By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Kamehameha’s outside attack was humming all afternoon long, hammering big points during decisive momentum swings to stiff-arm all comeback attempts by Ka‘u, which loaded up on defense and refused to give an inch.
Kaiulani Ahuna drilled 13 kills and Shae Kanakaole added eight to spark the Warriors over the Trojans 25-23, 25-13, 25-15 in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation girls volleyball match on Saturday at Koai‘a Gym.
When Ahuna and Kanakaole weren’t taking turns smashing down rockets from the left spot, setter Acacia Kaaa fed enough balls to the right side, where Jeyci Kaili made the most of her clean swings to drop seven kills for the Division I Warriors (6-0).
It was enough offense to neutralize the firepower of middle blocker Marley Strand-Nicolaisen, who aimed and often fired accurately from every part of the floor against constant double teams, and still finished with 13 kills to lead the Division II Trojans (3-2).
“We stuck two blockers on her wherever she went,” Kamehameha coach Kyle Kaaa said. “We really practiced that and how we should set up our defense. We also practiced finishing games in practice. Except for that first game, I liked how we finished games well.
“We served well and that kept them out of games, and we saw improvement in our serve-receive passing also.”
It was not only a battle of annual state title contenders (Kamehameha has gone to states the last eight years, Ka‘u the last two), but also a reunion for players on the USA High Performance ages 15-16 team coached by UH-Hilo’s Tino Reyes that took sixth in Iowa.
Ahuna was on the summer squad along with teammates Kaili, Zoe Leonard, Kamalu Makekau-Whittaker, Harley Woolsey and Pua Wong, who spearheaded the Warriors’ tough serving with three aces; Bree Kaneakua and Kanakaole added two each.
Kaila Olson is the Trojans’ top server. She has a roundhouse arm action on her serves, sending over moving sinkers. The senior middle compiled three aces.
But Kamehameha had more aces, 8-5, and better offensive balance, especially with Ahuna soaring high and hitting balls hard to the floor, despite a back row blanketed with defenders.
“Kaiulani’s very athletic. She has a lot of shots,” Kaaa said. “She passes well and is a complete player. Pua is not normally one of our tougher servers, but she served well today.”
Trojans junior Toni Beck, a 6-foot outside hitter, was also on the High Performance team, picking up valuable tips from Reyes. She had six kills and often rammed balls over Kamehameha’s shorter block.
“I learned so much about basics and to always keep pushing,” Beck said. “It’ll definitely help me during the regular season. It was a good experience. It was a good confidence booster.”
The Trojan, under first-year coach Josh Ortega, play an unconventional defense. They put up one blocker and drop five to defend. The benefit is the back row is well covered and most of the Trojans are solid defenders. The drawback is Kamehameha gets a one-on-one matchup and most of time a clear hitting lane.
Ka‘u made things interesting in the first set, charging back with five straight points from a 23-16 deficit on the strength of two Beck kills from the left post, where she powered shots past the defense with her short, swift swing.
Then Kamehameha had a block, looking at game point at 24-21. But Strand-Nicolaisen split a double block from the left side, and Beck hit a nice tip that fell in front of a double team.
On a bump-over, Strand-Nicolaisen didn’t swing cleanly and the ball floated into the net, and the Trojans didn’t really come close in the next two sets.
Strand-Nicolaisen had six kills in the first set and five in the third, production that was neutralized by Ahuna, a 5-9 sophomore, who had four kills in the first game, three in the second and five in the third.
“It’s the toughest game we’ve had,” Ahuna said. “Something new we’re trying is breathing and relaxing before games. We were a little jittery in the beginning, then our hitters got going. I was just trying to read the block and see where the empty spaces were.”
Like Beck, Ahuna learned valuable lessons from her summer journey.
“Coach Tino taught me a lot of great technical stuff that I’m using now, like the passing angle with my arms, and where I should be when I hit the ball,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Trojans learned a lot, too.
“We learned to play as a team. I’m proud we stuck together,” Ortega said. “We were down then would call timeout and got right back. The bigger picture is believing in yourself.”
Kealakehe def. Honokaa 25-22, 25-15, 25-23
Kealakehe def. Honokaa 25-15, 25-19
Kamehameha def. Ka‘u 25-23, 25-13, 25-15
Ka’u def. Laupahoehoe 25-9, 25-8, 25-8
Kamehameha def. Laupahoehoe 25-7, 25-4, 25-6
Kamehameha def. Ka’u 25-7, 25-22
Hilo def. Parker 25-7, 25-12, 25-8
Hilo def. Keaau 25-5, 25-12, 25-11
Keaau def. Parker 25-21, 23-25, 10-25, 25-20, 15-11
Hilo def. Keaau 25-8, 25-19
At Hawaii Prep
Hawaii Prep def. Kohala 25-20, 25-12, 25-18
Hawaii Prep def. Makua Lani 25-6, 25-11, 25-10
Kohala def. Makua Lani 26-24, 25-22, 25-16
Hawaii Prep def. Kanu 25-12, 25-19
Hawaii Prep def. Kohala 16-25, 25-23, 17-15
Konawaena def. Christian Liberty 25-11, 25-17, 25-9
St. Joseph def. Christian Liberty
Konawaena def. Christian Liberty
HAAS vs. Kona, not reported