu. She never really wanted to leave her kids, but part of her missed Kula as much when she was elderly as when she was an 8-year-old boarding the boat from Maui to Oahu.
The tournament, as always, is segmented and branched out into different locations. It’s a necessity in times like this. State tourneys are held at high schools, which means facilities aren’t available until after school.
• Why separation? Tonight’s semifinals, both in D-I and D-II, are being held in different locations. This isn’t different from before, but I have to wonder, why wouldn’t it be better to put both semifinals in one gym? I’ve heard the “home court” advantage argument. Here, Punahou has played once in King Kekaulike’s gym and Kamehameha has played twice in KS-Maui’s gym. Why not give the higher seed the choice to gym to play in?
It’s sad for me and fans who want to see both semifinals, but by playing both at the same time (7 p.m.) at different sites, it’s a killer. It’s not fan-friendly. It’s not even about revenue since one admission “ticket” gets you into both gyms.
• Homecourt fade. Kamehameha-Maui came into the tournament 14-0 with a prized UH recruit (Ginger Long). What nobody could’ve anticipated is the way the crowd of about 1,000 fans — mostly cheering for the home team — would practically disappear as their team struggled in Games 3 and 4. In fact, I haven’t seen anything quite like it in 20 years of covering prep sports. They cheered when KS-Maui did well, though not to tilt-level intensity. When things got tough against a scrappy Waiakea squad, the crowd was pensive, utterly pensive. They didn’t know what to do.
Maybe it’s the effect of a perfect MIL season. Maybe they just weren’t used to struggle. Whatever the case, Waiakea showed no signs of backing down. Waiakea would’ve fought hard in a freezing gym in Siberia or a sauna facility in Death Valley. Waiakea is clearly the team with the most heart that I’ve seen so far this fall, regardless of sport. A team of 5-foot-7 (and below) players has no business competing with 6-footers, right?
That’s one reason I love volleyball. It’s not always about size. It’s about sacrifice and unity. Ashia Joseph is a setter by trade, but was asked to be an outside hitter and blocker. She still dishes her dimes, but her blocking last night turned the match around. She may or may not end up playing Division I volleyball someday, but for one night, she countered a great player in Long, and Waiakea stuck a fork in the doubters.
• No. 2 vs. No. 3 in a quarterfinal? As long as the seeding process binds itself to political correctness, we will continue to endure the ridiculous pairings that come as a result. There was no sensible reason for Kahuku and Kamehameha to play so early in the tournament. When the Neighbor Islands don’t have dominant teams — or when those teams are not in Division I, re: Molokai — we end up with a powerful team (Kamehameha) playing another power (Kahuku) on Day 2.
Meanwhile, other quarterfinals were KS-Hawaii and Kaiser, Punahou-Mililani and the aforementioned KS-Maui and Waiakea.
KS-Hawaii was unranked for most of the season before upsetting Waiakea in the BIIF final. Kaiser is unranked. Competitive, but unranked. That’s what a quarterfinal should look, taste and feel like, right?
Punahou is a legit No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 and in the seeding by the HHSAA committee. Mililani is tough, but unranked. Normal matchup.
KS-Maui and Waiakea have been ranked evenly with each other all season long, in the No. 7 to No. 10 range. Fair enough.
But No. 2 versus No. 3 in a quarter? Come on.
It’s been noted before that a simple seeding of teams from 1 through 12 would do the trick. If that had been the case, we would’ve seen something like this.
Division I: 1-Punahou, 2-Kamehameha, 3-Kahuku, 4-Moanalua — the seeded teams.
Then we’d have these pairings:
5-Moanalua vs. 12-Pearl City
6-Kamehameha-Maui vs. 11-Maryknoll
7-Mid-Pacific vs. 10-Kamehameha-Hawaii
8-Waiakea vs. 9-Mililani
That’s right. I’m factoring in teams that didn’t make the state tournament. I’m throwing out the numerical formula that “evenly” distributes state berths to the leagues. I’m not against the formula, but for the sake of this argument, I’m tossing it.
We could take it one step further and do what the BIIF did for awhile. In the second and third rounds of the tourney, the higher seeds would continue to play the lower seeds according to seeding. For example, if Pearl City, the lowest seed, had advanced, it would continue to play the highest seed available rather than play according to the bracket pairings. It’s a genius format that the BIIF used, rewarding teams that earned their status based on performance and nothing else.
(Note: I’d love to kill the first-round byes by reducing the tourney to eight teams or increasing it to 16, but that’s another post to come.)
These numbers are based on the Star-Advertiser Top 10 rankings, which are determined by coaches and media statewide. They are completely arbitrary, nothing scientific about them other than the basic process of computing the totals. But check it out. Wouldn’t you rather see the 12 BEST teams in the D-I tourney rather than a pairing of teams that include some that are nowhere close to being among the best 12?
When it comes down to it, the state tourney should be a reward for those programs with the best work ethic and talent. It should NOT be a gimmie. It shouldn’t be a handout. It shouldn’t be about representation alone, but that’s what we have, and what we sometimes have are teams that work hard 12 months a year (school team, club team, personal workouts, good nutrition, good grades, summer school, etc.) that miss the state tourney … and teams that work hard for three or four months a year, then disperse and barely touch a volleyball the rest of the year.
There’s no perfect system, I know this. But a system that continues to pair the OIA champion (Kahuku in this case) against the ILH runner-up (Kamehameha was No. 1 for almost the entire season) is ludicrous.
It’s been ludicrous for YEARS. No surprise. But I’ll just say it out loud in print. LUDICROUS.
• Immaculate. The tournament, at least at KS-Maui, has been beautiful. Everything is on time, the atmosphere is welcoming and the facility is pristine. Though I know for a fact that players would give anything to play in Stan Sheriff Center at the UH-Manoa campus, it’s hard to beat what I’ve seen in the past two visits to Upcountry Maui.