KEALAKEKUA — It was a celebration like no other for the Kohala girls volleyball team at Konawaena High School’s Ellison Onizuka Gymnasium Thursday night.
The Cowgirls, the No. 1 seed in the BIIF tournament after going undefeated in Division II play during the regular season, survived a comeback attempt from Konawaena, knocking off the four-time defending league champion Wildcats 25-21, 25-7, 22-25, 25-18 to win the program’s first ever girls volleyball championship.
It was a moment hard to put into words for first year head coach and 2012 Kohala graduate, Chyler Imai.
“I think this title means everything to us,” Imai said. “This was a night of making history for the school and the program. It was amazing.”
Kohala (14-4) was led to new heights by starting seniors Mikayla Kekoa, Shania Fuertes and Cheylin Imai.
Kekoa and Fuertes led the scoring against Konawaena in the title tilt. Kekoa had 19 kills and Fuertes followed with 13.
“Mikayla is our heart and she is always hyped. When it is time to bring it she will always execute,” Chyler Imai said. “Shania is one of our most consistent hitters. She can carry the team on her back and is very disciplined.”
Cheylin Imai, the coach’s little sister, led the team at the service line with a dominating performance that included eight aces.
“She was a little nervous before the game, but I told her not to be nervous and to bring it with her serves, serve between the seams and make them work,” Chyler Imai said. “I thought she did a pretty good job.”
Cheylin Imai picked up three straight aces in the second set and added three more on what ended up being a 16-point run to put Kohala up 17-2. The Cowgirls held Konawaena to only seven points in that set, their lowest total in any set this year.
“I just tried to keep the ball in and serve hard to the opponent,” Cheylin Imai said. “Everything was just clicking.”
The Cowgirls entered BIIF postseason play with the satisfaction of knowing they already had a spot locked up in the state tournament for the third consecutive year. This time, however, they will likely enter with a seeded berth as the league champion.
“Our main goal is to keep playing hard and take it as far as we can go,” Chyler Imai said. “We don’t want to stop here. We want to keep going.”
Kohala could not have claimed a BIIF title without Kiana Kauka, who also had a big night with 11 kills.
As for Kekoa, that moment of becoming BIIF champion was so emotional, she had trouble focusing in the moment.
“My mind just went blank after the final point. I was just so shocked,” Kekoa said. “I tried to play as strong as I could and now we will go up against the toughest at states, but we know we can pull through.”
With the loss to Kohala, Konawaena (10-8) settles for a league runner-up finish for the first time since 2013. However, the Wildcats have already qualified for their eighth straight trip to the state tournament, a streak dating back to the 2011 season. They won the D-II state championship in 2013 and 2014.
The pair of BIIF finalists will be joined by Hawaii Prep, which knocked off Ka‘u in straight sets in the BIIF D-II third place game to keep a lengthy state tourney streak alive.
The loss to the Cowgirls was the second in seven days for the Wildcats. The first meeting was an instant classic with Konawaena going up 2-0 before the Cowgirls surged to take the final three sets.
In the D-II title game, Konawaena was led by Malie Grace with 17 kills. Keala Acol followed with nine.
The opening round of the Division II state tournament will take place on Oahu next Wednesday.