By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Kamehameha circled the date Oct. 2 on its calendar, figuring that day would present the biggest challenge of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation volleyball season, and a progress report on the three-time defending champion.
After all, on deck was Hilo, unbeaten at the time, and powered by a potent 1-2 outside hitting punch from seniors Evalani Toledo and Amanda Loeffler, a pair of All-BIIF first team picks last year.
The two hard hitters have quick-trigger swings and unleash rockets that would test not only the Warriors’ block, but also their back-row ball-control — the bread-and-butter ability to come up with a clean first-touch dig and deliver an accurate pass to the setter.
It was a battle of Division I unbeaten heavyweights on Wednesday night and the showdown produced a standing-room-only crowd of 500 at Hilo Armory, and raucous enthusiasm from fans of both schools.
The BIIF volleyball enthusiasts were treated to a hitting clinic starring Kamehameha junior Kaiu Ahuna, who knocked down 25 kills in the 25-14, 25-18, 22-25, 25-19 win over Hilo that featured entertaining play, an energetic atmosphere and nonstop vocal exhilaration all night long.
“Both teams played really well, but in the end our errors got to us,” Hilo coach Olino Kotaki said. “Kaiu’s a very effective hitter. When they put the ball in her area and gave her a set, she makes a nice kill.”
The 5-foot-9 outside hitter was pretty much unstoppable in the second set when she hammered 12 kills, digging in her toolbox and displaying all her shots. She finished with six kills from the 10-foot line, including four in Game 2.
“All season we’ve worked for this one game,” Ahuna said. “We wanted to play up to our expectations. We hope to get better and better.”
That’s a theme with Ahuna, who broke into the starting lineup as a freshman, but didn’t receive All-BIIF recognition. Last season, she was still the L2 (left-side No. 2 hitter) behind Shae Kanakaole, but Ahuna landed on the All-BIIF first team.
With Kanakaole tearing it up at Whitman College, a Division III school in Spokane, Wash., Ahuna is handling her promotion as if she’s shooting for Warrior of the Week for every match.
During the summer, she played club ball with Pilipaa, run by girls coach Chris Leonard (Zoe’s father), and went to a tournament in Texas. She was also part of the Moku O Keawe team that traveled to a High-Performance event in Florida.
“We learned never to stop fighting, even when we lost Game 3 to Hilo,” Ahuna said. “I like playing teams that give us tough competition. It’ll prepare us for BIIFs and states.
“Hilo’s got a lot of firepower and we knew they would come to play. We’ve played with each other and they’re all our friends. It was, ‘Let’s go and have fun.’ We grew up with a lot of them.
“I’ve always looked up to Shae. She’s my idol. This year, we’ve all stepped up. From last year, we’ve lost a lot of seniors, but we’re doing pretty good without them.”
For the most part, the Warriors (11-0), especially libero Kayla Flores, sent enough on-the-money passes to setter Kamalu Makekau-Whittaker to spread the court. She and Zoe Leonard, the team's top ball-handler and second setter in transition scramble plays, added to the offense.
When they pounded kills from the right post, that different point of attack stretched Hilo’s block, opening up holes for Ahuna, who feasted when the double-block was late sliding over. Likewise, Leonard and Makekau-Whittaker made good use of their one-on-one opportunities, drilling six and four kills, respectively.
Kamehameha's 5-1 offense with Leonard allows her to pass in five out of six rotations, a reason the Warriors won the all-important, ball-control battle. The Warriors also have a bonus because Leonard and Makekau-Whittaker are pretty good blockers. Each is tall, too. Leonard is a 5-foot-10 junior, and Makekau-Whittaker is a 6-foot sophomore.
For good measure, Pua Wong added six kills, giving Kamehameha another hitting option and forcing Hilo to guard everyone when the 5-9 junior middle blocker rotated to the front. Also when Ahuna went to the back, Harley Woolsey took her turn and blasted 12 kills.
That’s the type of spread offense the Vikings (10-1) didn’t have or show. All their kills came from the left pin or middle blockers Kyra Kaloi, who had eight kills, and Keala Wilbur-Gabriel, who added six kills.
That meant Toledo and Loeffler got doubled-teamed nearly every time they took a swing. Still, Toledo smashed 12 kills and Loeffler clubbed 10 kills because any time there was the smallest seam in the block Hilo’s 1-2 hitting punch found the floor.
“Hilo’s a great team,” Kamehameha coach Kyle Kaaa said. “You open the door a little and they’ll come right through and that’s what they did in the third set.
“We served well in the first set and then went downhill. The last game our serve came back. Our setters did really well moving the ball around. We got a little too predictable in the third set. When we spread it around, that’s better for us.”
Then the Kamehameha coach talked about feeding sets to his best hitter while sticking to a spread offense that takes a double-block off everyone.
“It’s no secret that she’s our big hitter. Everyone knows Kaiu is our No. 1 hitter,” he said. “Harley did a great job. But in the last game, we gave pipe sets to Kaiu in the back.
“She’s really stepped up. She knows she’s our No. 1 hitter. She’s taken on that role. She’s taken that to heart and I’m glad to see her doing that. She does it all for us.”