Haili junior achievement: Kaapuni comes out hitting, whether for Piopio of Hilo High

  • RICK OGATA photo Maela Honma swings Wednesday for Hi Intensity, which won girls 16s, beating Eleu in the final.
  • RICK OGATA photo Mahala Ka’apuni of the Piopio Bears Laukoa team slams a ball Wednesday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium during the final day of junior competition at the Haili Volleyball Tournament. In the girls 18 final, Pilipaa beat Piopio Bears Laukoa. Competition in adult divisions runs through Saturday. To purchase an Ogata photo, email guppies4me@gmail.com.

Mahala Kaapuni was just enjoying the moment as her Piopio Bears Laukoa team took down her sisters, the Piopio Kilakila club, in three sets in the girls 18 division.

The 62nd annual Haili Volleyball Tournament carried on Wednesday with the junior division grabbing the spotlight with their championships.

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It was a long day for Laukoa to advance to the championship, and Kaapuni provided much of the offensive firepower, a reminder of her accomplishments on the court.

The Hilo junior was named to the All-BIIF first team and had a strong partner in Taina Leao, a Bears and Viking teammate. They powered Hilo to the BIIF title, the school’s second in three years.

“The match was pretty good,” Kaapuni said. “We dropped the second set but told ourselves we had to get stronger to come back.”

During the winter season, she’s on the Vikings swimming team and competes in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. She qualified for states all three years in the 50. She was third in the 50 at the BIIF championships.

Kaapuni is in her first year with the Bears and has adjusted to coach Laura Thompson’s philosophy, which has a strong emphasis on the mental side of the game.

“It’s what’s in your head and play good or bad,” Kaapuni said. “That’s how you play because it’s all mental. My coach likes to get in my head. She likes it when I play angry because I play better. Each person is different. Some have to be happy. I play best when I’m angry.”

It’s not exactly a Bruce Banner-Hulk type of thing. But Kaapuni has been a monster when needed. She had nine kills and 4.5 blocks in a five-set win over Kamehameha for the BIIF title.

Pilipaa beat Piopio in the Moku O Hawaii region 18 championship last Saturday. That eliminated the Bears from the USA Volleyball junior national championships. But there are still tons of mainland tournaments over the summer.

Whenever Piopio and Pilipaa meet, it’s like a Hilo-Kamehameha reunion. Pilipaa is filled with Kamehameha players like Nani Spaar, Tiani Bello, Kanani Chan, Kaysha Kahai-Enos, Like Kuamoo, and Kaili Pila.

“The goal is to place and know you played your hardest,” Kaapuni said. “It’s good to be in the Haili. There’s new competition.”

She came up as a middle blocker and has enjoyed her time at outside hitter. She gets far more hitting reps. There’s only one thing, though, defenders have to watch out if she’s playing angry.

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Kaumakamaiau Sibayton graduated from Keaau in 2018 and while a member of the Cougars was cast in the longtime role of underdog.

There are two spots at the HHSAA state tournament and often it’s a grab bag for Kamehameha, Hilo or Waiakea. Keaau is usually fighting just to reach the four-team BIIF playoffs. The Cougars have never qualified for states.

“People would think of us as underdogs,” she said. “But we would come out and play our hardest and try to prove people wrong.”

But that doesn’t mean Sibayton can’t fulfill her volleyball hunger from somewhere else. And that’s where the Haili comes in. Last year, she played for the Piopio Bears, who beat Pilipaa for the 18 title at Haili.

She’s no longer age eligible and will play with Honolulu’s Titah, who start play Friday. Coach Tia Thompson is a relative and asked Sibayton to join the team. She’s itching to get back on the court and compete for the AA title.

“I miss it and can’t wait to get back on the court,” she said.

Sibayton, who’s enrolled at UH-Hilo, didn’t have a match on Wednesday but was at the Civic, watching her old Piopio pals.

“We were really sisters,” she said. “I miss that. I just want to do good and hopefully win. That would be great.”

Long tradition

Piopio Kilakila defeated Cuzins 26-24, 25-17 for third place in the 18 division.

Piopio had formidable weapons in Shaneil Azevedo (Kamehameha), Kendall Cabatu (Kamehameha), Bethany Honma (Waiakea), Michelle Vintero (Waiakea) and Tia Leao (Hilo).

Cuzins is coached by Anela Kelson and her and Kendall Cabatu. Anela is the daughter of Zelda Kelson, who died in November 2017 and started the club 30 years ago. Zelda was on the 1973 Hilo state championship team.

Her daughter coaches the team with the same inspirational force.

“I think we could have done better. We could have done better,” Anela said. “There’s always room for improvement. You have to have a positive attitude. The game is more than volleyball skill.”

Cuzins relied on sisters Erica and Taylor Canon, who both received All-BIIF honorable mention, and libero Kaena Kekaualua, a Waiakea sophomore.

“Taylor is an all-around player and has a positive attitude,” Anela said. “Erica is a great player and knows how to play every position. Kaena has hustle and heart. She wants to play.”

Anela has a long affliction with the Haili tourney. Her mom started the club to coach her kids. And like for so many, it’s become a tradition.

“I’ve played in the Haili all my life,” she said. “It’s something we do. I’ve been playing in the Haili since I was a young kids. When you live in Hilo, volleyball is what you do, and the Haili is what we do.”

Following are results for the junior championships:

Junior girls 18

1. Pilipaa 18

2. Piopio Bears Laukoa

3. Piopio Bears Kilakila

Sportsmanship: Haili

• Junior girls 16

1. HI Intensity Pink

2. Eleu

3. Hoopaa Hawaii

Sportsmanship: Kamuela 16s

• Junior girls 14

1. KSVB 14

2. Milolii Ka’u

3. Keaukaha Cuzins

Sportsmanship: Nai Ele Ele

• Junior girls 12

1. Milolii Ka’u

2. Mauloa

3. Panaewa

Sportsmanship: Keaukaha Cuzins

• Junior boys 14

1. Pilipaa

2. Keaukaha Cuzins

3. Big Island Boys

Sportsmanship: Nai Wiwoole

• Junior coed 10 and under

1. Keaukaha Cuzins

2. Milolii Ka’u

3. HI Intensity Kona

Sportsmanship: Nai Haaheo

• Junior coed 8 and under

1. Nai Makamae

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2. Keaukaha Cuzins

Sportsmanship: Nai Makamae

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