Sat, Oct 26, 2019 @ Blaisdell [ 7:00 pm ]
KAKAAKO — Keonilei Akana put down 22 kills to give Kamehameha title No. 22 Saturday night.
The final match of the New City Nissan Division I Girls Volleyball State Championships saw the top-ranked Warriors rally to a four-set win over No. 2 Punahou, 21-25, 25-21, 25-16 and 25-21.
A crowd of about 2,500 fans at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center Arena saw Kamehameha (15-2), the top seed in the tournament, turn the tables on the unseeded Buffanblu (13-3) after the opening set, in a rematch of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu final two weeks prior.
Unlike that ILH title match at Punahou's Christopher B. Hemmeter Fieldhouse on Oct. 11 — which the Warriors won handily in three sets — the Buffanblu came out swinging Saturday.
The Warriors held an 18-15 lead after an Akana cross-court kill, however, Punahou clawed its way back.
Madisyn Beirne recorded back-to-back kills from the left side to get the Buffanblu within a point. A Punahou net violation made it a 19-17 advantage for Kamehameha, but Buffanblu setter Jaclyn Matias back-handed a no-look drink shot to ignite an 8-3 run that closed out game 1 for her team.
"We got stuck in a few plays (but) it was more of what (Punahou) was doing," Warriors coach Chris Blake said. "They came out and took it to us in the end part of that first set."
The Buffanblu hit .225 (15 kills against six errors on 40 swings) in the set, while the Warriors hit .167 (14 kills against seven errors on 42 swings).
"We just kept telling ourselves that we had to work hard and also we knew that they were going to put up a big fight because they're such a good team, both on offense and defense," Akana said.
Set 2 was very much a back-and-forth affair, with 10 ties and five lead changes.
Punahou knotted the score at 15 on a Kaia Dunford kill from Matias, but Akana sandwiched a kill from the left side and a tip from the right side around a Maui Robins' solo block to put her team ahead by three. The Buffanblu got to within 21-20 after a Kamehameha attack error, but the Warriors scored four of the final four points to win it.
"We just kept reminding ourselves that we can do it as long as we have each other on our backs," said Akana, who finished off game 2 with her seventh kill of the set.
The Warriors took the lead for good early on in set 3. A Buffanblu service error was followed by consecutive kills from the left side by Robins to turn a 4-all tie into a 7-4 Kamehameha lead. Later in the set, Akana went down the line on right-side kill and back-to-back Punahou attack errors were followed by an ace by Isha Knight to make the score to 13-7.
Punahou called its second and final timeout trailing 21-15, but Soares went to middle Noelle Sua-Godinet and Devin Kahahawai on the left side for the next two points. The teams exchanged points before Kayla Faulkner put down a Buffanblu overpass on serve-receive to end the third set.
"Set one definitely wasn't us playing our game, so we kind of just regrouped after that set," said Soares, who recorded 50 assists. "We just told each other to manage our side of the court, block out all the noise and just play our game. Even if we knew we weren't playing a perfect game, we told each other that we had each other's back and we just had to come back firing."
Kamehameha jumped out to a 10-4 lead in set 4, but saw Punahou get to within 16-14. Kahahawai put down an overpass to start a 8-3 run that included a couple of kills by Akana and culminated with an ace by Robins to make it a 24-17 lead for the Warriors.
Division I All-Tournament Team
Most Outstanding Player
Keonilei Akana, Kamehameha-Kapalama
Tara De Sa, Kamehameha-Kapalama
Kaia Dunford, Punahou
Grace Fiaseu, Punahou
Amariis Garcia, Moanalua
Devin Kahahawai, Kamehameha-Kapalama
Maui Robins, Kamehameha-Kapalama
Bryanne Soares, Kamehameha-Kapalama
However, Punahou reeled off the next four points thanks to some spectacular defensive play before Akana — who goes by the nickname "K-Lei" — finished off the match with a kill from the left side on her 67th swing of the match.
"K-Lei is always a player who is on it and we can always rely on her," Soares said of her fellow senior. "I could tell from before we even showed up today, from last night, that she was so ready. She really wanted this match and I knew that she would always be on it and she would be hot the whole night."
Akana, who will play libero at USC next year, acknowledged that she felt the need to up her game Saturday night.
"I knew that since I've been in the state tournament before for many years, I just knew that to help my team I would have to pick it up, like just a step faster, and knowing that they were there with me the whole way, that was just great," said Akana, who was selected as Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
In Kamehameha's three state tournament matches this week, Akana took 145 total swings and tallied 50 kills. She also had 34 digs, two aces, one block assist and a set assist.
"Four-year player for us, three-year starter. You know, it's important for us to make sure to understand the things that she has done for our program, but especially today," Blake said of Akana. "She showed up like the leader that she is and did some work for us today."
Count Punahou coach Tanya Fuamatu-Anderson among those not surprised by Akana's performance.
"We expected it," said the sixth-year Buffanblu coach. "Here in Hawaii we know that you can be tall and you can be big and you can be strong, but if you don't possess that fire from the inside, you know, that belief, that confidence — a lot of people would like to call it ‘swag' — the thing that she has, to me, is to make you less effective.
"She finds a way, she looks for a spot to put the ball away and that's been K-Lei," Fuamatu-Anderson said. "I mean, we've known that for the last four years and she just keeps evolving and keeps getting better every year, so kudos to her. We wish her all the best and we have a lot of respect for her."
During the third set, Akana displayed a moment of displeasure after she had an attack go wide for a Punahou point.
"I knew it was a touch, but I just had to make sure that we did a one-play flush," Akana said, "and just getting a quick sideout was great for us, too."
It was a rare display of frustration for the usually even-keel veteran, but was revealing of Akana's strong will to win, Blake said.
"She's so hungry for it. She wants to win, she's such a competitor and we put ourselves into that kind of position every single day and for her to want it and want it so bad shows how much she's willing to give up for her team," Blake said.
Kahahawai recorded 15 kills with seven digs, Robins had 13 kills with eight digs, libero Tara De Sa posted 28 digs, Akana 11 and defensive specialist Mia Goulart 10 for the Warriors, who hit .182 for the match.
"Kamehameha just basically played lights-out defense against us. We couldn't get a ball down on the ground without a body in the way and they played great volleyball and they were the better team today."
Punahou hit .134 for the match. Dunford finished with 14 kills with 12 digs and Grace Fiaseu notched 10 kills and 2 1/2 blocks. Katharine Yoshimoto came up with a team-high 19 digs and Matias registered 30 assists, 13 digs and four kills in the loss.
"It was a little too inconsistent on our part. I think if we fought like where we fought in the first (set) and toward the ending of the last set, we probably would still be playing right now, but I'm super proud of my girls, super proud of our team," Fuamatu-Anderson said.
The Buffanblu were seeking their 10th state title and first since 2014. All three of their losses this season came at the hands of Kamehameha, who captured their 10th championship under Blake.
It was the 18th consecutive season that the Warriors reached the championship match and the 19th straight year that two ILH teams met in the state final.