By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Kamehameha and Waiakea not only share the same nickname, but also a tradition of shadowing each other in skill and strategy — a major reason the private-school Warriors and the public-school Warriors have traded titles for the last six years.
After Kamehameha started the sharing run in 2008, it was Waiakea’s turn to hold the trophy and glory after a battle for the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I volleyball championship that resembled an emotional and exhaustive tennis match, with back-and-forth action at a frenzied pace, leaving spectators at Koai’a Gym appreciative for the effort from both Warriors.
Mamane Namahoe partnered with Dillon Rellez to provide a steady flow of offense to counterpunch the firepower of brothers Evan and Emmett Enriques, sparking and steering Waiakea over Kamehameha 27-29, 25-19, 25-23, 23-25, 15-11 on Saturday night in a marathon that will be memorable for how the match was won.
“Some day, I’ll have to look back at the DVD on this match,” Waiakea coach Ecko Osorio said. “This was a special match. We stressed to the team, laulima, holding hands and working together. That brought the team closer together. We’ve got a talented group of kids. They just had to figure out how to work together. That was the key for us.”
Waiakea (14-1) and Kamehameha (14-1) will represent the league at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, which will be held Wednesday-Saturday at Blaisdell Arena on Oahu. Last season, Kamehameha was the state runner-up, falling to Punahou in five sets, while Waiakea finished fifth, taking down Kamehameha-Kapalama.
Both Warrior ballclubs depend on ball-control, making life as comfortable as possible for their big hitters to take clean swings, as the same blueprint to all those BIIF titles. And for all those years, Waiakea and Kamehameha have had similar talent, another reason they’ve traded so many championships.
Namahoe provided Waiakea with an all-around game, knocking down 20 kills, diving all over the floor for 12 digs, and serving tough despite recording no aces. Rellez, who added 17 kills, offered setters Mano Thomson and Keanu Esser the luxury of another athletic hitter on the right side, preventing Kamehameha from stacking its block on Namahoe.
Evan Enriques was his usual self for Kamehameha, a workhorse who put up spectacular numbers despite the fact that every defense he faces makes it Mission No. 1 to stop him. His best weapon is, perhaps, his effort. He hits with tremendous determination on every swing, and took 105 attempts to clobber 46 kills, making 16 errors for a .286 hitting percentage. He’s well-rounded, too, getting 16 digs and three aces.
Namahoe and Evan Enriques are both 6-foot-1 junior outside hitters and share a similar skill-set. Fast approaching in their shadow is the Kamehameha ace’s sophomore brother, Emmett, who cranked 13 kills and scrambled for nine digs. He’s 5-9 and growing in both height and game, apparent with his transition from a secondary role as a freshman to the L2 or second left-side hitter.
Enriques was simply dominant in the first set, hitting over, around and mostly through seams in Waiakea’s block for 15 kills, but the match would turn out to be a marathon, not a 100-meter sprint.
The fourth set would test Waiakea’s ability to center itself with laulima, after losing a 20-14 cushion.
Thomson knows the feeling of finishing first and second. He was the starter at Kohala in 2010 and ‘11. The Cowboys were the BIIF Division II runner-up when he was a freshman, and won the title in his sophomore season. Last year was another BIIF second-place finish with Waiakea, little consolation that it was Division I.
After the lost lead, and failing to close out Kamehameha in four games, Thomson wasn’t worried in the least heading into the fifth and final set. That’s the beauty of big-game experience. It only makes you taller.
“We lost focus in that set,” he said. “We came out in the next one refocused and re-energized.”
And sometimes switching strategy, like playing it safe, especially from the service line, is the best way to allow the other team to beat itself.
“Kamehameha served us tough in Game 4, and I thought it backfired on them in the fifth set,” Osorio said. “They had three service errors and they hit the ball out. But we made plays that mattered.”
In the fifth set, Kamehameha’s third service error tied it 8-8. Then Thomson stepped to the line and got a lucky ace when his serve caught the court with Kamehameha’s libero watching and thinking the ball would go wide. It did not. That mental mistake dropped the home team into a three-point deficit.
Kamehameha hit into the net on match point, adding another unforced error (hitting and serving) to its pile of miscues. Kamehameha had nine giveaway points while Waiakea had only five unforced errors in the final game.
But that’s not what Namahoe will remember. He was holding his gold medal, a precious memento resting on his heart, and thinking about laulima. If a picture is worth a thousand words, his smile to sum up the significance of the BIIF title was worth a thousand more.
“The key was laulima, all hands together. That was our saying,” he said. “Look what we’ve got, a gold medal. The BIIF title feels great, plus we’ve got a medal to show for it.”