BIIF volleyball: Waiakea wants what Kamehameha has long had

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Kamehameha and Waiakea, two volleyball Division I title contenders with different degrees of experience, share one key thing besides the same nickname.

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Kamehameha and Waiakea, two volleyball Division I title contenders with different degrees of experience, share one key thing besides the same nickname.

Both Warriors feature stellar blanket coverage in the back row with Kamehameha libero Kiana “Kiki” Troy and defender Kaui Cabatu, and Waiakea libero Jordyn Hayashi and defenders Casi Gacusana and Makena Hanle.

Troy posted 17 digs and Cabatu 13 digs in a 25-19, 26-24, 25-22 win over Hilo in the BIIF semifinals, receiving a good workout from Kawai Ua, who smoked rockets at them and finished with 17 kills.

Hayashi compiled 16 digs in a 25-10, 25-22, 28-26 victory over Kealakehe in the other semifinal, dealing with her own ferocious attacker in Nika Paogofie-Buyten, who also smashed 17 kills.

There will likely be a lot of long and entertaining rallies when five-time defending champion Kamehameha (13-4) and Waiakea (14-3) meet for the BIIF title at 7 p.m. Saturday at Hilo High’s Gym.

To borrow a Deflategate term, it’s more probable than not that Hilo sophomore Ua, short at 5 feet 6 but quite powerful, and Kealakehe’s Paogofie-Buyten, a versatile 5-8 senior shotmaker, would have had far more kills if not for those pesky Warrior defenders.

“Kiki and Kaui were all over the place in the back row, and Hilo kept attacking,” Kamehameha coach Sam Thomas said. “Kawai could have had close to 30 kills if not for our back row. Seizan Alameda, same thing. She hit the floor and saved a lot of balls. They played their hearts out.”

Waiakea coach Ashley Hanohano was under the weather with a sore throat Thursday, and passed dialogue duties to her assistant and mom Rachelle Hanohano.

On the bench, the elder Hanohano had a bird’s eye view of Hayashi, who plays low, anticipates well, moves like a rabbit, and passes balls on a dime, basically, all the traits of a quality libero.

“Jordyn played an excellent match (against Kealakehe),” Hanohano said. “There’s a reason she’s a libero because she’s one of the best passers. She’s very consistent.”

When the pass is clean and the set is nice and high, there isn’t a more explosive hitter in the league than 5-9 Waiakea middle blocker Kadara Marshall, whose vertical allows her to play bigger than her height.

The All-BIIF first-team pick from a year ago smashed 12 kills. Even better, Marshall’s presence opened up numerous one-on-one swings for opposite Lindsey Maikui, who had 14 kills against the Waveriders.

“The key is passing to target,” Hanohano said. “Giving the ball to Kadara is a key to our offense. Our team is very defensive-based. We want to make sure we execute on offense. We’ve got great hitters on offense, but without the pass nothing will happen.”

The last time Waiakea won the BIIF championship was in 2009. Then Kamehameha started its trophy collection.

Chasing carrots

Marshall is a major difference-maker with her visual firepower and mobility as a blocker, and she is a senior. Gacusana and setter/opposite Hiilei Ishii-Chaves are also key seniors.

Hanohano knows that senior inspiration is an incentive. But most times, matchups and other carrots like last-chance glory can be thrown out the window while chasing a title.

Winning a championship or multiple ones usually comes down to a team playing its best. Sounds simple, but that’s what the New England Patriots always do. They execute better than everyone else.

“Kamehameha is a very smart team. They play smart and keep the ball in play. Basically, they let the other team make mistakes,” said Hanohano, sounding like Rex Ryan. “If you come in with the right mindset, you’ll get the outcome you want. It’s which team shows up.”

All grown up

Thomas often talks about the process Kamehameha went through after a majority of last year’s roster left, and standout setter Kamalu Makekau-Whittaker, who’s now a threat as a hitter, was the last one standing.

His Warriors needed to find out who they were. For example, Troy started out as a setter, but obviously she’s made the defense, and in turn her team’s transition play much better.

Coaches often talk about staying “in system.” When balls are going back and forth in transition, sometimes players go into chicken-without-a-head mode during long rallies. They’re all over the place, and there are holes everywhere on the floor.

The Warriors have learned to play together. They don’t beat themselves. In serve-receive (the first-touch chance to stop an opponent’s offense and momentum) no two Warriors collided for a serve. Everyone knew their seam coverage.

“From the very start, we talked to the girls about going through the process. We had to learn what strength each girl had,” Thomas said. “We do a lot of substituting and specialize and try to play up to our strength.”

Thomas sounds like he could give a good piece of advice to the San Francisco 49ers, who still don’t know if they’re a power-running outfit or a zone-read Colin Kaepernick turnover machine.

The second-year coach even has former coach Kyle Kaaa, who’s a teacher at the school, on his staff. There’s no team disharmony there. In fact, Thomas points to his team leaders as a key.

“Of course, there’s Kamalu. She brings to the table four years of varsity experience and club experience at a higher level,” he said. “Being a 6-foot tall setter doesn’t hurt at all.

“Hiwa Kaapuni (four kills against Hilo) started the season on the bench. But she has a can-do attitude. Kiki is a vocal leader during the game. She helps our transition.”

The blueprint to stop Waiakea is pretty simple: serve tough so setters Ishii-Chaves and Taniah Ayap have to run after balls and can’t dish to Marshall.

Well, if Hayashi is making on-the-money passes then the entertainment value will be through the roof when Marshall is launching missiles.

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“They’re taller than us and Kadara is a strong girl in the middle,” Thomas said. “Jordyn is an outstanding player. The key is for us is to do our best and pop up balls. Hopefully, we can do our best and develop a plan, and make something happen on offense.”

Thomas wasn’t about to give away any secrets on offensive strategy. He understands that execution always speaks louder than words and leads to championships.

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