By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
KEAAU — Hawaii Prep’s Gabbie Ewing slid hard into the bleachers and banged her head hard late in Game 4 against Konawaena in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II volleyball final on Saturday night.
Ewing, a versatile 5-foot-7 junior, was finally helped up, somewhat dazed and headed to Ka Makani bench while about 500 fans applauded at Koaia Gym on the Kamehameha campus.
But Ewing’s only thought centered around her teammates and getting back into the fierce battle against the talented Wildcats, who rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force a Game 5.
Ka Makani rode the hitting of Ewing and 5-9 senior Tiana Reynolds to prevail 25-20 in Game 1 and 25-23 in Game 2. But the Wildcats, led by sensational sophomore Chanelle Molina (a match-high 27 kills), fought back to beat Hawaii Prep 25-13 in Game 3 and 25-18 in Game 4, with Ewing watching the final four points on the bench.
However, with the BIIF championship on the line, Ka Makani coach Sharon Peterson inserted Ewing for Game 5 and the big-hearted junior served the final three points as Hawaii Prep edged Konawaena 15-12 to capture the D-II title in dramatic fashion.
The thrilling 25-20, 25-23, 13-25, 18-25, 15-12 victory gave Ka Makani the league’s overall title and top seed in the upcoming state D-II tournament. Both Hawaii Prep and Konawaena will represent the BIIF in states.
In the third-place match, Pahoa fought past Ka’u in a 25-23, 20-25, 21-25, 25-21, 15-8 thriller to claim the BIIF’s final state tournament berth. It’s the first time that the Dagger girls have earned a state tournament berth since 1997.
Saturday’s D-II final left both teams exhausted and entertained the fans through five close games.
“It was an outstanding match,” Peterson said. “I’m really proud of our girls. They did an 180-degree turn from our semifinal match. Tonight, we played with controlled intensity and tried to make sure everything happened on our side of the court.
“But after winning the first two games, we found out that things get a lot harder in trying to get what you’re after.”
Then when Ewing went out late in Game 4 and Konawaena clutching momentum, Ka Makani seemed in trouble.
That’s when Peterson went back to Ewing and Hawaii Prep raced to a 12-8 advantage in Game 5. But Konawaena responded like a champion in its own right, led by Molina, and the Wildcats tied the game at 12-12.
Alaina Bradley, a 5-11 junior, answered for Ka Makani, with a kill to make it 13-12 with Ewing at the service line. Then the ever-present Reynolds scored on a dink and finished the match with her 15th kill of the night to give Hawaii Prep the coveted crown.
“Our spirit was better tonight and our team support was there,” Peterson said. “But having Gabbie in for that last game made a difference. She just settles everyone else down and leads the way.”
When Reynolds’ final kill ended the match, Ewing dropped to her knees and cried.
“When I came out (in Game 4), I knew I was going to go back in,” Ewing said. “When I got ready to serve with the score tied 12-12, I took a deep breath and just tried to get it in.
“When the match was over, I felt so much emotion and cried. I watched this team grow all season and to win the championship means so much. I’m really proud of everybody on the team and the coaches.”
Bradley followed Reynolds with six kills, but almost all of them came late in the match when the match was still in doubt.
Molina led Konawaena with her 27 kills and all-around superb play while versatile teammate Kaela Avanilla had 12 kills, sophomore McKenna Ventura had seven and freshman Celena Molina, Chanelle’s sister, added six.
Pahoa 3, Ka’u 2: Erleen Oguma led a balanced Pahoa attack with 20 kills. Maxine Block added 16 and Christine Colobong added nine. But it was a sterling team effort, especially defensively, for the Daggers.
“I told the girls before the game that every time I yelled ‘switch,’ it meant they had to switch on their game,” Pahoa coach Eden Scanlan said. “We were a little nervous to start, but we settled down and showed incredible heart and determination.
“Our goal all season was to get everyone involved. We called it ‘12 strong’ and today it was an amazing team effort.”
Scanlan said she was on the last Dagger girls team to advance to the state tournament in 1997.
Kamalani Fujikawa led the defending D-II champion Trojans with a match-high 31 kills and Toni Beck added 20.