From all around the bases, Hilo was better than Kealakehe in every important stat category on the volleyball court.
Behind a balanced offense and roof-stuffing defense, Hilo swept the Waveriders 25-17, 25-21, 25-17 in a BIIF Division I showdown on Thursday night at the Viking Gym.
Hilo (12-0) and Kamehameha (12-0) are the only unbeatens left in Division I.
The Waveriders (9-2) are the first to have finished the Big Four meat grinder with a 1-2 record: loss at Hilo, three-set loss to Kamehameha and a four-set win over Waiakea.
The Vikings play at Kamehameha on Monday and at Waiakea on Monday, Oct. 8.
Kamehameha has a home date against Waiakea on Wednesday, Oct. 3 to complete the Big Four tour for both teams.
The outright BIIF regular-season title includes the first berth to the HHSAA tournament. The league’s other state spot will be determined at the BIIF tournament, slated for Oct.17-18 at Konawaena’s gym.
It’s a logjam for the eight-team Division II playoffs. Kohala, Hawaii Prep, Makua Lani, Ka’u, and four-time defending champion Konawaena are sitting comfortably. Honokaa, Pahoa, Christian Liberty, and Laupahoehoe are in a dogfight for the three other spots.
Hilo coach Drew Fernandez prefers to focus on defense first, so here’s a stat to make him happy. The Viks outblocked the Waveriders, 8-2, including 5-1 in the final game.
“My first thing is defense. If we take care of defense, the offense will come,” said Fernandez, sounding like a basketball coach; his dad Don Fernandez is Kohala’s hoops coach. “I liked our play from the back row, and our setters got the ball to our hitters to the swing.
“I told the girls we had to be aggressive because it was a test, and we had to be ready.”
The Vikings were also efficient in other parts of their game: offense (38 kills, 20 unforced error) and serving (three aces, one service error).
The Waveriders were their own worst enemy on offense (36 kills and 31 giveaway points) and struggled from behind the line (one ace, seven service miscues).
Keala Wright, Kealakehe’s ambidextrous senior hitter, slammed 16 kills and Anastasia Tuifua added 10 kills to account for 72 percent of the offense, which had kills from five players.
Taina “Boom T” Leao pounded 11 kills, and Mahala Kaapuni blasted 10 kills for 55 percent of Hilo’s firepower, which saw kills from seven players. Laurie McGrath and Leiali’i Makekau-Whitaker had five kills each, and Taylor Canon had four kills to provide balance and unpredictability.
“Mahala did good, and Taina is always there,” Fernandez said. “Everybody stepped up, and that’s what we needed.”
Even though everyone in the gym knew Wright was the primary attacker, Hilo still had a tough time defending her. Kaapuni, who’s normally a middle, shifted to the right side to challenge Wright. Leao, who’s an opposite, also had defensive matchups against Wright, who nailed two kills with her left arm.
In every game, Hilo had more kills and fewer giveaway points than the Waveriders. That’s a hard formula to beat, even if Wright looked like a dominant force swinging from either arm.
“Keala was huge tonight,” Kealakehe coach Kahinu Lee said. “She kept us in the game, but it is a team effort. Hilo was ready, and we have to go back to the drawing board.”
In the first set, Kealakehe did itself no favors with a whopping 13 unforced errors, including four service errors, the best way to kills momentum. Hilo had careful aim and finished with just eight giveaway points.
Game 2 was tied 10 times, all the way up to 17-17. From there, Kealakehe had four unforced errors, and Kaapuni soared and slammed set point.
In the third set, the Vikings closed the match on an 8-0 run, which included four giveaway points and a nice family moment for the Leao sisters. Tia Leao, a sophomore, rammed her third kill for a 20-17 lead. Then Taina Leao, a senior lefty, ripped a shot for a 21-17 cushion.
Match point came on a Kealakehe hitting error, which sent the ’Riders on a long bus ride home and back to the drawing board and the Vikings into a good mood and a passing grade on the first part of the Big Four test.