HHSAA Boys Volleyball
Balanced Buffanblu attack proves too much for Trojans


Fri, May 10, 2024 @ Punahou [ 7:00 pm ]

FINAL  1   2   3   4   5      
MIL (15-2) 17 19 19 - - 0
PUN (15-1) 25 25 25 - - 3
Kill: B. Badham (PUN) 10 kills
Blk: N. Akana (PUN) 3 blk
Ast: N. Akana (PUN) 29 ast

MAKIKI — No. 1 Punahou used a balanced attack to sweep past No. 4 Mililani in the semifinals of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Division I Boys Volleyball State Championships Friday night. 

A crowd of about 700 fans at Hemmeter Fieldhouse saw the Buffanblu (15-0) ease their way past the Trojans (14-2) by set scores of 25-17, 25-19 and 25-19. 

Six different players notched at least a half-dozen kills for Punahou, which hit .388 as a team. Adam Haidar and Brody Badham led the way with 10 kills apiece, Evan Porter and Afatia Thompson tallied nine each and James Taras added eight kills in the win. 

Nalu Akana, a sophomore setter/opposite, recorded 29 assists, 11 digs, six kills, two total blocks and one ace for good measure. Elijah Smith contributed 16 assists and four digs. 

With Akana and Smith at the controls of the offense, Punahou finished with five hitters with an attack percentage of .333 or higher. Haidar, a 6-foot-3 senior middle, put down 10 of his 13 total attacks for kills without an error for an astronomical .769 percentage. Taras, another 6-3 middle for the Buffanblu, had eight kills against one error on 12 total swings for a .583 percentage. 

"Our middles are huge to us. They're such a big part of our offense," said Akana, who had just one attack error and hit .455 himself. 

"It's always an important part of our offense to work the middle," Taras said. "When the middle gets involved the outsides have to kind of help in and so that frees up our really talented pin hitters, so it's always really important for us to try and get the middles involved a lot."

The Buffanblu did just that early on in the match. A 6-0 run that turned a slim 6-4 lead into a comfortable 12-5 margin included a pair of kills by Haidar out of the middle. 

Punahou went on a 6-1 run that was ignited by another Haidar kill and culminated with an ace by Colby Kitagawa to separate to 23-14 later in the set. A double-contact violation on Mililani ended the opening set. 

The teams traded runs early in set 2. Punahou capped an 8-1 run with a kill by Evan Porter out of the back row to go up 10-4. However, Mililani answered with a 6-1 run that included three Buffanblu attack errors to get within 11-10. 

The Trojans were within a point at 14-13 after a Kapena Kanuch kill from the right side, but Punahou found some separation with three consecutive points as a result of kills by Badham and Thompson sandwiched around a Taras-Badham-Thompson triple-block. 

Punahou eventually stretched its lead to 24-17 after a 4-0 run that was capped by a Thompson cross-court kill off a back set from Akana. Haidar finished off set 2 a few points later with another quick attack in the middle off a well-placed Akana set. 

"He's amazing; He always impresses me," Taras said of Akana. "From last year — I mean, I don't play volleyball that much, but it's clear that he's more talented than he should be at his age and this year he's taking on the hitting role also and I mean, he's just great."

Akana said the Buffanblu reverted to their coaching when things got a bit tight in set 2. 

"Coach (Rick Tune) always preaches our energy and to keep it the same throughout the whole game. Sometimes we go low, sometimes we go high, we just need to keep that steady pace of energy and I think when it was close we kept our energy and then we pulled off the win," Akana said. 

Taras added that staying positive through the Trojans' mid-set surge was pivotal to going up two sets to none. 

"No team can play perfect a hundred percent of the time, coach Rick always reminds us of that. Even when we think that we should be doing better, he says, ‘Stay the course, do what you know you can do,' " Taras said. 

Mililani held an early 6-5 lead after a couple of Aris Mateo kills, but Akana put down a kill from the right side off an assist from Smith to ignite a 5-0 Punahou run. Later in the set, Haidar teamed with Porter for a double block and on the very next play, joined forces with Akana on another roof to give their team a 21-14 advantage. 

Haidar and Thompson teamed up to turn back another Mililani attack a few points later to set-up match point for the Buffanblu. After a service error prolonged things by a point, Thompson put away a back set from Akana with a cross-court kill to complete the sweep. 

Punahou racked up 7 1/2 total team blocks to Mililani's two. 

The Trojans were held to a .108 attack percentage. Lehano-Foki finished with eight kills, Aris Mateo had seven and Kanuch added six. Trevin Matsuba dug a match-high 12 balls in the loss. 

Taras said the Buffanblu got a sneak peek at Mililani in the semifinals of the Clash of the Titans tournament earlier in the season. The Trojans fell to Huntington Beach (California) in that match, which went on to play Punahou in the tournament final. 

"We noticed that Mililani was really good, so we definitely couldn't take them for granted," Taras said. "I think the main thing coming into the game was just focusing up on blocking. A lot of times we're not very disciplined with our hands and they can abuse that, so we wanted to make sure that we were nice and stable."

The Buffanblu will face familiar foe Kamehameha in Saturday's state championship match at the Blaisdell Arena. They will be trying for their 11th consecutive D1 state title. 

"It's obviously awesome. It's a lot of pressure, but it's great to have that opportunity and just to be a part of such a historic program," Taras said. 

Punahou has won all four meetings against the Warriors (13-5) this season. 

First serve Saturday is scheduled for approximately 7 p.m. 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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