Girls volleyball Maui Warriors earn 8th straight MIL title

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Photo by Nicole Kaauamo

Kamehameha Maui's Sienna Davis meets Baldwin's Olivia Wallace at the net in the final set of the Maui Interscholastic League championships, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011. The Maui Warrior-Bear showdown was an even match-up, and the two teams played the most intense girls volleyball games this season as the Warriors played eight sets over two days to emerge MIL Division 1 champions for 2011.

By Nicole Kaauamo, sports co-editor

The KSM girls volleyball team fought a rough battle to become MIL champions for the eighth consecutive year on Saturday, Oct. 21, at Ka’ulaheanuiokamoku Gymnasium.

The Warriors first faced Baldwin High School at a packed and noisy Baldwin gym on Friday night, and a playoff game on Saturday afternoon was forced after Kamehameha lost in five sets.

In the first set of Friday night’s game, there seemed to be a lack of trust on the Warriors’ side. The competitive, get-every-ball attitude fans are used to wasn’t there.  They trailed 18-14, and Baldwin’s exceptional defense made it a struggle for the Warriors who ordinarily dominate offensively.  At 17-23 they still had problems digging and hitting balls out, and the Bears took the set 19-25.

Since the Warriors had shut out the Bears 3-0 in each of their three meetings this season, the Baldwin fans cheered wildly at their victory. The clamor filled the gym for the rest of the evening, with fans on both sides trying to out shout each other, and everyone screaming just to be heard. At the end of the night, it got fans speculating about whether or not the noise had rattled the players and affected the outcome of the game.

The Warriors showed no outward signs of noticing all the hubbub, and the second set got off to an exciting start. Neither side dominated much at the beginning. The Warriors brought the score to within a one-point difference, but the size disadvantage was evident.  With such a small team as far as player height, it was difficult for them to avoid Baldwin’s big blocks, and they eventually trailed 17-23. The scrappy defense that Warrior fans usually see was in full effect at this point, and good serving by junior Bobbi Kalama brought the score to 21-23, but they could not pull all the way through and lost the set 23-25.

Things started looking up for KSM in the third set, and they quickly gained an 11-4 lead. Baldwin did not put up much of a struggle, and the Warrior offense got a chance to redeem themselves. Junior Anuhea Ka’iaokamalie displayed great precision in her hitting, helping the Warriors easily win the set 25-12.

Warrior momentum started to slow in the fourth set as Baldwin came back and held tough through a close game that saw the Warriors playing catch-up most of the time. In the end, with the Bears trailing by one, 24-23, Baldwin committed a service error and handed the set win to Kamehameha Maui.

After a long delay for a uniform issue with one of the Bears, the fifth set began. The set continued to be interrupted by delays for everything from wiping up the floor to sorting out rotation errors.

In the fifth set, nobody could get ahead, and the game was up and up from 11-11. Baldwin senior hitter Kalei Vaivai, who played for Molokaʻi’s state championship team last year, gave the Warriors defense some hard opposition, and for the Warriors, sophomore libero Taylor Awai was responsible for much of the team’s success. On the game point for the Bears, KS was beat on a short serve and lost the set 15-12, costing them the match and the title at that point, necessitating the division 1 playoff on Saturday, Oct. 22.

“I felt like it could’ve been over at that point [game point] but I knew I couldn’t let it show on the court. We’ve learned that if you play with a negative attitude, the game will be negative, and I didn’t want to let that happen,” said senior Uluwehi Young.

In Saturday’s playoff game on their home court, the Warriors came out strong from the beginning of the first set and seemingly effortlessly gained a 12-6 lead. Awai’s digging once again helped them gain a good and comfortable lead. But the Baldwin team was still blocking well at the net, and the front row had not yet figured out how to elude their big blocks. The front row also had trouble recovering the tips and were bested multiple times on the short ball. Junior Sienna Davis was particular about placing her serves when she went back to the serving line, and it showed with three aces for her.  The Maui Warriors won the set 25-17.

The second set started with a series of quick and active plays.  Junior Sheylin Patao was getting excellent kills from the right side, something she did not get to do much during the regular season. They were down 13-9 at one time, but got a side out when Ka’iaokamalie blocked a setter dump by Baldwin senior Ariana Newton. Both teams then faced problems with serving, and the game tied at 17-17. A kill by junior Leimana Kane brought them back into the lead, and they eventually won 25-20.

Junior Bobbi Kalama, who was introduced as captain in the tournament, performed at the service line and gave the Warriors an easy lead. Towards the end of the set, Coach Bala Spencer put in every player. Young was put in as an outside hitter and junior Kailee Tabaco got a chance to set.  They had a little trouble finishing the set, giving up three points to the Bears, but came out victorious at 25-16.

Coach Bala is proud of the girls’ success this season. He said that the waiting period between Friday and Saturday’s games was not easy, and he knew that full focus from the players and himself was needed to come out on top.

“It was a scary situation to be in, but they did excellent and they really played some good volleyball. It’s exciting,” Coach Spencer said. “I told the girls that people don’t follow leaders because of their talents, they follow leaders because of their character and I think they really showed who they are as well as the character this team has.”

The Warriors will play their first match in the Hawai’i High School Athletic Association’s 2010 New City Nissan girls volleyball state championships on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 5:00 p.m. against the winner of the Kahuku vs. Kaiser match at McKinley High School on O’ahu.

For a complete schedule, brackets and other information, click here to be taken to the HHSAA Web site.

As of this writing, there is the possibility that the game will be carried live on cable channel OC 16.