Hilo’s Taina Leao and Kamehameha’s Nani Spaar shouldered different loads but the result was often the same: enough kills to push their teams past opponents.
The two junior outside hitters were on a collision course for a pair of prizes, the BIIF Division I title and player of the year award.
Leao, with better help from her teammates, led the Vikings to their first league championship since 2016 in a four-set upset. She had 14 kills, hit .102 and picked up 20 digs.
Spaar knocked down 35 kills, hit .091 on 110 swings and had 16 digs for a double-double.
One was never better than the other, and that proved true as Leao and Spaar tied for the BIIF Division I player of the year, in a vote by the league’s coaches, Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today.
Leao’s teammates Mahala Kaapuni, a junior middle blocker, and Laurie McGrath, a senior middle, join her on the first team. Kamehameha junior hitter Tiani Bello was also named to the first team, which also includes Kealakehe senior Keala Wright and Anastasia Tuifua.
Hilo’s Drew Fernandez was selected as the BIIF coach of the year.
Leao had a high bar to chase and follow. Last year’s POYs were Waiakea’s Kayla Kahauolopua and Jordyn Hayashi, and she followed in the footsteps of Hilo’s three standouts in Kawai Ua, Lexie Paglinawan and Kailee Kurokawa.
“I’m blessed. In a way, I never thought I would have gotten it compared to Kayla and Jordyn,” Leao said. “I’m really surprised. For the past three years, it was Kailee, Kawai, and Lexie. I was playing with a new team and had to readjust. It was a lot of fun, and I was happy we were able to pull it off at the end.”
With Bello as the only other returning starter, Spaar carried much of her team’s offense, a role that countered the balance of the rival Vikings.
In the end, Spaar and Leao couldn’t escape each other’s shadow, and Spaar was happy to share the honor.
“I am honored to be player of the year with Taina. She is such a great player and person, and I am glad to be recognized alongside of her,” Spaar said. “This season, I enjoyed the team the most. Our roster was filled with amazing teammates that I have made forever memories.
“My role with the offense was just a part of the responsibilities we shared as a team. Without each player contributing like they did, we wouldn’t have made it as far this season. I am very lucky to have been a part of that team.”
It was also a special season for Leao, who played with her sister Tia Leao, a freshman middle, who received honorable mention.
“One of my favorite moments was after a game was over and looking at a picture of coach Drew jumping in the air after I made a kill,” Leao said. “We would all come together and enjoy the moment. I’m really happy I got to play with her on the varsity level.”
Leao will turn her attention to club ball with the Piopio Bears, coached by Laura Thompson. Her dream college is Pacific Lutheran, where Piopio Bears teammates Jazz Alston is at.
“I’m really interested in Pacific Lutheran. I was talking to Jazz, and I really want to go there,” Leao said.
Spaar is already a Temple commit. She has family nearby the Division I school in Pennsylvania.
During the offseason, she’ll play club ball with Pilipaa, coached by Chris Leonard. The club will take the summer tour playing at Las Vegas, Oahu, and maybe the national tournament.
Maybe the Bears and Leao will meet her there for another collision course.
Taina Leao, Hilo, 11
Nani Spaar, Kamehameha, 11
Mahala Kaapuni, Hilo, 11
Tiani Bello, Kamehameha, 11
Keala Wright, Kealakehe, 12
Anastasia Tuifua, Kealakehe, 11
Laurie McGrath, Hilo, 12
Player of the Year
Taina Leao, Hilo
Nani Spaar, Kamehameha
Coach of the year
Drew Fernandez, Hilo
Hilo: Makani Lum Ho-Chesbro, Siena Mizuno, Taylor Canon, Tia Leao, Erica Canon
Kamehameha: Sierra Scanlan, Mahina Kenoi, Kanani Chan, Kaysha Kahai-Enos
Keaau: Makalei Watson, Kahekawai Donner, Maurice Riingen
Kealakehe: Aulike Kaiawe, Aaliyah Aukai-Takata, Kailee-Ann Kahawaii, Piilani Tupou
Waiakea: Cary Catrett, Cadelyn Kahauolopua, Makena Hanle, Halee Sweat