Before his day begins as head of the math department and teacher of all things Physics at Kamehameha, Chris Blake allowed us to pick his mind. The Warriors coach saw his team sweep Mililani on Wednesday night in the opening round of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Girls Volleyball State Championships.
HPW: Good morning, Coach Chris. Any thoughts on last night’s match?
Chris Blake: I got to see the video.
HPW: Is there anything you saw and thought, whoa, I didn’t notice that.
Blake: No, not really. We’re looking at some of our alignments. We always focus on what we’re doing, so we make sure that our alignments are right, our locations are good. If the ball is getting where it’s supposed to be for our sets. Inside or all the way to the pins. Our defensive reads. We put a lot of pressure on a team that’s going through injuries and stuff. We expect everybody’s best match. They really had some injury challenges.
HPW: How about tonight, playing King Kekaulike?
Blake: Today’s going to be a challenge. They won their league, so King K’s gotta be a good team. We haven’t played them ever. They were actually supposed to come over for our tournament in August, but what happened was, they actually started their league and the league wouldn’t move their games. They’re a well-coached team. They have a couple of good middles. Adolpho’s cousin, who’s an opposite for them. They’re coming on strong because Kamehameha-Maui was the team, and then over the past 12 days, they beat them three times.
HPW: Early in the year, you definitely had a fairly young and inexperienced team. They’re not really “inexperienced” at this point. Your team is much more seasoned.
Blake: With the turnover we had last year, we knew it would be a building process. Not necessarily a rebuilding process. Our leaders, Brooke Kaawa and Kayla Afoa did a wonderful job with leadership along with the other four returnees. They did a great job showing how everything’s done in our gym and on the court. Those struggles we had at the beginning of the year helped us become who we are today. I’m proud of them and the best is still yet to come.
HPW: Most of the Star-Advertiser Top 10 panel voted for ‘Iolani, rightly so, as the No. 1 team, and the HHSAA committee gave the Raiders the top seed. But when both teams had fresh legs last week, Kamehameha swept ‘Iolani on the Raiders’ court. That makes this state tourney really interesting.
Blake: You know, we walk in with the idea that we want to play our best every day. We’re very happy with our physical skills, gamesmanship, tactically we’re there. We had a tough stretch. Mid-Pac is no slouch. We played them on Tuesday, then we didn’t get the (ILH second-round tiebreaker) bye, and it was a three-step situation. We’re built for the long haul, but it was definitely an advantage to ‘Iolani. Their gym was definitely rocking. It was a great environment to play in. Kainoa (Obrey) is doing a great job with their group.
HPW: The team you guys play tonight is well-rested after that opening-round bye.
Blake: We’ve got a tough task. The other teams in our bracket are tough, too. Kapolei looked like they’re good and Moanalua’s a great team. That could be a great match. We’re definitely going to have our hands full with our side of the bracket.
HPW: Do you feel like this year’s team is as deep as other squads you’ve had?
Blake: Definitely. The strength of our team is our team. We have our ones and our starting group, but the group on the other side, we call them the machine. They’re doing work, they had the opportunity to play yesterday and you saw, they’re hungry. They’re a good work of teamwork, a bunch of great arms, another great middle, great defenders. That machine on a daily basis pushes our team to improve every single day. Part of our success is because of our depth. They’re chomping at the bit and when they get an opportunity, they make the most of it.
HPW: Is there anything else you’d like to add? No injuries?
Blake: We’re all healthy. It’s a testament to their work ethic and our strength/conditioning guy, Vern Lily, getting our kids prepared. He’s very active with our group. Once he saw our past, he’s in there, he’s helping, he’s super stoked about it. He knows we’re built for it. He’s a key part of our team and success, getting our kids ready for last week’s matches.
HPW: Conditioning helps recovery, and you guys had a tough three-day stretch. Beating ‘Iolani at ‘Iolani, then falling behind two games to none at Punahou. I heard about that while I was at Aloha Stadium for the OIA football playoffs, and I thought, well, they had a great season, but the luck of the draw was too tough.
Blake: Last week was brutal. We were down 30-32 (against Punahou) and they kids decided to make a comeback. That was a testament to their want and will to win.
HPW: Does it work in your favor somehow that your players know they’re not the favorite? Is this an underdog role they can relish?
Blake: We play that stuff up of going after it. It keeps the group hungry. We can always improve. We always want to play our best match in our last match of the season and I can tell you we still haven’t played our best match yet. The girls can’t wait to get back on the court tonight to have another opportunity to improve.