SALT LAKE — King Kekaulike had to get through a gut check Thursday afternoon to get over the proverbial hump.
Chandler Cowell put down a match-high 24 kills and hit .388 to help third-seeded King Kekaulike rally past Kalaheo in a quarterfinal match of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Division I Girls Volleyball State Championships at Moanalua. The scores were 20-25, 25-12, 25-13 and 25-23.
The Maui Interscholastic League champion Na Alii improved to 15-0 and locked up a spot in Friday's semifinal round at McKinley's Student Council Gymnasium.
It was long-awaited redemption for King Kekaulike, which had reached the quarterfinal round in each of the past two years, but lost both times.
"It's been a challenge to us," Na Alii fourth-year coach Al Paschoal said. "You never want to start the year looking that far ahead, but it's something that is always on the goal board, definitely. We played good enough that we're always in a fight to get to this game and it's always a matter of, ‘what are we going to do when we get here?'"
What they did — after losing just their third set of the entire season — was dig deep.
Na Alii hit just .029 and lost a back-and-forth opening set, but they stormed back in the second and third sets, winning both in easy fashion.
"I think we just came out slow and we didn't come out with what we wanted to do, but I had faith in my team; I knew we could pull it off, we just had to play our game and play how we knew we could," Cowell said.
Paschoal said part of the early struggles were probably due to some butterflies.
"You saw nerves in the first set a little bit and once they settled in, they got to be them a little more, and I think that was a big thing," said Paschoal, whose team had a bye in Monday's first round of the tournament. "They started to play ball how they can play. We kind of took them out of their game with our serves, but then once they started passing it, it was an up-and-up battle. Kalaheo is definitely a good team."
Cowell put down three early kills to give her team a 5-0 lead in game 2. Later in the set, the lead stretched to 20-8 following Kanilea Nomura's kill on a Kalaheo overpass.
King Kekaulike hit .545 in game 2 and ran away with it, 25-12.
Game 3 was more of the same. A Nomura kill in the middle and dink by setter Kalena Vaivai bookended a 7-1 Na Alii run that gave them a commanding 14-7 lead.
Nomura and Vaivai teamed up on a block to cap a 6-0 run that extended the lead to 22-11 and Nomura eventually closed out the set with a kill in the middle. King Kekaulike hit .515 in the set en route to the 25-13 win.
The teams battled neck-and-neck in game 4. Kalaheo pulled even at 21-all on Syenna Masaki's shot off the block and out. The score was tied against at 23, but Rose Love and Vaivai roofed a Mustang attack to set-up match point and Mekaila Makahanaloa ended it with a deep kill just inside of the end line.
Chandler, a 5-foot-10 junior outside hitter, took 49 of her team's 128 swings and committed just five errors. She also had five digs.
"You've got to love that kid. She's a fiery competitor and she just loves to play the game," Paschoal said. "I love her. She puts out 110 percent in the gym every day and she loves battles like this, so she's got that little intangible, for sure."
Na Alii out dug the Mustangs, 55 to 40, and committed just three errors in serve-receive.
"If we can just weather the storm sometimes, we get back into rhythm and once that happens, anything can happen really," Paschoal said. "When we're in sync and we're passing the ball well and we're making digs — we must have had a ton of digs tonight — we're in that whole mindset of extending the rally. If we can take care of the ball, then we've got a fighting chance at this."
Makahanaloa posted a match-high 12 digs and Vaivai added 10 digs and 24 assists to go with four block assists.
King Kekaulike hit .297 for the match to .185 for Kalaheo, which finished sixth in the Oahu Interscholastic Association tournament, but was coming off a five-set upset of league runner-up Mililani Monday.
Masaki had a team-high 10 kills and Alexis Klimpi added 10 digs for the Mustangs, who fell to 11-6 and lost in the quarterfinal round for the second straight state tournament.
Kalaheo will play Kapolei in a 7 p.m. consolation match Friday at Moanalua.
King Kekaulike and No. 2 seed Kamehameha, the defending state champion, will meet in the 5 p.m. semifinal at McKinley Friday.
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