Girls Volleyball
Buffanblu make debut under Ahuna, tie for 3rd at Ann Kang Invitational


ALA WAI — Anyone who knows anything about volleyball in the state of Hawaii knows all about Reydan "Tita" Ahuna.

Her list of accomplishments as both a player and a coach speaks for itself.

Ahuna led Kamehameha to state titles as a player in 1982 and 1983, and as the boys varsity coach in 1991 and 1993. During her time at the University of Hawaii, she was a three-time All-American and captained the Rainbow Wahine to the national championship in 1987. Later she went on to become the winningest coach of the Hawaii Pacific University women, who captured six conference titles and two national championships under Ahuna's direction.

Since she resigned from her HPU post back in 2006, however, Ahuna has mostly been away from coaching the sport she is most synonymous with.

No longer.

Ahuna is in her first season as head girls volleyball coach at Punahou, where she has been an athletic director since 2016.

She got an early look at her Buffanblu squad over the course of the three-day Ann Kang Invitational at Iolani Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

"We only had a few practices before this tournament and so we really focused on serve-receive, our serve-receive patterns," said Ahuna, whose team went 5-1 and tied tournament-host Iolani for third place in the eight-team field.

She added, "We didn't get, really, a lot of chance to work on our blocking, but overall I thought we did very well."

Punahou's lone loss came at the hands of Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) in a five-set affair during Saturday afternoon's semifinal round.

"We had a lot of good things throughout the weekend that we saw and of course, we have a lot more things that we have to work on — which is promising because there's stuff that we can still get better at," Ahuna said.

The Buffanblu dropped the first two sets to the Mustangs, 22-25 and 24-26, but stormed back to win the next two sets, 25-23 and 25-16, to even the match. Ultimately, however, they came up short in the deciding fifth set, 11-15.

The result wasn't as important to Ahuna as the effort.

"I really like how we could have let down after dropping the first two sets, but we stayed in the game and just the maturity came forward and we never gave up and I really liked that — that we never gave up and we fought for every single point," said Ahuna, who takes over for former coach Tanya Fuamatu-Anderson.

The last time a full girls volleyball season was held (in the fall of 2019), the Buffanblu reached the state championship match and had five players named as All-Hawaii selections, including then-sophomore Isabelle Iosua and then-freshman Grace Fiaseu selected to the first and second teams, respectively.

Those two, along with setter Jaclyn Matias — a University of Hawaii-commit — and fellow senior and outside hitter Lucky-Rose Williams will be among those players with experience that Ahuna with lean upon this fall.

"The returnees, I look to them for leadership," she explained. "I look to them for the maturity, to help the younger teammates to just teach them how to play the game, teach them how to stay in the game when times get tough — I look toward our returnees for that."

Ahuna, who was inducted into the UH Sports Circle of Honor in 2013, went into education after she left HPU and was at one time an assistant middle school principal in the state Department of Education. She also held the post of senior women's administration within the HPU athletic department.

Oh, and while she was coaching there, her teams won 78 percent of their games over her 10 seasons, including a perfect 28-0 record in 2000, when Ahuna led the Lady Sea Warriors to the first undefeated season in NCAA Division II history and was named NCAA Division II Coach of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Despite her vast achievements in the sport, Ahuna — who compiled a career won-loss record of 206-58 at HPU — expresses only humility about this latest endeavor.

"It's been a while," she reflected. "It's my first time, so I'm not sure what to expect. We'll see what happens."

Iolani coach Kainoa Obrey isn't quite as coy when it comes to his thoughts on Ahuna's return to coaching.

"I think it's awesome. I mean, she's has a good positive energy, it's good to have that knowledge in the volleyball community and I think — I can't speak personally on what Punahou feels about it — but I think it's nice to see her," Obrey said. "I have a good relationship with her and she's awesome and real supportive, so they're happy to be here and play in this, we're happy to have them here as it makes our tournament better, so we're looking forward to a good, solid ILH season and see how it goes from there."

Ahuna noted that it had been quite some time since a Punahou team took part in an Ann Kang Invitational.

"I don't think we've played in this tournament for over seven years; I'm not sure the last time we played in this tournament, but thanks to Iolani and Kainoa for allowing us to participate. What a great tournament with some fantastic teams; we had some really good competition throughout the weekend," Ahuna said. "I just love the tournament and people are so nice to us and were so gracious, so we're appreciative."

As for the Raiders, Obrey's squad also went 5-1 and reached the semifinal round, where they lost in four sets to Village Christian (Sun Valley, Calif.), 31-29, 22-25, 14-25 and 18-25.

"From tryouts to this tournament it's always quick for us, but you just want to see where you're at. I think we're at a decent starting point, I would say, right now," Obrey said. "We definitely want to get better and get better when it counts, as the season progresses — and we'll see what the ILH season has for us in terms of a schedule and how it plays out — but I like where we're at, I like what we're doing, I like the cohesiveness and we have good senior leadership."

Among those players who Obrey will look to provide much of the leadership is senior Mokihana Tufono — who earned Third Team All-Hawaii honors as a sophomore setter in 2019 and is committed to UCLA — as well as juniors Mari Lawton and Senna Roberts-Navarro.

"We're happy where we're at, but we want to move forward. We want to get better, we want to be there and we've got to win those matches in the end, right?," said Obrey, whose team posted a 5-4 record in the truncated ILH season during the spring.

But just as Ahuna isn't all too concerned with the results at this juncture of the season, Obrey was most thrilled about the fact that the annual tournament even took place this year after the 2020 edition was canceled due to the pandemic.

"We're happy that we're able to get some play and I thought it was pretty good competition all weekend and just in terms of the volleyball, but just to be able to make it happen — I mean, there's so many hands that are involved in the planning, the execution that it's really that One Team atmosphere here; everyone just kind of pitched in and helped out and kind of did their responsibility to make it work," Obrey said.

Obrey noted that all players and coaches on participating teams were either tested or fully vaccinated and that only a small number of family and friends of players were allowed to attend the tournament in-person.

"It was nice to offer that and I think it was super special for our local families and our local players because the last time they could watch (in-person) was a while ago. I know on the mainland and stuff they've been playing throughout the summer and club volleyball, but here locally it's tough, so we're happy it got done," he added.

When DOE interim superintendent Keith Hayashi announced a pause on all extracurricular activities (including athletics) earlier this month, it took two teams — Kapolei and Moanalua — out of the Ann Kang Invitational.

"We had different scenarios based on eight, ten, twelve teams — we definitely wanted to do it smaller than the (usual) sixteen-team (field) — so I mean, it's a bummer that Kapolei and Moanalua aren't in this, because they're scheduled to be here and from our standpoint and I'm sure even moreso for the teams Kapolei and Moanalua themselves, it's tough," Obrey expressed. "It's tough for those kids to get started and then, ‘Oh no, we gotta hold on,' so you feel for those kids, for sure."

Village Christian, coached by 2005 Iolani graduate Brent Asuka, went on to beat Mira Costa for the tournament championship in four sets, 25-16, 25-23, 18-25 and 25-15.

Two other mainland teams, Boswell (Fort Worth, Texas) and West Ranch (Santa Clarita, Calif.), as well as ILH schools, Hawaii Baptist and Maryknoll, rounded out the eight-team field.

In response to the DOE announcement earlier this month, the Hawaii High School Athletic Association executive board on Friday voted unanimously to approve a modified state-date calendar that allows for league and state tournaments for all sports.

The official HHSAA start date for girls volleyball is Sept. 27. The season is scheduled to conclude with the state tournaments taking place during the week of Dec. 6-10.

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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