By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Kaiu Ahuna didn’t know what to expect from Hawaii Prep, so its comeback caught the junior by surprise. But once Ahuna saw Ka Makani raise their level of play, she promptly responded in kind.
Ahuna smacked 29 kills Saturday and Kamehameha survived a scare to eke out a 25-16, 25-22, 21-25, 27-29, 15-13 victory against Ka Makani in a matchup of Big Island Interscholastic Federation volleyball contenders at Koaia Gym.
Nothing came easy for the three-time defending Division I champions in the opener for both teams.
HPA fought off five match points before Ahuna’s fourth kill of the decisive set caromed off a would-be Ka Makani digger, finally giving the Warriors a chance to exhale.
“We just felt like we needed to play our best to show everyone that we could actually play,” Ahuna said. “We didn’t think HPA could bring that game, but we’re glad. We like the competition.”
Ahuna took 79 swings and hit .215, while junior Harley Woolsey added 17 kills for the Warriors, who didn’t face many tests like this last year when they went unbeaten in the BIIF.
“A little too close for comfort,” coach Kyle Kaaa said. “It’s always nice to see what kind of character we’ve got. To see if we can stay focused for five.
“HPA keeps the ball in play no matter what you give them.”
Switching between setter and libero, Zoe Leonard compiled 44 assists and 23 digs. The junior doesn’t need much of a pass to make a precision set, and Leonard and Ahuna were at the their best in the second set as Kamehameha looked like it was going to make it a quick match.
However, hitting against a double block most of the match, junior outside hitter Gabbie Ewing found seams and helped bring the Division II Ka Makani back, registering 22 kills. Senior hitter Tiana Reynolds added 15.
HPA coach Sharon Peterson said that as setters Carina Verhulsdonk and Tehane Reynolds started to improve their play, HPA followed suit.
“We showed a lot of character,” Peterson said. “We stopped being intimidated and played as a team.
“We want to start earlier and get a better beginning.”
The best action of the match came in Game 4.
Seychelle Francis’ emphatic block gave HPA the first of its four game points at 25-24, and the Ka Makani finally took advantage on a kill by Reynolds to tie the match.
At the point, Ahuna told her teammates, “Let’s take it.”
The Warriors started minimizing their mistakes, and Ahuna and Woolsey began hitting balls near the lines to stay away from the middle of HPA’s defense.
“This is good stuff we learned through this match,” Ahuna said. “We did a good job of fighting and turning it around.”