By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
On a hot and extremely humid afternoon at Hilo Armory, Hilo fought past Waiakea 25-22, 25-19, 26-24 in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation volleyball match Saturday.
In the Division I battle of crosstown rivals, the host Vikings, celebrating Senior Day, overcame a flurry of botched serves and untimely errors to fend off the young Warriors.
The Vikings improved to 12-1 in the D-I standings while Waiakea slipped to 7-6.
Still, in a match involving these two fierce rivals, the final outcome in each game was in jeopardy until the final swing or serve with both teams hanging tough.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions today,” Viking coach Olino Kotaki said. “It was Senior Day and we were playing Waiakea. There was so much going on and we played up and down. We had a lot of service errors and struggled with our communication.
“But give Waiakea credit. They’re a scrappy team and when they play in the moment, they can be tough.”
Hilo’s four seniors — Chelzie Ulu, Cheyrub Cabarloc, Leilani Smith and Kawehi Granito-Wallace — all played and contributed in the hard-earned victory, then celebrated their final home match with a short ceremony before the Viking fans.
Ulu, a high-flying middle blocker, was a force at the net, with her outstanding blocking and clutch hitting. She led Hilo with 10 kills, including three or four solo blocks where she rose high above the net and emphatically returned the volleyball to the sender for a Viking point.
Smith, a southpaw middle blocker, added five kills and teamed with the athletic Ulu, Granito-Wallace and juniors Amanda Loeffler and Evalani Toledo to present a big block that helped the Vikings throughout the match.
“Hilo has a lot of talent, even the players coming off the bench,” Waiakea assistant coach Jay Hanagami said. “They put up a big block and we knew we would have to play good defense and be disciplined at the net to have a chance. I just told our girls that they needed to be confident and play together.
“I’m proud of the girls, they played well together and we gave Hilo a good game.”
In Game 1, the teams exchanged leads until they were tied at 19-19 and the Vikings grabbed momentum. Ulu’s block gave the hosts a 20-19 advantage and then after a Warrior miscue, Loeffler, a talented outside hitter, cranked home a winner to stretch the lead to 22-19.
Waiakea responded with junior Keiran Cardoza’s timely kill to make it 22-20. But Hilo picked up a point on another Warrior error and Loeffler and Smith recorded back-to-back kills to extend the margin to 24-21. Sophomore Kylee Ancheta answered for the visitors, making it 24-22. However, the Vikings then prevailed 25-22 on a Waiakea service error.
In Game 2, Hilo rode the hitting and serving of the versatile Toledo and pulled away to a 17-8 lead as the Warriors struggled passing the ball. But the visitors battled back and sliced the host’s cushion to 19-17. The Vikings then regained their composure and closed out the game behind kills from Toledo, Loeffler and Smith, winning 25-19.
In Game 3, Waiakea, sparked by the hustling play of defensive specialist Tanalei Louis, senior Haley Apuakehau and junior Kyrie Mehau raced to a 14-7 lead before Hilo caught fire. The Vikings rode an aggressive attack fueled by setters Taylor Alicuben and Maraea Chung and hitting of Ulu and Toledo to pull within 24-21.
The Warriors then tried to close out the game, but it just didn’t happen in the sauna-like conditions at Hilo Armory.
Toledo’s dink pulled the hosts to within 24-22, before Alicuben’s kill made it 24-23. Ulu capped her outstanding day with back-to-back kills to lift the Vikings on top 25-24 with Toledo serving. The junior then ripped an ace to win it, 26-24.
Toledo finished with six kills and three aces. Loeffler had six kills and Smith added her five.
Cardoza led Waiakea with seven kills and Ancheta had six.
Both Louis and Hilo libero Angel Alameda turned in sterling defensive efforts, setting up their respective teams’ offenses with crisp passing or keeping balls alive with their hustling, all-out play.
“Tanalei really keeps our team’s energy up,” Hanagami said. “She plays hard all the time and shows leadership.”
Hanagami feels the Warriors, with only three seniors, have come a long way this season.
“The team has really improved a lot,” he said. “We’re playing much better defense and have played good against all the teams in the league.”
Kotaki saw some promising things in her team’s play against Waiakea, but said the Vikings still need to play smarter, communicate better and play together as a team with the BIIF D-I playoffs right around the corner.
Hawaii Prep 10-3
St. Joseph 7-6
Makua Lani 0-14
At Hilo Armory
Hilo def. Christian Liberty 25-5, 25-19, 25-5
Waiakea def. Christian Liberty 25-10, 25-13, 25-20
Hilo def. Waiakea 25-22, 25-19, 26-24
JV: Waiakea def. Hilo 25-16, 25-23
Ka’u def. Pahoa 25-14, 25-13, 25-21
Kohala def. Pahoa 25-23, 19-25, 25-23, 25-18
Ka’u def. Kohala 17-25, 25-12, 25-18, 25-12
JV: Kohala def. Pahoa 26-24, 25-17
JV: Kohala def. Ka’u 25-19, 21-25, 15-10
JV: Ka’u def. Pahoa 25-8, 25-14
Keaau def. Makua Lani 25-15, 25-13, 25-10
Kealakehe def. Keaau 25-8, 25-11, 25-9
Kealakehe def. Makua Lani 25-6, 25-6, 25-11
JV: Kealakehe def. Keaau 25-16, 25-19
Kam def. HPA 25-13, 25-18, 25-20
Kam def. Parker 25-11, 25-12, 25-14
HPA def. Parker 25-11, 25-11, 25-3
JV: Kamehameha def. HPA 25-18, 25-16
Friday at Honokaa
St. Joseph def. Honokaa 25-17, 25-14, 25-16
St. Joseph def. Laupahoehoe 25-11, 25-7, 25-11
Honokaa def. Laupahoehoe 25-14, 25-14, 25-19
JV: Honokaa def. Kanu 25-20, 25-12