By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
KEAAU —Down 2-0 in the third game, Hilo’s hard-hitting duo of Kennison Rowe and Makoa Tandal took over and the hustling Vikings rallied to beat Konawaena 18-25, 23-25, 25-14, 25-22, 15-7 in a thriller on Saturday afternoon.
In other Big Island Interscholastic Federation boys volleyball matches Saturday at Keaau, it was: Konawaena over Keaau 25-20, 25-14, 25-12 and Hilo over Keaau 25-19, 19-25, 25-11, 25-22.
Rowe, a 6-foot-1 senior, and Tandal, a 5-7 senior, provide Division I Hilo with “Hammer Time” any time the Vikings need a point in a match. Against the Division II Wildcats, Rowe powered a match-high 26 kills — mostly the rip-and-smile variety with an occasional dink — and the versatile Tandal had 17 kills, including the final point in games 3 and 5.
“We try to pass the ball to the middle and then set either Kennison or Makoa when we need a point,” Hilo head coach Jay Rowe said. “But we also need the other guys to play good for the team to do well. After falling behind 2-0, we settled down and played a lot more consistent.”
Konawaena, under veteran coach Kahinu Lee, started fast in the match behind the steady setting of senior Trevor Tanaka and hitting of junior Gabriel Trevino, senior Kalama Freitas and sophomore Lena Santiago. The Wildcats spread the wealth on offense, played tough defense and served well, winning the first game 25-18.
The Wildcats (4-3) continued to play consistent volleyball in Game 2 while the Vikings (7-1) had several unforced errors. Despite its inconsistencies, Hilo made a late run to pull to within 24-23 on Kennison Rowe’s three straight kills. But Konawaena regained its composure and Freitas crushed a point to give the Wildcats a 25-23 win.
That’s when the Vikings finally stepped up their performance, stopped making as many miscues and grabbed momentum by the shorts on their way to a 25-14 victory in Game 3. Hoku Mattos, a slender 6-2 junior, had four kills in the game while AJ Matsumoto, a 5-11 junior, added two kills. They teamed with Rowe, Tandal and junior Makoa Victor to contain the dangerous Konawaena hitters.
In Game 4, the Vikings continued to ride momentum and their newfound confidence while the inexperienced Wildcats couldn’t find a way to stop Hilo after closing to within 23-21. That’s when Rowe soared high above the net to record two kills and help the Vikings prevail 25-22.
In Game 5, Mattos took charge early. He had three blocks and two kills, Rowe added four kills, and combined with two Konawaena errors, the Vikings grabbed an 11-2 lead. Hilo then stretched the cushion to 14-6 on a Tandal kill before Freitas answered with a point. That just prolonged aloha ball for a moment as Tandal quickly drilled the game-winner past two Wildcat defenders to wrap up a tough Hilo victory.
Mattos followed Tandal with 10 kills. Matsumoto had nine and reserve Makoa Victor added six. The Vikings also got strong contributions from senior setter Micah Nahooikaika and sophomores Micah Tandal and Trevor Castro. The young Tandal was especially effective with his vicious jump serve that produced two aces and threw off Konawaena’s offense.
Freitas led the Wildcats with 16 kills and Trevino had 13. Konawaena also got solid play from the versatile Tanaka and senior Sefo Palu.
“We were a little bit overwhelmed going up 2-0 in the beginning,” Lee said. “None of our players plays year round on a club team, so we have limited experience. We’re a work in progress and have a lot of work to do. But I’m proud of my boys, they’re working hard and we just want to keep getting better.”
The Wildcats coach also said he was impressed with Hilo.
“I think we did well against a solid Division I team,” Lee said. “Hilo has great jumpers and a lot of experience. We tried to make some adjustments against them, but we weren’t able to make them work all of the time.”
Jay Rowe, who is assisted by Ben Pana, was pleased with the match, especially with his Vikings battling back from a 2-0 deficit.
“We’ve been starting slow in every match,” Rowe said. “That’s something we’ve got to correct. But overall, we just want to get better each time we play.”
In junior-varsity action Saturday at the Keaau Gym, Hilo defeated Konawaena 25-22, 25-16.
Hawaii Prep 4-0
Christian Liberty 1-4
Hilo def. Konawaena 18-25, 23-25, 25-14, 25-22, 15-7
Konawaena def. Keaau 25-20, 25-14, 25-12
Hilo def. Keaau 25-19, 19-25, 25-11, 25-22
Kealakehe def. Parker 25-19, 25-20, 25-11
Honokaa def. Hualalai 25-18, 25-18, 25-22
Hawaii Prep def. Kohala 20-25, 25-19, 25-11, 25-17
Pahoa def. Kohala 25-23, 25-14, 25-23
Hawaii Prep def. Pahoa 3-0 (scores unavailable)
Hilo defeated Konawaena 25-22, 25-16
Hawaii Prep def. Pahoa 2-0 (scores unavailable)