KAILUA-KONA — Kealakehe did not make it easy, but Hilo escaped a trip to the west side of the island with a thrilling five-set victory — 25-21, 19-25, 25-20, 24-26, 15-13 — in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I volleyball matchup Wednesday night.
The Vikings were coming off their first loss of the season — a three set defeat by the hands of rival Waiakea Monday. The loss provided motivation heading into the matchup with the Waveriders.
“It was a good fun game of friendly competition,” said Hilo head coach Ben Pana. “This is a step in the right direction. It was a good game, but we still have some things to work on in practice. We are looking forward to the next one.”
For Kealakehe, the loss drops them to 2-3 on the season and toward the back of Division I. However, head coach Kahinu Lee took many positives away from the game.
“We had lot of unforced errors and broke down on passing and communication,” said Lee, who is in his first year coaching at Kealakehe. “But we hung tough and the boys fought and pushed themselves and their teammates. The boys having the heart to stand in there is what is gratifying for me.”
Hilo won the first set 25-21 behind strong play from junior Justice Lord and senior A.J. Matsumoto, but were helped up by multiple Kealakehe errors.
Lord finished the game with 13 kills and Matsumoto had six.
“It was a real group effort, but if I was to pick one person, I would say A.J. stood out for us,” Pana said. “He hit hard and smart.”
In the second set, the teams battled to a tie seven times before the Waveriders grabbed a handle. Coming out of a timeout with a slight 19-18 lead, Kealakehe rallied to outscore Hilo 6-1 to take the set, highlighted by a huge block by sophomore Jonah Kaulia to seal it.
Hilo coasted to a relatively easy win in the third set, and carried the energy into the fourth. The Vikings took a demanding lead early on, led by multiple kills from Sione Atuekaho, and it looked as if the team was going to travel back to the east side with an easy win. Kealakehe had different plans.
“One at a time,” Lee chanted to his players from the bench. The Waveriders followed that advice, and stormed back, winning the fourth set behind clutch play from Peni Kalavi and Keanu Tilfas. The duo — who also stars on the Kealakehe basketball team — combined for 12 kills and two blocks in the set.
“It was a great moment to see my boys come together as a team and rally together,” Lee said. “The six on the court and the guys on the bench were all involved. The intensity was high.”
Kalavi finished the match with 23 kills, and Tilfas racked up 22. Kaimi Wilson added 18 kills.
While it seemed that the Waveriders had the upper hand due to momentum, the Vikings again took an early lead in the deciding set. Kaululaau Ontai and Lord led the way with multiple kills and blocks, forcing Kealakehe to claw back into the game.
Resilience was the theme of Wednesday night’s game for the Waveriders, but there was just not enough left in the tank as the Vikings stifled a final comeback attempt in the fifth and final set.
“Give Kealakehe props,” Pana said. “They are a tough, young, scrappy team and they played us tough tonight.”