By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — The home Warriors of Kamehameha are not very tall, but always put a big emphasis on first-touch ball-control — serving and passing.
The visiting Warriors of Waiakea soar high and hit hard, fitting for a volleyball team built around athleticism.
Guess which squad won?
In an early showdown of title contenders, Kamehameha played cleaner ball and swept Waiakea 25-17, 26-24, 26-24 in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I match on Saturday at Koaia Gym.
It wasn’t the only season-opening game between title contenders, sort of draining the drama for the BIIF regular-season title, which awards an automatic berth if the league has two spots to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
At Waimea, BIIF Division II runner-up Hawaii Prep swept defending champion and new-look Pahoa, which lost all its starters from a year ago, 25-22, 25-18, 25-18.
It’s super early but already the theme of the season is set: Everyone is chasing Division I favorite Kamehameha and Division II heavyweight HPA.
According to the six-year annual tradition of sharing BIIF Division I titles, it’s Kamehameha’s turn this season.
Waiakea is the defending champ and has won in the odd-numbered years: 2009, ‘11 and ‘13. Kamehameha has snagged the even-number years: 2008, ‘10 and ‘12.
The early showdown marked the debut for the four Enriques brothers to be on Kamehameha’s court at the same time: senior Evan, junior Emmett and freshmen twins Addie and Avery under their coach/dad Guy Enriques.
“I liked our composure for being such a young team,” said Guy Enriques, whose only senior is Evan. “A couple of times Waiakea’s serve-receive errors helped us stay on offense. I was really happy with our kids serving. They served tough and hit their targets. That was our edge.”
Serving tough is wonderful. Having Evan Enriques lighting it up is even better. Big brother stole the show with a double-double effort: 17 kills and 17 digs with a .310 hitting clip.
Emmett was next with seven kills while Isaiah Laeha had six kills for the Warriors, who hit .182. Emmett racked up 16 digs, junior libero Kekaulike Alameda added 10 digs, and Addie had seven digs.
“That’s the one thing going for us. We can go to Evan, but that’s no necessarily our first option,” the Kamehameha coach said. “We want a little more balance. I’d like to see Laeha get a lot more swings, and we want to work our middles, too.”
It’s early but Kamehameha’s attack still leans heavily to the left post, where Evan and Emmett take the majority of the attacks. Athletic middles Hanalei Lee Loy and Alapaki Iaea had only a teaspoon of attempts.
Evan put on a technical clinic, showing why he’s the two-time BIIF Division I player of the year. He pounded balls all over the place, displaying his off-the-block tool, tip, roll, line and cross-court shots. He’s got an effective cut shot, which slices inside the block.
Evan is the crafty pitcher who knows what to throw at the right time. What also makes him so deadly is there’s no drop-off with any of his shots (his tips are as good as his fastballs), keeping the defense on its toes.
“We’ve got 15 people on the team. That’s two teams we have at practice to prepare us for tough competition,” Evan said. “We knew we had to come in and execute and we did.”
For now, until they hit their growth spurt, Addie and Avery are short, about 5 feet 6. They’re interchangeable as setters in a 6-2 lineup, one subbing for the other to keep their lack of height out of the front row.
Both had a memorable debut playing with brothers Evan and Emmett.
“It feels different because I only played with my friends before,” Avery said. “But it feels better. There was more intensity.”
Said Addie: “It was kind of exciting to play with them and nice to be out there with my other teammates. Evan is the best ball-handler. He’s more experienced. Hopefully, we can focus more and Emmett, Avery and me will step up and give 110 percent.”
When they were starting out on the junior level, the three younger brothers passed to each other and set for Evan. Now, the two youngest are setting for their older brothers. Finally, on the court all together the connection is still there.
“It feels good and we have a better connection,” Emmett said. “It’s our first game, but we should expect to do more.”
In November, Evan signed to play for Stanford as a libero, choosing an 80 percent financial aid package over a 50 percent athletic scholarship. But in his heart, he’ll always be an outside hitter — small at 6 feet 2 for college, but big-time in the BIIF and at states.
But it was his serve-receive passing that really shined. In one of the key matchups, Evan neutralized Waiakea senior Kama Paio’s bullet serves. The senior transfer from HPA, who plays on Waiakea coach Ecko Osorio’s Pilipaa club team, is 6 feet 4 and whips his long arms to put tremendous velocity and sinking spin on the ball.
However, Paio had only one good serving run in Game 2, behind the line for three straight points, including an ace to tie it 18-18. And when Evan wasn’t passing a clean ball to his setter twin brothers, Emmett or Alameda were taking over.
Mamane Namahoe knocked down 11 kills, Dillon Rellez, who shared setting duties with Keanu Esser, had 10 kills while Paio had nine kills for Waiakea, which hit .172. Ohlen Sugihara picked up 10 digs while Rellez and Paio had six digs each.
Paio is a unique weapon, offering length at the block, a bazooka serve and hitting ability from the left, right or middle spots. At HPA, he was a middle blocker. He’s enjoying his athletic hitting freedom at his new home.
“I’m more involved in the offense and I like that,” he said. “I’m more versatile.”
The low hitting clips — Kamehameha’s .182 to Waiakea’s .172 — looked pretty even, which suggested the match was a survival of making less mistakes. And what hurt the visitors were untimely and unforced errors (hitting and serving) down the stretch.
Take Game 1 for example. After Lee Loy got a block (that’s recorded as a hitting error), Kamehameha bumped its lead to 23-17. Then Evan hammered another kill home.
Alameda served a ball way too high and hard, and it was clearly going out. But he pinned a Waiakea passer, who couldn’t duck in time. That was set point.
“Kamehameha’s defense was better than ours,” Osorio said. “We knew that coming in, and our offense needs work. I think in the first game we gave away 20 points. We had errors at crucial times, service errors, hitting errors.
“We knew we had to stop Evan but we still couldn’t. We hit only .172. That’s not good enough. But it’ll get better.”
In Game 2, four of Kamehameha’s last five points were on unforced errors. After Waiakea stuffed Evan Enriques for a block and 24-24 tie, the visitors had back-to-back hitting errors.
It was the same thing in Game 3 with consecutive unforced errors closing the match. Waiakea was called for an out-of-position substitution infraction. Then a bad set was the fatal final point.
The two teams with the same nickname will likely meet again. Since 2005, the introduction of statewide classification, Kamehameha and Waiakea have played each other for the BIIF Division I title.
After the match was over, Osorio quickly replayed everything in his head. He came to the conclusion that defense made a difference. In an early showdown, Kamehameha’s ball-control overmatched Waiakea’s athleticism.
“They had us in the digging category,” he said. “Their quickness made a big difference. They’re super quick. They’re experienced and know how to read and play defense. It was nice to watch them scramble.”