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BIIF volleyball postseason prelude: Hilo sweeps Waiakea, rivals turn to separate semis

  • RICK OGATA photo
    Waiakea’s Kayla Iwata digs a ball in front of Makena Hanle
  • RICK OGATA photo
    Hilo’s Laurie McGrath hammers away at Waiakea’s block Monday during the Vikings’ 25-22, 25-21, 25-22 victory. For information on purchasing an Ogata photo, email guppies4me@gmail.com.
  • RICK OGATA photo
    Hilo's Leiali'i Makekau Whitaker digs a ball Monday night during the Vikings' 25-22, 25-21, 25-22 against Waiakea.

Now, Hilo and Waiakea can rigorously prepare for next week’s major fight, one that determines their season: a trip to the HHSAA tournament or a long offseason at home.

The Vikings defeated Waiakea 25-22, 25-21, 25-22 in a BIIF Division I showdown on Monday night at the Warriors Gym, which set the playoff seedings and sort of a pecking order among the Big Four.

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In the Big Four battle, Kamehameha has a 3-0 record against Hilo, Kealakehe, and Waiakea. Hilo is 2-1, its only loss to Kamehameha. Kealakehe is 1-2, its only win over Waiakea. Waiakea, the defending BIIF champion, went 0-3 against the trio.

There is only one state berth left, and it’ll be a dogfight for Hilo, Kealakehe, and Waiakea to claim it in what’s turned into the most competitive Division I season since statewide classification started in 2005.

For years, Kealakehe has been on the outside looking in, but its win over Waiakea reserved a seat in the Big Four club. Plus, the Waveriders received an offensive boost with the transfer of Keala Wright, a dynamic hitter from Texas with Hawaii roots.

There are no worries for Kamehameha, which has already clinched the BIIF regular-season title and a state tournament berth, its first since 2015.

Hilo and Waiakea have qualified for states the last two years. One or maybe both won’t be going this year.

No. 1 seed Kamehameha (15-0) will host No. 4 Waiakea (11-3) at 6 p.m. Monday at Koai’a Gym in a BIIF semifinal. No. 2 Hilo (14-1) will host No. 3 Kealakehe (12-2) at 6 p.m. at the Vikings Gym in the other semifinal.

Waiakea hosts Pahoa on Wednesday, and Kealakehe hosts Honokaa on Thursday to close the regular season. Kealakehe already beat Waiakea earlier for the head-to-head tiebreaker.

If Kamehameha eliminates Waiakea, the Hilo-Kealakehe winner would earn the league’s other state berth.

Against Waiakea, Hilo had its blend of firepower and efficient hitting going, finishing with 48 kills and just 23 unforced errors. The Warriors couldn’t keep up and had just 38 kills and 26 giveaway points.

Taina Leao pounded 13 kills, Mahala Kaapuni added 11, Laurie McGrath had eight while Leiali’i Makekau Whitaker and Sarah Katayama had five each for Hilo, which led late in all three games, 24-20, 22-20, and 23-22 and found a way to close the door.

Kaapuni ripped six kills in Game 1, then tag-teamed Leao, who clobbered eight kills, and McGrath, who had five kills, in the second set. In Game 3, there was nice balance from Kaapuni (four kills), Makekau Whitaker, Leao, and Katayama, who all had three kills each.

Cary Catrett led Waiakea with 11 kills while middle Michelle Vintero and Makena Hanle had eight kills each, and Cadelyn Kahauolopua dropped six kills.

“I thought both teams fought really hard,” Waiakea coach Ashley Hanohano said. “We’d bang it, and they would dig it, and we would bang it. But Leao brought them to the next level.”

Last season, Waiakea won its first BIIF title since 2009 behind a lineup powered by senior talent. Those four players, Kayla Kahauolopua, Jordyn Hayashi, Anela Navor, and Melina Devela, are now playing college ball.

There’s inspiration from that team for the Warriors. They were down 2-0 against Hilo for the BIIF title and also trailed late in Game 5. But unpredictable things can happen in the playoffs, and Waiakea pulled off the greatest comeback for volleyball.

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It’s a bit of looking ahead, but Waiakea will face Kamehameha a week from now with its season on the line and a mindset to repeat history.

“We have to go in there with intensity,” Hanohano said. “Across the board, any of the top four could win. It’s who brings their game. It only matters at the end.”