KEAAU — Hawaii Prep’s ball-control woke up just in time against Christian Liberty for a volleyball battle with a nice little prize on the line.
The two-time defending BIIF Division II Ka Makani struggled with their serve-receive passing and setting but prevailed over the Canefire 20-25, 25-22, 25-21, 26-24 on Monday at the Old Mill Fieldhouse.
The Canefire (7-5) missed a chance to claim the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the six-team BIIF playoffs. They can still grab the No. 3 seed and have defeated Konawaena and Pahoa, two teams below them in the standings.
Makua Lani is the front runner for the BIIF regular season title, which includes the league’s first state berth. The Lions (8-3) have two matches left, Waiakea and Pahoa, and if they win one they’ll claim a state spot, which would be the school’s first.
HPA (7-5) hosts winless Ehunui on Wednesday and can clinch the No. 2 seed and that important first-round bye. While Makua Lani and Christian Liberty seek their first state berth, Ka Makani have qualified three of the last four years.
It’s more likely than not that HPA and CLA will meet again in the BIIF semifinals for a state spot on the line.
Canefire sophomore outside hitter Josh Rushton kept smoking balls around HPA’s block for a match-high 24 kills and freshman middle Jerry Becker added 15 kills. That was pretty much the extent of the offense; they got only seven kills from the rest of the players.
They had more firepower than HPA, which had 39 kills; CLA had 46. However, the Canefire were their own worst enemy with 51 unforced errors. Ka Makani had 44 giveaway points and had better balance.
Kala Thurston led Ka Makani with 13 kills, Stormer Horton added 10 kills and Umi Kealoha had nine kills and middle Matija Vitorovic chipped in five kills.
“The other team had great defense,” HPA coach Sharon Peterson said. “For us, we were up and down. We were not prepared. They kept popping up balls, and No. 12 (Rushton) was very good.
“Kala did a nice job, and Matija had good plays at the net.”
The up-and-down Ka Makai have lost to the Division I powers (Hilo, Kamehameha, Kealakehe, and Waiakea) and Makua Lani. They swept Konawaena and beat Pahoa in four — not exactly a smooth ride in the parity-filled Division II race.
In the first set, HPA’s ball-control (passing and setting) overslept on the bus from the drive from Waimea. There were two mis-sets, which cost two easy points and other passing breakdowns that led to too many free balls.
The Canefire came out fired up and jumped to a 14-9 lead, plowed ahead to 24-19 and won on an HPA hitting error.
The second set was an ugly contest with each team committing 14 unforced errors. HPA gave away four easy points on three service errors and a ball-handling miscue. The Canefire kept overswinging for most of their mistakes.
Kealoha served seven straight points to push HPA to a 16-12 lead. CLA had back-to-back hitting errors to close the set.
The match’s momentum jumped to the visitor’s side of the court.
In the critical third set, HPA kept getting sideouts and made mini-runs. Ka Makani took a 23-18 lead then CLA scored three consecutive points to get within 23-21. But Vitorovic and Thurston had the final two kills to put HPA up 2-1.
Despite HPA’s much bigger block, the Canefire hung tough in the fourth set, trailing 24-21 when Rushton displayed his uncanny court vision. Ka Makani put up a triple block, Rushton lofted a tip shot that found the floor to cut the lead to 24-22.
One reason Rushton, who stands 5 feet 10, was able to find holes in HPA’s block was because of the smooth setting of junior Chase Cobile, a first-time starter, who gave his Canefire big gun clean balls.
HPA had just two blocks but far more deflections, which gave the offense extra swings. Ka Makani hit smart and found holes; the Canefire often hit long, wide or into the net.
Meanwhile, HPA had two hitting errors, and it was suddenly tied 24-24. The Canefire could clearly envision a fifth and final game and a shot at a first-round bye, something that hasn’t happened for them in the playoffs.
But that Thurston guy was a thorn again. He pounded consecutive kills to finish off the Canefire and start their senior night celebration for libero Terrcin Allen, Scott Jennings, and Jhoshua Orozco-Garcia.