KEAAU – Hawaii Prep has never won consecutive BIIF titles for volleyball, but this season is a good time as any to accomplish a repeat with so many teams under new construction.
There are three returning Ka Makani starters in senior setter/hitter Zach Chaikin, junior middle Matija Vitorovic, and sophomore libero Ryoma Sakakibara and the usual roster of inexperience.
But coach Sharon Peterson usually finds a way to build a competitive product before the postseason, molding players from other sports or green newbies.
HPA took a big step with a 21-25, 25-12, 25-21, 25-10 victory over Keaau in a BIIF season-opener on Tuesday at the Cougars Gym, displaying more bench strength than last year.
“We’re doing OK. We haven’t had much practice,” Peterson said. “We got going and started to jell when we got the nerves out of our system. That was nice to see. They work hard, and the coaching staff pushes them.”
Last season, Peterson had to cross her fingers and hope no one caught a flu bug or got injured because she had only eight players on the roster. Still, Ka Makani beat Konawaena for the BIIF Division II championship.
Kala Thurston (baseball) and Stormer Horton (soccer) have stepped up to fill the spots at left-side hitter. The two juniors have size, strong arm swings and big potential for HPA, which also captured BIIF titles in 2012 and 2015.
“Kala did a nice job with his hitting,” Peterson said. “Stormer has a big arm. He can play defense and pass the ball.”
Every year, Vitorovic (basketball) gains more experience and expands his game at middle blocker. Freshman Kama Liu is the other middle.
The ball-control needs a little work as does the hitting accuracy. But when the passing, setting and hitting connect the tall Ka Makani look pretty tough.
They got good size, too, starting with Vitorovic, who’s 6 feet 4. Stormer is an inch shorter, and the rest of the front-row players have enough height to challenge net attacks.
“Matija is starting to understand the game a little better. He’s facing the net when he hits. He just needs a better takeoff,” Peterson said. “Kama is green, but he’s willing to learn. He’s willing to step up, play up, and with time he’ll get better.”
Senior opposite Jake Au and sophomore setter Iosua Tufaga share the rotation on the right side. Au plays at the net; Tufaga enters in the back row and displays his soft hands.
Junior Victor Chen is in the back row with Sakakibara, who throws himself all over the floor.
The Cougars have their share of basketball players switching over to volleyball with Branden Pagala, Johngunny Ramirez, and Shane Namnama.
There’s a lot of change all around the league at both the Division I and II levels.
Konawaena, the BIIF D-II runner-up, lost its two All-BIIF first team picks in Ben McKinley and Viliami Kaea.
Four-time defending BIIF D-I champion Kamehameha graduated all of its starters, except for 6-foot-5 senior middle Nalu Kahapea, a first-team pick.
Waiakea, the D-I runner-up the last two years, graduated all of its starters.
The BIIF season continues with top-shelf matches with Kamehameha at Hilo on Wednesday, Waiakea at HPA on Thursday and Waiakea at Kamehameha on Saturday.
HPA hosts Konawaena on Friday, March 9 in a BIIF D-II showdown.