By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
KEAAU — Riding a three-year stranglehold on the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I volleyball championship, Kamehameha coach Kyle Kaaa was looking for a challenge as his talented young Warriors headed into the league playoffs.
On Saturday night at Koaia Gym, the soft-spoken Kaaa said he was pleased after host Kamehameha topped hustling Hilo 25-16, 25-16, 27-25 to pocket the private school’s fourth BIIF title in a row.
“We expected a battle against Hilo and we got it,” Kaaa said. “We know they’re going to play hard and never quit. But going into this match, we wanted to work on some things, especially getting the ball to our middles. When we do that, it takes pressure off our hitters.
“Tonight, I felt we accomplished that with both Pua Wong and Cashman Aiu making themselves available for the set. But when it comes to crunch time, we always go to Kaiu (Ahuna).”
Ahuna, an explosive 5-foot-8 junior outside hitter, hammered a match-high 21 kills to lead the Warriors (16-0), who, along with the runner-up Vikings (14-2), will represent the BIIF in the 12-team state D-I tournament, scheduled Oct. 29-Nov. 1 at the Kamehameha and Keaau high school gyms.
The steady Warriors overpowered the Vikings in Games 1 and 2 before the gutsy Vikings led much of Game 3 before Ahuna & Co. took control.
Hilo, led by senior outside hitters Amanda Loeffler and Evalani Toledo, held a 15-12 advantage when Loeffler stepped to the service line. The versatile Loeffler then ripped back-to-back aces to stretch the lead to 17-12.
But Ahuna ignited a Warrior rally with a blistering kill and multi-talented junior setter/libero Zoe Leonard crushed a point as Kamehameha closed to within 19-17.
The Vikings then grabbed a 22-19 lead on another Loeffler spike. However, the Warriors got a timely kill from Wong and another Ahuna point to tie the game at 22.
Sophomore Kamalu Makekau-Whittaker, a 6-foot setter/libero, then gave Kamehameha a 23-22 lead with a kill.
Still, the Vikings wouldn’t fold and tied it at 24-all on a Warrior error. Then after Ahuna lifted the hosts on top 25-24 with her 19th kill of the match, Loeffler answered with a kill to knot the score a final time, at 25-25.
The Warriors then did what they do at crunch time — they set the high-flying Ahuna and her back-to-back kills ended the match, at 27-25, and presented the school with its fourth straight D-I crown.
For the evening, Ahuna finished with 21 kills in 46 attempts with seven errors, a robust .304 hitting percentage.
Leonard followed with seven kills in 15 attempts and two errors, a .333 hitting clip, to go along with a team-high 12 digs and three service aces. Aiu had five kills in nine swings and three block assists. Wong and junior Harley Woolsey each added four kills in a balanced attack.
Makekau-Whittaker fueled the offense with 39 assists.
“It was a team effort for us,” Kaaa said. “We served tough, and we did a lot of things well. But we also made some mistakes and need to work on some things.”
Kamehameha assistant Chris Leonard also liked the balanced offensive attack.
“I thought we passed well and stepped up as a team in the third set when Hilo gave us a good challenge,” he said. “This is a special group of girls. They work hard together, in practice and in the games.”
Hilo coach Olino Kotaki congratulated the Warriors on a strong performance.
“Kamehameha is awesome — from offense to defense, and they’re very supportive of each other,” she said. “No matter who is on the court, they stick together.”
Kotaki also praised her Vikings.
“Our girls did well,” she said. “They tried their hardest as a team. I’m proud of their effort.”
Toledo led Hilo with 11 kills and Loeffler had eight. No other Vikings stats were available after the match.
Hilo 16 16 25
Kamehameha 25 25 27