By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The talented Southside team from the Big Island soared above the pack to capture the boys 14 club division title Monday in the United States Association of Volleyball 2013 National Championships.
The week-long Junior Nationals, with various age groups ranging up to 18 and under, is being played in Reno, Nevada.
The Southside 14 boys, under coaches Guy Enriques and Sam Thomas, were seeded 20th in the 68-team field and finished a perfect 12-0. The undersized Big Island squad beat a team from Pittsburgh, Pa. in the finals, 25-17, 25-18.
“The boys kept getting better each match, gaining more confidence in themselves,” Enriques said. “We had a tough semifinal match against the Rockstars of California. We won a thriller, 25-18, 25-23. But once we got over that hump, we felt really good and were relaxed for the finals.
“Then in the finals, we basically dominated the match.”
Enriques said the Southside boys had finished fourth in the 13’s and 12’s in back-to-back years. But they came in this year ready to make a run at the top spot.
“I’m stoked for the boys,” the veteran coach said. “The championship wasn’t won today, it took us three to four years of hard work to get it done. But if you keep at it long enough, it’ll happen.
“We played some great teams in this tournament, so it’s a big deal to go 12-0. But this team is very good. They’re a very tight group of kids who’ve been together for quite awhile.”
That time spent practicing and playing together paid off throughout the highly competitive Reno event.
“Their experience was a key,” Enriques said. “But as we moved along in the tournament, we started firing on all six pistons. And once we reached the semifinals, instead of relying on two or three boys for our offense, everybody stepped up. It was a great team effort.”
Enriques, who has coached volleyball at the prep and collegiate levels, said this year’s Southside boys 14’s were extremely talented. He said the team played outstanding defense, had terrific ball-control and a potent service game, and was blessed with gutsy volleyball instincts that constantly put its opponent at a disadvantage.
“We really served well,” Enriques said. “And when our opponent returned the ball, we’d send it back, over and over, until they made a mistake. It’s nice to see these boys finally break through and win the national championship.”
Members of the champion Southside 14’s are Addison Enriques, Avery Enriques, Na’ia Makuakane, Tristen Cross, Abishai Campbell, Christopher Correa, Kameron Moses, Logan Thomas, Cole “Nakana” Labrie, Daylan-Blake Kalai and Chase Carter.
All the players are 14 years-old, except Campbell, Labrie and Moses, who are 13; and Thomas, who is 11. Kapua Makuakane was the team chaperone.
The Southside 16’s completed their second day of competition in their division Monday. The team had a 3-1 record late Monday afternoon, with two later matches scheduled.
“They went undefeated on the first day, and then we lost one today,” Enriques said. “They were seeded like 58th out of 68 teams, but we feel pretty good about their chances. Their goal is to get into the Gold bracket’s final eight — and anything can happen from there.
“If they can play to their potential, they have the talent to make a run in the final eight.”
Enriques said several Hawaii teams, with most from Oahu, are competing in the various divisions in the Junior Nationals.
“It’s a good tournament with a lot of great teams,” he said. “It’s really good experience for everyone and a great chance to improve your skills.”
While Enriques and his younger sons compete in Reno, current Kamehameha-Hawaii standout Evan Enriques is playing for the USA 18 and under team. The talented squad is competing in the World Cup in Mexico, an international tournament with some of the top 18 and under players in the world.
“It’s a tremendous honor for Evan to be playing on Team USA,” Guy Enriques said of his older son.