By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The best competition — the power-hitting outfit named Kamehameha — comes to town bright and early for Hawaii Prep, which will get its mettle measured in different day dogfights.
It’ll be a battle of two-time Big Island Interscholastic Federation volleyball champions at 10 a.m. Saturday when the Division I Warriors (12-0) step foot inside Castle Gym in Waimea to face the Division II Ka Makani (9-2).
The load gets lighter at the end of a four-match day when HPA takes on Parker (1-10) in the final game, but the intensity will soon get re-heated.
On Tuesday, the Ka Makani hop in a school bus to take a 90-minute drive to play Konawaena (10-2), a hungry team that hasn’t won a BIIF title since 1998.
HPA has already played Hilo and Ka‘u, two other teams residing in the upper echelon of the standings, losing to both.
Though only seeding to the BIIF tournament, which starts Oct. 27, is at stake, the Ka Makani are in the mood to find their footing, and coach Sharon Peterson believes her team is already fitted with all the mental aspects that shadow big-time competitors.
“Our chemistry is good and we get along well together,” she said. “We’re spirited and open to learning, but we’re not tall. We have to make up for that with movement and we’re getting better at it. I think our team is improving and we’re getting a little tougher mentally.”
Gabbie Ewing, a 5-foot-6 sophomore outside hitter, has stepped up to put a charge into the offense. Tiana Reynolds, a 5-9 junior, and McKenna Ventura, a 5-10 freshman middle, have also provided needed firepower.
“Gabbie has been hitting better with more control. She can see the opposite court better, and she’s a great court leader,” Peterson said. “She hustles and is always working hard at practices and games.
“McKenna is a freshman, but she and Gabbie have played club ball together. That makes her a veteran even though she’s a freshman. Tiana is versatile. We’ve used her in the middle and outside. She’s open to coaching and works hard. A lot of times she does extra work and she’s really improved.”
No matter the rotation, HPA’s block will encounter a shower of rockets from the right arms of Kamehameha’s outside hitting tandem of Shae Kanakaole and Kaiulani Ahuna.
Not for nothing, but the Ka Makani get a chance to hit the ball, too.
And in a sweep over Pahoa on Tuesday, Ventura showed savvy court vision, finding the open floor with roll shots over the block. That’s just one part of her game that impresses the former UH-Hilo coach, who won seven national titles.
“She’s fun and open to learning and growing. She’s fairly consistent for us as a freshman,” said Peterson, who retired from UHH in 2002 after a 25-year career that included a 511-251 record. “She’s a strong server, strong hitter, she’s got a nice game. She can pass and do everything. She’s young and still learning.”
That’s what keeps Peterson youthful and energetic. She took over the HPA girls in the 2005-06 season, and the boys and girls teams the next season. Her gung-ho is strong and her battery remains fully charged.
“I really enjoy working with the kids, not only in volleyball but with life lessons,” she said. “I get to teach them how to be powerful and empower themselves, and get them to learn about making good choices.”
HPA lost its two big guns — Leeta Grap, who’s playing volleyball at North Idaho College and Katie Case, playing soccer at Air Force — off last season’s team.
Setter Nua Potts, Tiana Bertelmann-Tabac, and Carina Verhulsdonk are the other returning starters for a team that has been to states the last six years. (Last season, Peterson coached HPA to its first BIIF boys title and second straight state appearance.)
“We’d certainly like to go to states. If we can do that, it would be great,” Peterson said. “But we haven’t talked about that. We’re really focusing on effort and learning. We’ll let that take care of itself.”
• Grap, a 5-11 middle/outside hitter, has started twice and played in 17 matches for the Cardinals (16-2, 2-2 in the Scenic West Athletic Conference). Despite her limited time, she has 55 kills, fifth on the team, averaging 1.28 kills per set.
On Oct. 19, North Idaho will host College of Southern Idaho (20-1, 5-0), home to 2011 Waiakea graduate Aisha Joseph, the starting setter. She leads the Eagles with 460 assists, an average of 6.76 per set. Earlier, the Eagles swept the Cardinals.
• Case, a 5-6 midfielder, has played in eight games for the Falcons (5-4-3, 0-2 in the Mountain West Conference). She has no goals and zero assists.