Online Extra: Hilo falls short against powerful Kahuku
By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Not much went right for Hilo in the first round at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I girls volleyball state championships on Tuesday night at Koaia Gym.
The stats were extremely lopsided, showing a sizable gap between the Big Island Interscholastic Federation's runner-up and the Oahu Interscholastic Association's No. 3 team.
Behind a clinical display of power hitting and balanced firepower, Kahuku overwhelmed Hilo 25-14, 25-16, 26-24, needing barely an hour to dispatch the hometown Vikings into consolation play.
Hilo (13-4) plays Farrington (11-5), the OIA's No. 4 team, at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at Koaia Gym in an elimination match, another measuring stick test.
The Vikings tumbled in the first round the last three years. They lost to Pearl City in five sets last year, and were swept by Moanalua in 2011.
The Red Raiders (14-2) are no ordinary OIA No. 3 team. Although Kahuku is known for its football program, the volleyball team is a perennial OIA title contender. They lost to No. 2 seed Mililani and Moanalua in the league's playoffs, but won the championship from 2008 to '10, finished runner-up in 2011 and won it again last year.
Outside hitter Adora Anae jumped high and smashed balls very hard, and piled up 19 kills on 34 swings with only four errors for a .441 hitting average to fuel Kahuku. The North Shore school fell to Kamehameha-Kapalama in the semifinals last year and to Mililani in the third-place game.
Anae comes from strong bloodlines. The 6-1 senior, who is a verbal commit to the University of Utah, is the niece of Wendy Anae, the former BYU-Hawaii women's basketball coach, who led Kahuku to the school's first and only state hoops title in 1983.
"Our girls had the ability to stay mentally focused. Hilo brought it, but we played together like a team," said Kahuku coach Tehani Fiatoa, who noted the strong competition the OIA offers. "That definitely helps prepare us for states. All of the OIA teams are gunning for each other. That helps all the girls in volleyball, at least on Oahu.
"Adora did pretty well. But there are some things we need to work on. We're not playing to our full potential yet."
Asked if someone from the OIA can snap the ILH's 10-year state title run, Fiatoa had a ready answer.
"That's why we're here," she said. "It'll take us playing together."
Evalani Toledo had 10 kills and hit .143 to lead Hilo, which mightily struggled with its passing, forcing setters Keala Wilbur-Gabriel (10 assists), Saydee Fujioka (five) and Maalahi Remmers (three) to constantly run down balls and hoist up sets that limited any type of offensive diversity.
Amanda Loeffler, the Vikings' other senior outside hitter, added five kills. Senior libero Angel Alameda had a match-high 12 digs, nearly half of Hilo's 26-dig total; Olivia Wallace had 10 digs to lead well-balanced Kahuku, which finished with 36 digs.
What the stats don't show is Wallace's high volume, serve-receive work, turning almost every tough Viking serve into a clean pass to setter Lavinia Brown, who accumulated 36 assists. That big assist total highlighted a nice three-link Kahuku connection between passer, setter and hitter.
Against the shorter Vikings, the Red Raiders had a better hitting percentage (.253 to .000), kills (42 to 23), and aces (5 to 3). One blight was Kahuku's 10 service errors, compared to only three for Hilo, but that comes with an asterisk. The Oahu visitors took huge rips from the service line.
"We needed to slow down our block. They were outjumping us. They were picking on our weak spots," said Loeffler, explaining Kahuku's ability to exploit its size advantage in pretty much every rotation. "I'm really proud of our libero Angel. She was digging every single ball."
Loeffler liked it better when the BIIF split schools, not by location, but talent level, sticking the tougher teams — like Kamehameha, Hilo and Hawaii Prep — into the Blue division and the weaker ones into the Red division. Now teams play everyone else once.
"I liked that way in my freshman and sophomore years," she said.
For the hometown Hilo fans, the best cheering action came in the third set. Down 24-20, the Viks wouldn't go down without a valiant fight. Kahuku had a hitting error, Hilo's Kyra Kaloi put down one of her three kills, another hitting error followed, and Raevyn Kaupu stuffed the Red Raiders for a 24-24 tie.
Kahuku called timeout, and then took care of business. Middle blocker Mariah Berard-Kamakeeaina, who had six kills and hit .462, had back-to-back hard-hit rockets to complete the sweep.
"I'm proud of the way our girls ended the game. They fought to the end. Our passing, especially on defense, killed us," said Hilo coach Olino Kotaki, who also had the same viewpoint as Fiatoa of Oahu's talent pool. "They've got really good competition over there. Here, not too much. The talent here is at a few select schools.
"The tempo of the game is a little different from our games here. I don't think we need to go back to the Blue and Red divisions. But there are a lot of other things, like offseason. On Oahu, they play during the offseason, but that's the only sport they play. Our volleyball kids play multiple sports."
The Vikings will graduate four senior starters — Toledo, Loeffler, Alameda and Wilbur-Gabriel (normally a middle) — changing next season's look, with the loss of a lot of firepower and ball-control from Alameda. Still, they'll likely be the favorite to return to states as the BIIF runner-up behind Kamehameha-Hawaii, which returns most of its main parts.
"We lose four starters," Kotaki said. "But we've got a lot of girls on the bench and the junior varsity who will step up. We'll still come back strong."
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