By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEALAKEKUA — No matter the rotation, Hawaii Preparatory Academy presented too much firepower, and played a far cleaner game against St. Joseph, which fought hard and long but still fell short on Saturday at Konawaena High’s Ellison Onizuka Gym.
Tiana Reynolds, Gabbie Ewing and McKenna Ventura combined for 35 kills to spark the Ka Makani over the Cardinals 25-12, 26-24, 25-19 in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II volleyball third-place game.
The Ka Makani (13-5) extended their state appearance streak to seven straight the hard way, playing in the third-place game — not exactly an uncomfortable situation for them. They also qualified for states from 2006 to ‘09 as the league’s No. 3 team.
Alison Fuata hammered 14 kills and Haley Thorsen added 11 kills to lead the Cardinals (10-8), who last went to states in 2006 as the BIIF Division II champion.
In the firepower department, HPA’s trio had more kills than St. Joe’s tandem, 35-25. That neutralized the bench production, won by the Cardinals, 3-1, who got two kills from Fiona Follett and Nicole Smallwood had one. Asia Kaden had the Ka Makani’s only other kill.
The loss not only marks the end for St. Joe’s four seniors, Thorsen, Smallwood, Georgia Pirie, and Lacey Toledo-Muragin, but also throws the future of the program into doubt with only four returning sophomores, Olivia Brinkman, Nozomi Nakazawa, Fiona Follett and Fuata, a promising middle blocker.
St. Joseph (10-8) didn’t have a junior varsity. The low numbers are affecting other sports as well. The small school won’t field boys and girls soccer, and girls basketball for the second straight season for winter sports.
At least the Cards went down swinging, something HPA coach Sharon Peterson admired.
“St. Joe kept hustling and digging our balls, and their big hitters (Thorsen ands Fuata) did a great job,” she said. “Fortunately, we were able to get more points. We attacked pretty well.
“It was scary today. We knew St. Joe wanted it. Both teams want to go to states, so that can be a hinderance. But our girls were able to pull it out. Our setters (Nua Potts and Tiana Bertelmann-Tabac) were able to get the sets up close to the net. That was important.”
For one thing, that allowed HPA’s trio to take clean swings against St. Joe’s defense, which dropped everyone back, except for a single blocker.
“I wasn’t surprised they had only one blocker. Most teams played us that way. I think it’s because they have a size disadvantage.”
Not only size and firepower, the Ka Makani also held the edge in fundamentally sound play. They committed just 20 unforced errors (hitting and serving); the Cardinals had 38 giveaway points.
In the first set, HPA made three big runs when Thorsen was stuck in back-row rotation, reeling off eight straight points and a pair of five-point spurts.
During the eight-point jaunt, Thorsen and Fuata were relegated to backcourt duty and the attack misfired with five unforced errors.
Potts had a service error to cancel the scoring spree, but two five-point streaks sandwiched a Fuata kill. And Ewing caught fire with five kills, including set point.
In the second set, St. Joe hurt itself with 13 unforced errors; HPA had just six — the same numbers in the first set.
Still, the Cards battled and tied it 24-24. But they continued to throw a single block and Ventura rammed two straight rockets down the highway, closing the set.
In the third set, HPA blitzed St. Joe with a 10-point run with Ventura and Reynolds tag-teaming each other. They had two kills each. The Cards had four unforced errors, and both Thorsen and Fuata were stuck in the back row.
Thorsen nailed a missile from the back row to get the Cardinals back to their feet. Next, Fuata rotated to the front and put down another kill, making it 24-19.
Then St. Joseph saw its season conclude in tough fashion, committing another hitting error on match point.