KEAAU — If a spectator had walked into Koaia Gym and was watching Kamehameha for the first time Saturday, they might never have known the Warriors were missing their go-to hitter.
Sure, Maraea O’Connor took over the role unassumingly, but she did it with authority.
With star Kaiulani Ahuna cheering on in street clothes from the bench, O’Connor had the look and feel of a No. 1 option, hammering 13 kills to fuel Kamehameha to a 25-17, 25-19, 25-23 victory against Kealakehe in Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I girls volleyball.
“I just tried to do my part and have faith in my teammates that they were going to their part,” O’Connor, a senior, said.
Coach Sam Thomas said Ahuna, the reigning BIIF D-I Player of the Year, was taking a few days off with a neck pointer. The Warriors (2-0) also were playing without Zoe Leonard, an all-BIIF first-teamer from a year ago who is nursing an ankle injury.
But with junior setter Kamalu Makekau-Whittaker distributing the ball, four-time defending champion Kamehameha hardly missed a beat. The Warriors got solid contributions from middle blockers Pua Wong (eight kills) and Makenzie Kalawaia (six), a freshman.
“The whole idea for this season was not to be Kaiu-centric, but to move the ball around,” Thomas said. “It’s good, we’ve been working on it and it paid off today.”
He said O’Connor wasn’t meant to be the focus entering the match, it just ended up that way. She didn’t change positions, remaining at rightside hitter, but she did alter her mindset, concentrating on hitting more the blocking, which comes more naturally to her.
She helped the Warriors overcome a sluggish start in the first set, and O’Connor and senior libero Harley Woolsey played big roles during a set-changing run in the Game 2. Trailing 14-12 after a sideout, the Warriors reeled off eight straight points on Woolsey’s serve, getting three O’Connor kills and two Woolsey aces during the run.
Woolsey finished with 16 digs, and freshman Keani Akui had six.
“The middles came on strong and the freshmen did really well and I’m really proud of them,” O’Connor said. “We learned that even though we were without one of our biggest links, we know how to play with each other.”
Kealakehe’s Nika Paogofie-Buyten found her range after a shaky first set and tallied 13 kills.
If ever the Waveriders (2-1) were going to beat the Warriors, Kealakehe coach Duke Hartfield said this was the day to do it. As it was, he was left to marvel at Kamehameha’s depth.
“We had a great opportunity,” Hartfield said. “The girls played well. They’re inconsistent. The opportunities came, we just couldn’t take advantage of it.”
Rashai Kailiwai added eight kills and Kealia Wolfe posted five.
Hilo def. Honokaa 25-8, 25-12, 25-20
JV: Hilo wins 25-13, 25-5
Pahoa def. Parker 25-2, 25-10, 25-10
Kamehameha def. Kealekehe 25-17, 25-19, 25-23
JV: Kamehameha wins 25-12, 25-6
Konawaena def. Keaau 25-11, 25-11, 25-14
JV: Konawaena wins 26-24, 23-25, 15-7
Hawaii Prep at Ka ‘u, not reported