By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Senior outside hitter Kanoe Kualaau-Hanakeawe kept drilling kills to put Kealakehe in position to do something special against Hilo, one of the two teams to beat in girls Big Island Interscholastic Federation volleyball.
But when crunch time came, the Waverides hurt themselves with unforced errors and the Vikings prevailed 25-19, 19-25, 25-19, 25-17 in the second of two BIIF showdown matches Saturday at Koai‘a Gym.
Earlier in the day, Kamehameha swept Kealakehe 25-15, 25-20, 25-14, showing a sort of pecking order in the BIIF Division I race. In the sixth and last match of the day, Kamehameha topped Hilo in four sets.
The Waveriders (5-4) last qualified for the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament in 2006. With three key seniors, Kualaau-Hanakeawe, libero Kealoha Kam and outside hitter Keli’i Verhulsdonk, and Waiakea in a rebuilding mode, no time seems better for a return to states.
Entry to states is pretty simple. In the BIIF semifinals, the two winners earn spots to the Division I state tournament. Last year, it was Kamehameha and Hilo; the previous four years Waiakea and Kamehameha went together.
Kualaau-Hanakeawe is trying her best to change that. She gave it a good shot on Saturday, hammering shots all over the place. Her teammates were game, too.
She smashed 12 kills agains the Vikings, and Verhulsdonk had kills. Sophomore middle Leila Lawson and junior hitter Vilana Akeo-Tatetuna each contributed seven kills.
But the Vikings had a little better balance, moving the ball around from different attack spots and tightening their play when the points were most important.
Senior middle Chelzie Ulu, who played her first two years at Kealakehe and sat out last season at Keaau, hammered 11 kills to lead Hilo. Outside hitters Amanda Loeffler and Evalani Toledo added nine kills each, and right-side hitter Leilani Smith clobbered eight kills.
In each set loss, the Waveriders ended the game on a hitting error. In the last set, they had back-to-back hitting errors — unforced mistakes that bugged Kualaau-Hanakeawe and coach Duke Hartfield.
“We have to keep fighting for everything, second balls (in transition), hard-hit balls, and keep communicating,” she said. “We have to stay together and play together as a team. Against Hilo, we made simple mistakes and can go back to practice and fix them.”
Hilo doesn’t serve as tough as Kamehameha, so Kealakehe’s serve-receive was able to deliver enough workable passes to setter Kyra Calbero, who sent a lot of balls to Kualaau-Hanakeawe, a 5-foot-7 slugger, in the first set then spread the offense around.
Kualaau-Hanakeawe had five kills in the first game, two in the second, three in the third and two in the fifth. She not only jumps high and hits hard, but also has a tough jump-serve, passes balls on a dime and features a nice roll shot that often caught the Viks on their heels.
Over the summer, she went to the Las Vegas Senior Showcase to attract the attention of college coaches, and participated in another showcase in Arizona.
Though the spotlight is on her and most of the sets come her way, Kualaau-Hanakeawe’s mindset is to think team first.
“I am the go-to hitter, but I can’t win a game by myself,” she said. “We win as a team. I like our team. Our defense is a lot better and our offense is getting there. I think we’ve got a really good shot at being in the BIIFs and getting to states.
“I try to bring intensity and positive energy all the time, at practice and games. Even if we’re down, the one thing I know our team needs is positive vibes.”
Hartfield also looked at the positives — his team gave Hilo a good run, and his senior standout kept swinging with determination.
“She’s a good team leader and she brings all her teammates with her,” Hartfield said. “She involves everybody in her level of play.
“We need to be more consistent and not have too many unforced errors. When things get tight, we need to make a serve or a pass or get a kill and not hit the ball out. We need to work on our consistency and being smart, so the next time we meet one of those teams we’ll be a little better prepared.”