HHSAA Boys Volleyball
Buffanblu pull off reverse sweep to deny Warriors, claim 10th straight state crown


Sat, May 13, 2023 @ BYU-Hawaii [ 7:00 pm ]

FINAL  1   2   3   4   5      
KSK (12-4) 25 25 19 23 10 2
PUN (14-5) 19 17 25 25 15 3
Kill: K. Wade (KSK) 30 kills
Blk: K. Wade (KSK) 10 blk

LAIE — There will be no changing of the guard in the prep volleyball world. Not this year, anyway. 

Kahale Clini put down a team-high 23 kills to help No. 3 Punahou to its 10th consecutive state crown with a thrilling five-set reverse sweep of No. 2 Kamehameha in the title game of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Division I Boys Volleyball State Championships Saturday night. The set scores were 19-25, 17-25, 25-19, 25-23 and 15-10.

A crowd of about 3,000 fans at BYU-Hawaii's Cannon Activities Center saw the Buffanblu complete the season with a record 14-5, culminated by their record-39th state crown in program history. 

In a match representative of Punahou's season — which began with a stunning four-set loss to Hawaii Baptist and included five losses during the Interscholastic League of Honolulu season — it was down, but never out. 

"I'm just glad because I hate when people tell me, ‘You guys aren't winning, you guys aren't doing anything,' " said Clini, a 6-foot-4 junior outside hitter/opposite. 

"It gives me more motivation to win and I made sure to give 110 percent tonight and I'm hoping that everyone else on the team felt the same way and I think we did," he added. 

Clini and the Buffanblu were just about 24 hours removed from another pulsating, edge-of-your-seat thriller in Friday's come-from-behind five-set win over previously-undefeated Moanalua in the tournament semifinals. 

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"You saw it from last night's game against Moanalua and then you saw it again tonight, all we've been doing all year long is grinding and grinding and grinding. Let everyone doubt us, we're gonna prove them wrong," Clini said. 

Punahou rallied after dropping the first two sets by taking sets 3 and 4 to push it to a fifth set. It trailed Kamehameha, 22-20, in the fourth set, but stormed back with a 5-1 run, capped by a Clini kill, to even the match at two sets apiece. 

"I just kinda had a gut feeling that it was gonna have to go five (sets) and we were gonna start off slow; it's a microcosm of our whole season," Buffanblu coach Rick Tune said. "There's just a lot of learning that we had to do — learning, growing, trust-building — and they learned it over the course of the set. This team is forged in the fire; They're forged in the fire."

Tune's team caught fire early on in set 5. Clini and middle James Taras teamed for back-to-back blocks against Kamehameha's 6-foot-8 standout sophomore pin hitter Kainoa Wade to put Punahou ahead, 5-0. 

The Warriors pulled to within 10-8 with a kill by Heston Cabinian, but the Buffanblu answered with a 4-1 run that included kills by Evan Porter, Ian Kinney and Clini; Kinney and Taras also teamed up for a double during the sequence. 

Kamehameha went to Wade on the ensuing play and he put down a kill from the right side to get his team within 14-10, but Punahou finished off the match with a kill by Kinney off an assist from Elijah Smith that found a spot in the back right corner of the court. 

Kinney finished with 13 kills against four errors on 35 swings (.257 attack percentage). 

"I gotta give it up, Ian really wanted this game; He's been wanting it his whole life," Clini said of the 6-foot-3 senior. "we came on the team when he was a sophomore and I was a freshman and all I can remember from Ian is just positive vibes, wanting to work — I mean, look at this guy, he's huge — he just loves coming in and working in the gym and I have to give it up to him because that was an unreal kill. We practice that shot, we were like, you know what, they're gonna dive the angle, so we just told Ian, ‘Hit the ball down the line and look what happens."

The Buffanblu hit .304 in set 5 and never trailed. It held the Warriors to a .083 hitting percentage in the final frame. 

Clini had four kills and one error on nine swings in the fifth set (.333). 

"I thought we were executing the game plan real well, even from the first set we were executing the game real well. We weren't passing real well in the first two sets and we weren't crisp on our side out. I think nerves, right? The balls got a little higher to our pins, the timing was just a little bit off, so we needed to get back in rhythm so I told them, I said, ‘Look, we're executing our defensive gameplay to a T and if our offense kicks in, it's gonna flip,' " Tune said. 

Kamehameha puts together runs of 5-1 and 4-1 to pull away in set 1 and did much the same in the set 2, when it was fueled by runs of 8-2, 4-0 and 5-0. However, Punahou flipped the script in set 3.

A couple of aces by Clini capped a 4-0 run that turned a 12-11 deficit into a lead the Buffanblu would not give up. It stretched a slim one-point cushion into a 21-15 lead with a 5-0 run. They finished off set 4 with a Smith-to-Kinney kill, followed by a double-block by Clini and Adam Haidar on set point. 

"The pivotal set for us was the fourth set," Kamehameha coach Sava Agpoon lamented. "We were so close in capturing it, but we had like, 14 errors and they only had like, four errors.If we had cut back by two errors even, we would have won that set. That was the one we were probably most disappointed about, that fourth set."

Punahou recorded 5 1/2 of its 11 1/2 team blocks in the final two sets. 

"We have a good matchup everywhere on the court. We matched up every single person, every single piece against Kamehameha and you can see by all the blocks we got, especially from James Taras, he was amazing. He was absolutely brilliant, his hands were perfect up there and we just focused in on the one thing we could control, which was definitely our blocking because when our hands are all over the place we're just getting pulled left and right, but we just controlled hands and just see what happens," Clini said. "We were just getting blocks after blocks after blocks."

Porter tallied a double-double with 11 kills and 16 digs and libero Matthew Chun recorded 24 digs for the Buffanblu. Smith dished out 32 assists and had seven digs and Kanalu Akana contributed 26 assists.

Clini served up three of Punahou's five aces. 

"We know that we kind of contributed to their mental toughness with those three days there, where we could have probably ended it a little bit quicker before that, but they're way mentally strong and their serving was amazing, too," said Agpoon, who was referring to three matches in three days between the teams to close out the ILH season last week. 

All three matches went to five sets. Punahou won the first two, but came up just short against Kamehameha in the ILH championship. 

Tune said that the Buffanblu never looked beyond the next immediate task at-hand. 

"The mentality is simple: one step at a time. One step at a time, one practice at a time, one training meal at a time — we don't do more than that," he stated. 

"We don't look too far ahead, we don't look behind and we surely try to do that and it's a process. It's like building a house, you can't put the roof on before building a foundation, so you just gotta know where they are, what the next step is and they have to trust that that's an important step," Tune described. 

Tune made sure to tip his proverbial cap to Kamehameha and its stud in Wade, who took 88 swings in the match and finished with 30 kills. He hit .227 and also came up with 10 digs, three aces and 5 1/2 of his team's 15 total blocks. 

"Kainoa's just a very special player and you know what, he's a special kid, too. The human being is equally impressive as the volleyball talent on the court and I truly mean that, nothing but respect for that guy, but I'm gonna blame that guy for insomnia," Tune joked. "He kept me up for three nights trying to game plan, waking up at three in the morning, getting my notepad and jotting stuff down. I'm gonna get some sleep now."

Wade was selected as the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

Harryzen Soares posted 21 digs and Brayden Van Karen notched 40 assists for the Warriors, who finished the season with a record of 12-4. 

They were seeking their fifth state championship and first since 2011. 

"They're definitely really disappointed; very emotional team," Agpoon disclosed. "They really wanted this. They really wanted this. They knew they had it in those two sets and again, just hard to overcome that emotional roller coaster that they have with ups and downs."

It was the seventh meeting between the teams this season and sixth that went to five sets. Punahou won four of the matchups against Kamehameha this year, including three of the final four face-offs. 

New City Nissan/HHSAA Boys Volleyball All-Tournament Team
Division I 
Kahale Clini, Punahou
Ian Kinney, Punahou
Kaupo Hoopai-Waikoloa, Kamehameha
Kai Rodriguez, Moanalua
Brayden Van Kuren, Kamehameha
Elijah Smith, Punahou
Harryzen Soares, Kamehameha
Most Outstanding Player: Kainoa Wade, Kamehameha 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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