By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Kaiu Ahuna knocked down a game-high 13 kills, and matched the play of Punahou's wealth of talented power hitters in the quarterfinals of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I girls volleyball state championships.
The Kamehameha-Hawaii junior outside hitter took swings from every spot on the floor, but couldn't single-handedly overcome the Buffanblu's better firepower and balance in a 25-11, 25-22, 25-17 loss on Wednesday night at Keaau High's gym.
The Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion Warriors (16-1) play Aiea (10-6) at 6:30 p.m. today at Keaau High in consolation action.
Punahou (15-3), the two-time defending state champion, plays Mililani (14-0) at 7 p.m. today at Koaia Gym in the semifinals.
It's the 10th straight year the Warriors have lost their opening match. If they beat Aiea, the Oahu Interscholastic Association No. 5 team, the four-time defending BIIF champs would advance to the fifth-place game.
They got a tough draw against a loaded Buffanblu team that has four verbal college commits: 5-foot-10 junior outside hitter McKenna Rose Granto (Hawaii), 5-10 senior outside hitter Remo-Louise Gaogao (Southern Utah), 6-0 senior middle blocker Marissa Behrens (Manhattan University) and 5-10 junior setter Kiani Tuileta (BYU), the youngster sister of Punahou quarterback and UH verbal commit Larry Tuileta.
In a nutshell stat that summed up the match, the Buffanblu had a whopping 49 kills; the Warriors mustered just 25 kills, with Ahuna accounting for more than half. Harley Woolsey and Zoe Leonard each had three kills.
"We were inconsistent at some points and they took advantage of that," Kamehameha coach Kyle Kaa said. "I was pleased with our passing, our serve-receive, in the second and third sets. That's why we hung around.
"But they've got some monsters at the net. Their outside hitters beat us at the net. Kaiu did well for us. But sometimes we couldn't get the ball to her. Our pass was not there."
All of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu runner-up's starters are 5-10 or taller. Kamehameha setter Kamalu Makekau-Whittaker is 6-0, Leonard is 5-10 and everyone else is shorter. Punahou's size advantage and other elements won out.
Gaogao led the visiting stampede with 11 kills, Granato and Tuileta, who took a few swings when she wasn't setting, added six kills each. Senior middle Mariah Rigg, senior opposite Kelly Matthews and senior middle Sydney Fanoga all had five kills each.
"I liked that we got tested, being down seven points in the second set, and in the third and responded," Punahou coach Tanya Fuamatu-Anderson said. "What I like best is our team chemistry. They bust their tails for me and work hard. We ask a lot out of them, physically, emotionally, mentally. "
The former UH-Hilo star and NAIA Hall of Famer also liked the skill-set of Ahuna, who opened her toolbox and displayed a wide range of shots. The 5-9 Warrior had four kills from the back row, four well-placed roll shots, four cross-court rockets and one line shot.
"She's a solid outside hitter," Fuamatu-Anderson said. "She's got a level of talent, and a heavy arm swing. She would fit in the ILH, easy."
There's an old saying that the best way to get better is to play the best possible competition, reason No. 1 the ILH has won the last 10 state titles in Fuamatu-Anderson's mind.
"Our kids play volleyball year round, but at the same time we've got multi-sport athletes," she said. "We've got some talented athletes. A lot of the coaches are very competitive at the club level. They focus on fundamentals."
The Buffanblu exhibited sharp fundamentals in the first set, scoring eight straight points behind libero Claire-Marie Anderson's jump floats. She had two of her team's nine aces; the Warriors had only three aces.
Four times off tough serves and equally effective passing, Punahou's hitters put down a point on their first swing. There was no rally on Kamehameha's part. In order, Gaogao, Matthews, Matthews again, and Dallas Lishman, from the 10-foot line, hit home runs on the first pitch.
In the second set, the Warriors built a 21-14 lead, behind four kills from Ahuna and nine Buffanblu unforced errors (hitting, serving). However, Punahou scored the last six points, capitalizing when Ahuna was stuck in the back row.
"We went in knowing it would be a tough game," Ahuna said. "In the first set we had a lot of jitters. It's the first time we've played Punahou in an opening match. They're a great team and had a height advantage. In the second and third sets, we showed that we could play with them."
Despite the loss, the future is bright for the Warriors, who lose only one starter in libero Kayla Flores.
"It was a great match," Woolsey said. "We fought it out, and we'll only get better from here."