A lone banner currently hangs in Ka‘u’s gym to commemorate a championship season, but the banner is finally going to get some welcomed company.
Ka‘u downed Honokaa in a thrilling five-set match in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II Championship to capture the schools first title in boys volleyball and second overall BIIF title in school history Saturday at Kealakehe gymnasium.
“It is such a relief of pressure,” Ka‘u head coach Josh Ortega said. “The goal for our team all season has been to bring home the banner. It was a little sketchy on the final point because (Honokaa) did get a piece of the ball and those guys are real scrappy. You are praying for the best, but when that ball finally dropped it was a relief.”
Junior outside hitter Cameron Enriques registered 19 kills in the match, including the game-winner. Senior middle blocker Larry-Dan Al-Navarro added 17 kills and six blocks.
“Being a BIIF champion feels really good,” Enriques said. “Everything just dropped for me when I saw that final point.”
Honokaa senior outside hitter Chance Salva delivered a dozen kills and 12 digs in the losing effort. Shyrome Batin tacked on 15 kills and Makana Loo managed 12 digs for the Dragons.
Ka‘u and Honokaa have additional volleyball left to play in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament, but the win, Ka‘u earns a seeded berth and a valuable bye.
Ortega also coached the Ka‘u girls volleyball team that brought home the title in 2012. However, he does not see a lot of similaraties between the two.
“The boys are a lot different,” Ortega said. “Comparing the two, I think girls are more straightforward and it is more mental. With the boys you have to be agressive and get up there and yell.”
Honokaa took the regular season matchup between the contenders in five sets on April 19. The contest served as an indicator coming in that the BIIF championship matchup would not be a quick one.
The teams volleyed the lead several times in the first set, before the Trojans rallied to take an 18-14 advantage. Led by the play of Salva and Batin, the Dragons responded to the early adversity. The duo propelled Honokaa to a 28-26 win in the set.
The Trojans seemed to shake the jitters after the opening set, rallying behind the power of Al-Navarro and the skill of Enriques. While Al-Navarro powered through blocks, Enriques leaping ability at his outside hitter position helped him find holes in the Dragons defense.
“We kept our heads up high,” Enriques said. “We tried to never get down when we fell behind.”
With a 2-1 lead in the match and on the verge of a championship, the Trojans’ nerves surfaced. A bevy of unforced errors and miscommunications doomed the Trojans, leading to a lopsided 16-25 loss in the fourth set.
“I asked them during the break why they were making it so hard on themselves,” Ortega said. “They seem to like to make it interesting.”
The Trojans fell behind early in the fifth set, but rallied for four straight points to take the lead. Ka‘u never looked back from there. Nine points from the dynamic pair of Enriques and Al-Navarro — including a momentum swinging block by Al-Navarro — sealed the championship for Ka‘u.
Ka‘u relied on six seniors during the title run, and many of them pulled double-duty by also participating in baseball. Ortega admitted it led to some problems in getting a full squad together for practice, but the quality of the work on the court never suffered.
“It’s always a pleasure to close out the season like this,” Ortega said. “It’s nice to know they battle so hard at baseball and then managed to put in another two hours at volleyball practice and give it their all. This title really represents their efforts.”