By Kim Baxter
Special to the Star-Bulletin
It may be only mid-August, but Kahuku and Hawaii Baptist Academy played a three-set thriller yesterday in the Ann Kang Invitational at ‘Iolani worthy of November, with all the drama and intensity of a state tournament match.
In a seesaw matchup between the reigning OIA champs and Division I third-place team (Kahuku) and the reigning Division II state champions (Hawaii Baptist), the two squads showed they both have the firepower and grit to make another postseason run. But yesterday, Kahuku’s power was just enough to outlast the Eagles 25-21, 12-25, 15-13 for an exciting come-from-behind victory.
“That’s a great experience for our team, just to have those kind of matches earlier on in the season,” said Kahuku head coach Uila Fotu Vendiola. “… Definitely that’s going to help us coming into the season.”
For Hawaii Baptist, despite this being a preseason tournament that doesn’t count toward the season’s win-loss column, it was yet another disappointing defeat to a Division I powerhouse. Earlier in the day, the Eagles had lost to ‘Iolani in another three-set thriller, dropping the final set 16-14.
And the HBA Eagles, who boast the state’s reigning player of the year in Sarah Palmer, desperately wanted a big preseason win over a quality Division I foe to prove that they aren’t just a good team that wins state championships because they play in Division II.
“It’d be nice to get one of these games,” said HBA coach Myles Shioji. “… Getting a match like this would’ve been huge for our confidence.”
After the two teams split the first two sets, the third set was a back-and-forth affair that saw neither team able to put the other away. At 6-6 and after a Kahuku timeout, the Red Raiders scored four straight points to take a seemingly commanding 10-6 advantage in the race to 15.
Then Kahuku inexplicably lost its momentum and committed two hitting errors and two violations over the next seven points to give HBA a 13-10 lead.
But when it looked like the Eagles had the game wrapped up, Kahuku’s Ho‘onani Apo, who had suffered through a miserable second game in which she was pulled twice for her hitting and passing struggles, recorded three kills, including the last two of the match, and the Red Raiders celebrated a hard-fought victory.
It was an especially sweet win for Kahuku, which had lost its OIA opener to Moanalua after cruising in the first game but losing the second and then flat-lining in the third.
“We learned to fight back,” senior middle hitter Amanda Tonga said with a smile yesterday.
Palmer, with a strong right arm to back up her player of the year credentials, had no reason to smile after the loss. Clearly frustrated — despite her 13 kills on 28 swings — the outside hitter could never get into a good rhythm in the first and third sets.
Teammate C’era Oliveira led all hitters with 14 kills.
Though Kahuku boasted a clear height advantage over HBA, which has to be one of the smallest teams in the state, the Red Raiders were unsuccessful pounding away at the Eagles’ defense. Big Kahuku swings usually resulted in impressive HBA digs, but the Red Raiders adjusted. They found holes in HBA’s defense with their tips, and 10 tip kills (out of 26 total kills) were the bane of the Eagles’ defense all match long.
Regardless, the hard-fought, intense matchup was a welcome barometer for both teams this early in the preseason. And the high-quality play bodes well for both teams later this year.
“Kahuku is a really good team,” Shioji said. “It means a lot to us that we can compete at that level. … We’re just trying to build for the regular season.”
Kahuku is celebrating Admissions Day early at the Ann Kang Invitational Girls Volleyball Tournament.
The Red Raiders handed Edison (Calif.) its first loss in pool play with a 25-19, 25-21 win this morning.
Kahuku is now 3-0 in “reseeded” pool play and Edison is 2-1. Edison had swept through its opening round of pool play and two more matches in “reseeded” pool play, a total of six consecutive wins.
Reseeded pool play continues through lunch hour, followed by championship round play. The 16-team field will be broken in to Gold, Silver, Bronze and Flight brackets.
The tourney concludes tomorrow.
Net notes: Kahuku isn’t the only team making a splash this week. Farrington is also warming up. The Governors knocked off Moanalua yesterday 27-26, 26-24. Former McKinley standout Ashley Gravely is now at Farrington and starting since her family moved into the district.
Hawaii Baptist, the reigning Division II state champion, has also been tough. Though the Eagles have some big shoes to fill — libero Kelly Chang graduated — they are unbeaten in reseeded pool play. HBA will face powerhouse ‘Iolani today at 12:30 p.m.
Kahuku, though, is most noteworthy. The Red Raiders were swept by Moanalua on Tuesday in their Oahu Interscholastic Association opener, but look like an entirely different team now despite the constant 70-mile round-trip bus rides.
Mid-Pacific def. Van Nuys (Calif.) 25-15, 25-13
Maryknoll def. Molokai 25-22, 25-17
Redondo Union def. Mater Dei 25-19, 25-16
Kahuku def. Edison 25-19, 25-21
Farrington def. Word of Life 25-18, 25-9
Kaiser def. ‘Iolani B 25-17, 25-19
Punahou def. Moanalua 25-18, 25-16
‘Iolani def. Hawaii Baptist 25-20, 22-25, 16-14
Moanalua def. ‘Iolani B 25-15, 25-12
Kaiser def. Word of Life 25-19, 21-25, 15-8
Molokai def. Mid-Pacific 25-18, 27-25
Maryknoll def. Van Nuys 25-7, 25-8
Redondo Union def. Edison 25-15, 19-25, 15-12
Kahuku def. Hawaii Baptist 25-21, 12-25, 15-13
Punahou def. Mater Dei 25-10, 20-25, 15-6
‘Iolani def. Farrington 25-14, 25-13