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Prep Football Preview Special
Prep Football Preview
Game of the Week
Kalani Takase | ScoringLiveApril 30, 2020, 7:23pm
Thu, Apr 27, 2017 @ Radford [ 7:00 pm ]
Editor's note: With the cancelation of the spring sports season, each week we will take a look back at a game of significance from the same week of past seasons we've covered. Along with a brief summary of the game itself, we'll review the impact it had on the winning team's season and reflect upon some of the team members who played a part in it.
The championship match of the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I tournament was a meeting of unbeaten teams in Western Division top seed Mililani (12-0) and six-time reigning league champ Moanalua (13-0), the East No. 1 seed.
The five-set thriller before a packed house at Radford's Jim Alegre Gymnasium on a Thursday night did not disappoint.
While Na Menehune were seeking their ninth overall league crown at the time — they have since won in both 2018 and 2019 to make it eight in the last nine years and 10 total — the Trojans were seeking their first title since 1994, when they won their last of three consecutive OIA championships.
"Was I intimidated by Moanalua? Absolutely," then-Mililani coach Trent Niino said.
"I mean, they were going for their seventh straight title. Even though (Hall of Honor inductee) Austin Matautia had graduated the year before, they were still returning a big middle in Duncan Clark and a handful of great hitters, including Kalai Leopoldo and Nalu DeMello," Niino noted. "But I knew that our team was gaining momentum and they were peaking at the right moment. Their chemistry on and off the court was at an all-time high and I knew that if they played at their best level, no one could stop them."
The Trojans were indeed ready for the moment. They pulled away to win the opening set, 25-19. It was the first time that Moanalua had dropped a set all season.
Na Menehune held an early lead in set two, but Mililani rallied to reclaim the lead, 13-12, and eventually went up 22-16 before holding on to capture the set, 25-22, to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 match.
"After winning the first set, I told the team, ‘Don't let up the energy. Just keep pushing, don't let your foot off the gas pedal.' After winning the second set, I told the team, ‘Moanalua is not going to lose in three (sets). You guys need to fight harder than you did in the first two sets,' " Niino recalled. "Sure enough, Moanalua came back and won the third and fourth sets."
Na Menehune stormed back to win set three, 25-18, and set four by a score of 25-20, to even the match and send it to a deciding fifth set.
"Any volleyball coach can tell you that a fifth set is just a free-for-all; it won't last longer than 15 minutes and anything can happen. I told the starting lineup before they went on the court, ‘How bad do you want it? How hard are you going to fight for this championship?' I remember telling my assistant, Gabby, that our players liked tired and fatigued and I hoped they had it in them. He told me, ‘don't worry brother, we got this.' That fifth set was one for the books," Niino said.
The teams traded points early on in set five. The Trojans got some separation after a couple of Moanalua errors to pull ahead, 11-8. Not long after that, Nate Johnson and Andrew Valladares had back-to-back solo blocks to give their team championship point at 14-8. Moanalua got kills from Clark and DeMello to stay alive, but an untimely hitting error by Kalai Leopoldo sailed out of bounds to ignite Mililani's celebration.
"Once Valladares and Johnson got those two back-to-back solo blocks in a row, my confidence started building," said Niino, who often reminded his team that the program's last OIA title came more than two decades ago.
"I remember after the last Moanalua timeout, I told them, ‘This is it. This is the moment. Twenty-three years. This championship is yours. How bad do you want it?,' " Niino said. "To be honest, the final points and the immediate aftermath is such a blur, but I just remember being so proud that my team was able to represent the community of Mililani."
Johnson posted a team-high 17 kills, while fellow outside hitter Sila Fuiava notched 16 kills for Mililani (13-0) in the win. Setter Chance Guillermo notched 40 assists and middle blocker Samuel Palompo added nine kills and 4 1/2 blocks.
Moanalua (13-1) had three players finish with double-digit kills in the loss. DeMello recorded 17 kills, Leopoldo put down 15 kills with four aces and Clark chipped in with 13 kills, while setter Zackary Miyamoto had 51 assists.
The five-set victory brought an end to the lengthy championship drought for the Trojans, who remained undefeated with the win and earned a first-round bye in the New City Nissan/HHSAA Division I State Championships the following week.
Mililani was seeded third behind eventual-champion Punahou and No. 2 seed Kamehameha-Hawaii. The fourth seed was Kamehameha-Maui.
However, the Trojans suffered their first loss of the year in their opening match of the state tournament, when they were swept by Interscholastic League of Honolulu runner-up Iolani in the quarterfinal round. Mililani went on to beat Waipahu in a consolation match the next day before a rematch with Moanalua for fifth place on the final day of the 12-team tournament.
Na Menehune took the rematch in straight sets, 25-19 and 25-22 (consolation matches are best-of-3) to leave the Trojans with a sixth-place finish in Niino's first season leading his alma mater.
"I definitely know that winning OIAs gave the team a huge confidence boost, but I think that it was also uncharted territory for all of these players," Niino said. "Being seeded in the state tournament added pressure and I think it's hard for OIA teams — not just in boys volleyball, but all sports — to compete with the ILH teams when it comes to the state tournament. Although we came up short in the state tournament, it was still a fun ride."
Mililani's OIA championship in 2017 was the only season of the recently-completed decade that Moanalua failed to win the league crown. It marked the first time Na Menehune did not win an OIA title since the 2008 season (Na Menehune won back-to-back D2 championships in 2009 and 2010).
The Trojans finished that season with an overall record of 14-2.
Guillermo was selected as All-OIA West Player of the Year and was joined on the first team by Fuiava. Johnson earned second team recognition, while Niino was tabbed as Coach of the Year.
Niino also picked up All-Hawaii Coach of the Year honors, while Guillermo was a Second Team selection as a sophomore setter and Fuiava, a senior outside hitter, was named to the Third Team. Johnson and libero Jake Lafata were Honorable Mention selections.
"The interior roof of Mililani High School Gymnasium is covered wall-to-wall with banners of all the OIA and state titles that have been accumulated since 1977. During boys volleyball season, everyday at practice we see these banners and it is a reminder that we are a part of a tradition of winning and we come from a history of excellence. It was also a constant reminder that the last OIA boys championship was won in 1994. On the last practice before the championship match, in the last minutes before I told the players to go home, we stood in the middle of the gym and I told them to look at the last banner Mililani had won for boys volleyball and I told them to remember '23 years.' That's how long ago it had been and they had a chance to change that. They had a chance to make their mark in Trojan athletics history. … One of the things I remember vividly was how nervous I was leading up to the (OIA championship) match and how calm and collected the players and assistant coaches were. It was arguably the biggest crowd I have ever coached in front of and without a doubt the loudest. I remember telling the players before the game that no matter what happens, I was so proud of them and that no matter the outcome, they had exceeded all expectations I had of them. I also remember telling them that this is the moment in their young lives that they have been working towards and if they wanted it, it was theirs for the taking. One thing I always told my players — and they always laughed at me — but I always compared our team to a car. If just one part of the car is not working properly, the entire car will not function properly. For this match, the car was firing on all cylinders." -Trent Niino
Niino reflected upon some of the players on that team.
Sila Fuiava: "He was the rock of the team. That kid was quiet and didn't say much, but when he talked, the team listened and that's exactly how he was on the volleyball court. When he got the ball, you better pay attention. He was one of my captains and he led the team by example on and off the court. He held everyone together and everyone listened to him."
Nate Johnson: "He was the heart of the team. Although he was only a junior, the kid was our emotional leader. He was the ‘yin' to Sila's ‘yang.' Sila was quiet, yet terminating. Johnson wore his heart on his sleeve. I think every team needs that though. They need a player who is loud, vocal and emotional. Johnson was not afraid to speak his mind and was not afraid to celebrate hard when he got the team a point. I commend him for that. It's not always easy to wear your heart on your sleeve on a stage where everyone is watching you."
Chance Guillermo: "He was the brains of the team. Chance is one of those players that comes along every five or six years. He was only a sophomore and it was his first year setting. The previous year he had to play middle blocker. Chance has a huge volleyball IQ, knows the game so well, is adaptable and is so talented. He definitely had a stellar high school career. Hats off to him and I have nothing but respect and admiration towards him."
Jake Lafata: "Heart of gold and consistently worked hard every single day. I could always count on him to give his 110% at practice and in games. I think he wanted that OIA championship more than anyone and during that match, he fought for it."
Samuel Palompo: "Great kid who was the comedian of the team. He always brought a smile to everyone's face. A hard worker and definitely one of the best middle blockers I've coached."
Brandon Rabang: "Hard worker who had one of the best arm swings I can remember. He didn't jump high, but had a high reach and he definitely got us clutch points in that OIA championship match."
Andrew Valladares: "He was a football star who just outright surprised all of us. We did not think that Drew would turn into the volleyball player he became. I remember him telling me, ‘Coach, I love volleyball so much,' and it just brought a smile to my face because it's so fun coaching an athlete who had no idea how fun volleyball actually is and then seeing them turn into a force to be reckoned with. I can't even imagine how good he would have been if he had been playing since he was a freshman."
Matthew Amistoso and Kamakoa Wong: "Two seniors who worked hard every day and although they didn't play a huge part in the OIA championship match, they were still a part of the team and consistently provided positivity from the bench."
"The thing about the seniors and the team is that they just didn't look like they were fazed at all by the stage that they were performing on. They were humble to the core and that's a testament to their character. They didn't break under pressure, they didn't fall apart when times got tough, they didn't turn on each other. That's the one thing I remember so vividly about this team: each one of them had great character. They believed in me as a first-year head coach and that meant so much to me. Their legacy definitely set the bar high for the rest of my time coaching at Mililani. They set a standard of excellence that was expected every year after," Niino said.
The Trojans returned to the state tournament in each of the next two seasons. They matched their 2017 feat with a sixth-place finish in 2018 and improved upon that with a fifth-place mark and 15-2 record last season.
Niino stepped down following the completion of the 2019 season. His teams compiled an overall record of 41-9 in his three seasons leading the program.
Niino's assistant, Gabriel Maunupau, took over as head coach during the offseason. Mililani was off to a 2-0 start to the regular season in 2020, with road sweeps over Leilehua and Aiea, before the spring season was brought to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic in early March.
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