Pilipaa keeps rising to the occasion, producing another strong showing in the Moku O Keawe region girls 18 championship with a sweep over the Piopio Bears 25-16, 25-13 on Saturday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
Pilipaa will play in the USA Volleyball Girls 18s Junior National championships, which will be held April 26-28 in Dallas, Texas.
In the girls 16 championship, HI Intensity defeated Eleu 25-18, 25-18, 26-24 for a spot to the national championships, which will be held June 27-July 6 in Indianapolis.
In the girls 14 championship, KSVB def. Cuzins 2-0.
In the girls 12 championship, MauLoa def. Miloli’i Ka’u 2-1.
Pilipaa was composed of players from Kamehameha, Kealakehe, and Hilo.
Nani Spaar (Kamehameha) led the offense with eight kills while Tiani Bello (Kamehameha) and Keala Wright (Kealakehe) added seven kills each. They all sort of took turning powering the offense.
Bello had five kills in the first, Spaar slammed six in the second, and Wright had three and four kills, respectively in the first and second games.
Piopio mostly had players from Hilo and a few from Kamehameha. The Bears took the Moku o Keawe title last year.
Mahala Kaapuni (Hilo) knocked down six kills, Taina Leao (Hilo) added five, and Mahina Kenoi (Kamehameha ) had four kills for the Bears.
Pilipaa had 11 unforced errors in the first set, but the Bears couldn’t manufacture any scoring runs longer than two points.
In the second set, Pilipaa cleaned up its gift-giving program with just three unforced errors and steamrolled Piopio with scoring runs of six and five points.
Wright banged down the last two points, switching from the left and right posts.
No Big Island team has ever won a girls 18 national championship. However, Pilipaa coach Chris Leonard believes the Big Island is getting there. Last year, Pilipaa finished 41st at nationals in the 16s division.
“We’re getting closer,” said Leonard, who pointed out that the club was competitive at the Las Vegas Classic in February. “We were 10th, and we’ve played in power league in Oahu and made five or six trips to Oahu.
“We struggled a little in the first set with unforced errors. In the second set, we played with focus and made fewer unforced errors. That’s been our focus to make fewer errors to play against high-level teams.”
The Vegas trip also serves as a scouting showcase with college coaches attending the annual tournament.
Spaar, an outside hitter, is committed to Temple, and middle blocker Laurie McGrath, who was out sick, signed with San Francisco for beach volleyball.
Bello and Wright are also candidates to land scholarship deals, Leonard said, as well as several of the younger players like sophomore setter Alike Kaiawe (Kealakehe).
“We’ve got a pretty talented group,” Leonard said. “Aulike is improving her location and making the right decisions. She keeps getting better the more she plays. She’s fun to watch.
“At Vegas, it was good for us. There were schools from Division I to junior college. We’ve got girls who can play at the next level, and our underclassmen will be ready, too.”
Pilipaa compares a lot to the 2015 edition that featured Kamehameha standouts Kaiulani Ahuna, who played at UC Riverside, and Zoe Leonard, who played at Dartmouth.
That team finished second to Honolulu’s HI Intensity at the Haili tournament. Pilipaa was the first group of high school girls to reach the AA championship.
The latest Pilipaa group will next play in the Haili tournament, looking to become the first high school group to win the AA title and rise to the occasion again.