The new world of ILH girls volleyball promises to be a fun ride for the eight teams in Division I.
Tuesday night’s opener between host Kamehameha and visiting Le Jardin at Kekuhaupio Gym checked in as a 10 on the entertainment meter.
The perennial D-I stalwart Warriors, ranked No. 2 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10 to open the season, have some new neighbors up in the league’s top division. One of them is the eighth-ranked Bulldogs, who, although they didn’t come away with the victory, stole the first set in a 22-25, 25-22, 25-19 loss.
Gone is the old format in which only four teams — Kamehameha, ‘Iolani, Punahou and Maryknoll — were in the top tier. The ILH, which has had mega success at D-II states, sweetened the upper-tier pot by adding Mid-Pacific, Sacred Hearts and Hawaii Baptist along with Le Jardin. With eight teams on high, three squads instead of two will make the D-I state tournament.
Devin Kahahawai put down 13 kills and Keonilei Akana added 11, while Bryanne Soares collected 33 assists to lead the Warriors, who have won two of the last four D-I state championships and nine of the last 14.
“We were expecting that they were going to come out hard and that first set was really rough with the jitters and everything,” said Akana, a USC commit. “We stayed together as a team throughout after that, though.”
Setter Nive Tuileta dished 24 assists for Le Jardin, with freshmen Gennezia Hawkins (10 kills) and Reese Diersbock (8) leading the offense for the Bulldogs, who are owners of two of the last three D-II state titles.
Like Akana, Tuileta spoke highly about her team’s togetherness.
“Maybe we could have used a little more energy (at the end),” Tuileta said.
In the first set, Le Jardin fought back from deficits of 11-5 and 15-9. The Bulldogs also came back from being down 22-20 by scoring the final five points, including four off the arm of Hawkins.
In the second set, Le Jardin never led, but never trailed by more than four. A Hawkins kill got the Bulldogs to 24-22, but Kahahawai ended it with a blast on set point.
The Bulldogs held an early 5-3 lead in the deciding set, but their dreams of a first-ever win over Kamehameha were dashed. Maui Robins’ block gave the Warriors their first three-point lead at 12-9 and that edge fluctuated between two and five points until a thundering Akana kill put Kamehameha one away from the match at 24-18. Two serves later, the Warriors’ Nadia Koanui took a Soares set and clinched it.
Despite the loss, Le Jardin coach Lee Lamb was in great spirits, with the new D-I frontier ahead.
“We’re in a good space,” he said. “We’re in a real good space.”
Warriors coach Chris Blake knew the Bulldogs would come in hungry.
“They’re well coached and have a lot of great players,” he said. “We always expect everybody’s best match. I was happy how we fought through adversity and pulled out the dub.”