KEAAU — Opponents should beware when Kamehameha’s volleyball starters are on the bench. That’s because the backups are really good. They’re hungry for Big Island Interscholastic Federation action, too.
The second stringers staked the Warriors to a 2-0 lead, and the No. 1 team came in and cleaned up in a BIIF game against Hawaii Prep that went 25-23, 25-19, 25-13 on Friday night at Koaia Gym.
In what was seen as a showdown of title contenders, the game didn’t live up to its billing with the young Warriors (2-0) against the inexperienced Ka Makani (2-1), the BIIF Division I and II runner-ups, respectively.
Kamehameha has been going to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state tournament forever. Well, at last count, it’s eight straight trips.
HPA has qualified for the Division II state tourney seven out of the last eight years, including the last four seasons in a row. Throw in BIIF championships in 2011, the program’s first, and 2012 and that’s a nice bit of tradition.
Tradition doesn’t always reel in experience, though. Ka Makani coach Sharon Peterson’s team has a few players who struggle with the basics: serving, passing, setting. That’s never the case for the Warriors, who welcome seasoned players every year.
That was pretty much the difference as the Warriors hit over, around and through the block, which has decent height, even though 6-foot-7 Evaldes Vegertas and 6-6 David Ovbagbedia, two HPA foreign exchange students, decided to drop volleyball after trying out.
Isaiah Laeha blasted 10 kills, including seven in Game 1, Austin Maldonado had seven in two sets, and Evan Enriques hammered five kills in the last game to lead the Warriors.
Senior outside hitter Noah Schenk shined for HPA and ripped 10 kills, junior middle blocker Tucker Higgins had six kills and fellow junior middle Abe Binder added five kills. They’re the best defenders at the net and Schenk, who plays club ball, has a nose for closing blocks.
It wasn’t a pretty night with HPA’s passing. The visitors had some major ball-control issues. Basically, when Schenk wasn’t in the back row passing against Kamehameha’s sharp serves, the offense was wobbly, breaking down with either free balls over the net or spikes that carried little weight.
That’s all part of the mental notes Ka‘u coach Joshua Ortega was keeping. His Trojans host HPA on Thursday. It’s a pivotal game to be in the driver’s seat for the BIIF regular-season title.
Since statewide classification in 2005, the league has always had two berths at the Division II state tournament. When the league has a round-robin format, the first state berth is awarded to the BIIF regular-season champ.
To create competition and intensity in practice, the No. 1 team and Kamehameha’s backups play each other with a point spread. Sometimes it’s seven points or sometimes it’s more or less. The winner gets the bulk of playing time in BIIF matches.
Most times, the starters lead off then the backups come in to mop up. The second stringers started the first two games against HPA and didn’t give coach Guy Enriques any gray hair moments, pulling away when the score got close. Like Game 1, tied at 23-23, when Laeha had consecutive kills.
But the Warrior who stood out the most in the coach’s mind was Maldonado. The 5-9 junior is listed as a setter. But a career switch may be in the works.
“He did a great job. He’s one of our setters, but had the highest hitting percentage,” Enriques said. “It was almost 100 percent. He might have had one error. He hit tip, line, angle, dug balls and had a complete game. We’ve got a strong junior class.
“He struggled earlier in the week, but he turned it around. In the first two games, he really stood out. We might have to look at him as a hitter.”