Kamehameha's back-to-back state title hopes are alive and well.
Kayla Afoa led a staunch defensive effort with a match-high 18 digs and four different players had at least six kills to help Kamehameha to a 25-10, 25-16, 25-18 sweep of previously-unbeaten King Kekaulike at McKinley's Student Council Gymnasium Friday night.
The Warriors extended their win streak to four matches and improved to 16-2. They will face a familiar foe in Iolani in Saturday's title match of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Division I Girls Volleyball State Championships.
"I was really proud of our team and how they settled down and handled our side and did some things," Kamehameha coach Chris Blake said. "We played really, really good defense, especially at the end of game 3. Give credit to King K; they're a great team and we always believe that a team is going to play their best against us and I think King K did. It was a great task for us to step up and be able to sweep a team that is as talented as that."
The Warriors were superb defensively. They out dug Na Alii, 51 to 36, and committed just two errors on serve-receive. That translated to a steady outing from setters Lexis Akeo (26 assists, four kills) and Cierra Leopoldino (10 assists, seven digs), and consequently, a healthy team hitting percentage of .330.
"Our first touch was good, so it allowed us to be in system, to put that ball out to different spots and gave us a chance to run our diversified offense," said Blake, who specifically cited the play of Akeo. "Her location of sets throughout the match was excellent, and then even when we got into some other lineups that we ran where Cierra Leopoldino went in and there wasn't a drop in our performance, so I think both of our setters did an excellent job at executing our game plan today and distributing the ball."
King Kekaulike's standout outside hitter, Chandler Cowell, was held to 11 kills on 35 swings, one night after putting down 24 kills in a four-set quarterfinal win over Kalaheo.
Na Alii coach Al Paschoal said Cowell's availability for the match was in doubt due to a knee injury she suffered Thursday night.
"It took her a little while to heat up and we had to kind of hold things around in that first set because of that," Paschoal said. "We eventually settled in and we played a little bit better, but (Kamehameha) leaves zero room for error."
Na Alii were held to a .077 hitting percentage Friday night. They had just eight more kills (27) than errors (19).
"One of our plans was to play disciplined defense, so we needed to stay in our spots and stop before contact," said Afoa, a four-year starting outside hitter. "I think all of our defense did a great job in making sure that we were stopped before contact. There were a couple that they got us, but I mean, for the most part we were stopped and ready for the ball."
The Warriors seized control early in the opening set with a 13-2 run that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 10-point lead. They closed out game 1 with a 7-1 run, capped by a Maluhia Maa's block of Kalena Vaivai's attack.
King Kekaulike held a 14-10 lead following a kill by Chandler, but Kamehameha answered with a 14-1 run that included a pair of aces by Afoa.
"We were down and chasing, we called a timeout to settle things down, talked about trusting our process and then Afoa goes back and serves a number of balls to get us from being down a bunch into separation," Blake said. "A lot of it was our serve, but a lot of it came back to our defense and what we were able to do to control first touch."
Kili Robins's cross-court shot closed out game 2 for the Warriors, 25-16.
"It's great to see that we're all together, especially when times get kind of rough," said Afoa, who had three of her team's six aces. "When they get a lead, we still can make a comeback and make a sideout really quick, like one play and flush. It's just really good because we have to have momentum throughout the whole game to be able to pull out the victory."
The Warriors used another run to separate in game 3. Five of the points on the 8-0 run — which gave them a 18-9 advantage — came on Na Alii errors.
Braelyn Akana had a team-high nine kills, Robins eight, Afoa seven and Kalina Obrey six. Nine different players had at least one kill for Kamehameha.
Maa and Akana each had three solo blocks.
"They're good; they weren't seeded number two for nothing," Paschoal said of the Warriors. "They have so many ways to stay in system that it's hard to get them out of system. They were passing well, they were serving well — that's a battle that you want to win — and when you break it down to the simplest form, that's what they did. They executed in all phases pretty much."
Saturday's state title match will be a rematch of last year's final and mark the fourth meeting between Kamehameha and Iolani this season.
The Warriors have won twice, including the most recent match, a four-setter at Kekuhaupio Gymnasium on Oct. 18.
Kamehameha is seeking its record 21st state title in school history. Eight of them have come under Blake since 2005.
First serve between the Warriors and Raiders is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center Arena.
King Kekaulike, which was seeded third in the tournament as the Maui Interscholastic League champion, fell to 15-1 and will face top-seeded Kahuku in the 3:30 p.m. third-match place.
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