Boys Volleyball
Saint Louis, University Lab looking to claim first-ever state crown


ALIAMANU — History will be made this weekend.

Both Saint Louis and University Lab will be trying for its first-ever state title when they square off against each other in the New City Nissan Division II Boys Volleyball Championship Saturday night at BYU-Hawaii's George Q. Cannon Activities Center.

First serve is slated for 5 p.m.

The Crusaders (12-2) reached the final by virtue of a 25-13, 23-25, 25-19, 25-19 win over Aiea in the semifinals while the top-seeded Jr. Bows (11-0) swept Waimea 25-21, 25-20, 25-18 to make the championship match.

Saint Louis coach Keenan Paulos said he was proud of his team's resolve in 2023 after falling in the semifinals to eventual winner Pearl City last year.

Saint Louis coach Keenan Paulos shakes hands with middle Wendell Namohala during a substitution. Greg Yamamoto | SL    Purchase image

"It's all about just being process-motivated over outcome-driven," he said. "Last year we won the ILH, we were the top seed in the tournament, but we got upset. Most of these guys were here last year and they just had the fire the whole time. They earned it. We take it one day at a time, one game at a time and we're just blessed to have this opportunity.

When asked what his team has to do to beat University Lab the third time they meet, Paulos had one key adjustment in mind.

"Hydrate and hydrate, it's hot," he laughed.

"We just have to stick to our guns. We just have to believe in what we're doing, try not to panic through the ups and downs. That's the game of volleyball, it's all about runs. It'll be two great ILH teams representing in the D2. We just have to what we have to do."

The Jr. Bows swept the Crusaders in the first regular season meeting and beat them in five sets nearly five weeks later to sweep the series in league play.

University Lab coach Jonah Reyes patrols the sideline during a semifinal match against Waimea. Greg Yamamoto | SL    Purchase image

"They're a great team, Saint Louis is a great team," said University Lab coach Jonah Reyes, who noted a few players that caught his eye.

"They're well coached, they got some really awesome players. Wendell (Namohala) in the middle, he works hard. He brings it every play. Their setter (Rex Paguirigan), he's hustler.

"We got to do what we do everyday and that's come into the gym ready to play, ready to work hard, ready to get better."

Saint Louis OH TJ Setik puts down a kill over the Aiea block.

Three different players had double-digit kills to power the Crusaders over Aiea in the semifinals. Pupu Sepulona had 18, Wendell Namohala added 16 and TJ Setik had 15 to round out the top attackers.

With Rex Paguirigan running Saint Louis' 5-1 offense, the Crusaders were humming with efficiency, hitting .375 in the first set, .406 in the second set and .378 in the fourth set.

The second set that was a different story as Saint Louis hit negative for the frame to give Aiea the win.

"Aiea is probably one of the beset defensive teams we've seen all season," said Paulos. "That libero (Julian Quartero-Echalas) is probably one of the best liberos we've seen in the tournament. They just came to play. We kind of played down a little bit, we had about 16 errors on our end so we just lost that for ourselves.

"Coming into the third set I just told the guys you got to reset, take it 0-0, and just believe that we're going to do things. These guys were exhausted, but they came through."

Koa Laboy (24) celebrates with Micah Nakasato (22) after recording a kill against Waimea.

Koa Laboy took things to another level in the Jr. Bows' semifinal win.

The sophomore outside hitter put down a match-high 17 kills on 35 swings to power University Lab to victory. He also had back-to-back kills to clinch the second set.

"I think he is one of the best outsides in the state, just works hard," Reyes said. "He'll go home after a game like this and go lift weights, pushups, sit-ups every night. He's just a hard worker and he comes out and pours his heart out on the court."

Waimea looked poised to make the match longer after taking a 12-8 lead in the second set, but a timeout and an adjustment on offense swung momentum back in the Jr. Bows' favor.

With 5-1 setter Kawehi Kaneakua in the front row and outside hitter Micah Nakasato at the service line, University Lab switched to a 6-2 with Nakasato at the controls. This prompted a 6-0 run that the Menehune never recovered from as University Lab held the lead for the entire set after taking the lead.

"I'm so blessed that our players can play different positions," said Reyes. "Micah he can set, he can be our libero, can be an outside hitter, and Kawehi as well. We're able to run that unorthodox offense when we're serving and we're able to switch where we might be able to put a bigger block on one side of the court or a better defensive player.

"Just a great group of young boys that will do anything for the team to win."

Reach Michael Lasquero at [email protected].

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