In the ultra-competitive Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division I, the Kamehameha Warriors can breath some relief knowing that they are postseason-bound.
Kamehameha became the first team in the state to clinch a state tournament after defeating Maryknoll in three sets, 25-16, 21-25, 25-21, at the Lower Gymnasium of the Father Kenneth A. Bray Athletic Complex Tuesday night.
The victory helped the top-ranked Warriors clinch the league's first round title with a 5-1 record.
With all four teams in the ILH D1 ranked in the top four of the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric Girls Volleyball Power Rankings, Kamehameha coach Chris Blake was glad that his team could win the first round, but noted that they still have work to do.
"To come through this league how we did, 5-1, we're very very happy," he said. "Definitely not pleased with our play today, but that's because of a lot of things that Maryknoll did. For us to end up, how we did through our league, we're very fortunate and happy to be in the position we're in."
Defense ultimately sealed the deal for the Warriors, who totaled 59 digs in the and had six combined blocks in the match. Keonilei Akana had a match-high 23 digs and Kili Robins and libero Kealani Ontani each had 12 more to stabilize the back row for Kamehameha. Akana's older sister, Braelyn, led the battle at the net and was in on five total blocks, one solo.
"Yesterday we had a very good practice and some of the other things we saw on the other side (of the court), we replicated in our gym yesterday," said Blake. "We were very happy of how we came out on top."
Kamehameha's ability to control the first touch helped junior setter Lexis Akeo (40 assists) utilize hitters from all areas of the court. Robins led the way with 14 kills while the younger Akana pounded 11 more, with the majority of her swings coming from the right side.
Malie McClure was also key with eight kills and Braelyn Akana and Kalina Obrey finished with seven and two kills respectively at the middle blocker position.
The fourth-ranked Spartans also had a diverse offense with Jhenna Gabriel (35) assists) spreading things around, but mistakes in the first set gave Kamehameha the early advantage.
Maryknoll (1-4) jumped out to a 4-1 lead, thanks to a couple of quick kills by Natalie Nava Minjarez, but a service error and back-to-back hitting errors brought Kamehameha right back into it. The Spartans also had a line violation and a hitting error within three plays to give the Warriors a 8-7 lead, a lead they would maintain the rest of the way in Game 1.
By the time the opening set was over, the Spartans had spotted 11 points to Kamehameha.
"That's one of the things that needs to be cleaned up," said Maryknoll coach Luis Ramirez. "I am very hopefully we can clean up those little (errors), the small game. Once we stabilize that I think we can be that much better."
Robins, one of two seniors in the Warriors' rotation, said momentum also helped Kamehameha take Game 1.
"We all talked about getting our energy up before we even get on the court," said Robins. "It's all chemistry, we all talk to each other as a team and support each other."
The Spartans was not going to go down without a fight however. Maryknoll made a personnel change and brought TiaRose Nagami in as a libero and put Kiari Gier as a defensive specialist to bolster the Spartans' passing in the second set. The move helped the offense out as the Spartans were able to maintain a lead all the way through Game 2 after the first five points of the frame.
After Maryknoll tied the match at one set apiece, the Warriors recalibrated and went into Game 3 with a renewed mindset.
"We were down a little bit, but after that second set we talked about breathing, making sure we get pumped up, but we also have to focus," said Robins.
The Warriors were able to jump out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back as they led wire-to-wire in the third and final set of play.
Although his team will finish the first round with a losing record, Ramirez is excited for the second round of play when the matches are a best out of 5 because of his team's conditioning.
"As far as physical preparation, our team has enough of hitters so we can last in a match that is a lot longer," said Ramirez.
"We just need to make sure that we focus a little bit more. I have a very, very talented team, (but) so does everyone else in our league. It's a dead pool. On any given day, anyone can win. I'm really pleased with my team. We're starting to play good volleyball."
The Spartans will wrap up first round play when they host third-ranked Punahou (1-4) on Saturday while the Warriors will travel to Las Vegas to participate in the 64-team Nike Durango Fall Classic this weekend.
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