Kamehameha is looking to win its first BIIF volleyball championship since 2014, a ham-and-pickle sandwich statement that sounds preposterous.
Has it really been that long since the days of Kaiulani Ahuna and Zoe Leonard (who both closed out their collegiate careers) finished their dynastic run of four BIIF crowns?
Behind a game plan of not beating itself, Hilo defeated Kamehameha in four sets to win the BIIF title last year, a painful blow since it was the Warriors’ first loss, after lawn mowing through the league.
But it’s a new year for senior sluggers Nani Spaar and Tiani Bello, who are both expected to carry the offense again, and they’ll have help this time.
The BIIF season starts Tuesday with Hilo at Ka’u, Makua Lani at Christian Liberty, and Pahoa at Kamehameha.
The level of competition has taken a hit with Hilo graduating Taina Leao (Delaware State) and Laurie McGrath (San Francisco) and Kealakehe graduating Keala Wright (Sheridan College in Wyoming).
“Basically, it’s the same returning team,” second-year coach Guy Enriques said. “I think we should be good for a little while.”
They only departed starters are middle blockers Kanani Chan and Kaysha Kahai-Enos, who signed with Lee College in Texas.
Taina Kaauwai, a 6-foot-1 freshman, is expected to fill one of the spots. Junior Kipona Dougher is competing for the other middle job.
Enriques is running his volleyball camps on the mainland, but Kamehameha boys coach Sam Thomas is picking up the slack.
“We’re looking pretty good,” Thomas said. “We’ve got an eight-member senior class and some experience with Nani and Tiani in their fourth years on the varsity and their High Performance stuff that they go to.
“We’ve got a lot of other good kids on the team. Taina hits a heavy ball and puts up a strong block. And she has height. You can’t teach that. She’s got good hitting instincts. Kipona is undersized at 5-7 but she jumps through the roof.”
Dougher also has a built-in connection with sophomore setter Sierra Scanlan. Along with Kaauwai, they play club ball for HI-Intensity, coached by Carla Carpenter-Kabalis.
Tihane DeRego, a senior, will also be in the mix at middle and provide depth at the ouside posts.
Another freshman to watch is Cammie Masanda, whose brother Davin is the setter for the boys team. She’ll play outside hitter, setter and libero.
Scanlan is the daughter of Eden Scanlan, a former UHH Vulcan. The coaching staff has high expectations for the setter with the soft hands.
“She’s good. She’s top of the charts in all of our game scores,” Enriques said. “Her parents work with her a lot. That’s why she’s really good. They spend a lot of time in the gym with her.”
Loke Kuamoo, a senior, is the returning starter at libero. Kendall Cabatu, a junior, is challenging for playing time. Masanda will defend in the back row, making passing an area of strength.
But it’s the power from outside hitters Spaar and Bello that will determine how far the Warriors travel.
“Nani has all the capabilities. She had a great offseason,” Enriques said. “Tiani is being a leader for us. Those two are battling it out for the No. 1 hitting spot. We’re hoping they’re going to get challenged and have to scrap for their positions.”
For the second straight year, Kamehameha will host a whopper of a tournament, slated for Aug. 29-31. It features 24 teams, including seven from the mainland, and Oahu squads Kamehameha-Kapalama, McKinley, Campbell, and Roosevelt, and Maui schools Seabury Hall and King Kekaulike.
Thomas thinks the defense will be better in the second year of Enriques defense, a perimeter-rotation hybrid. Most teams play a middle-up perimeter, like the Rainbow Wahine.
“We channel teams to hit to certain areas,” Thomas said. “And everything starts with a pass. That’s Guy’s mantra.”
Asked if Kamehameha is the favorite, Enriques slammed on the emergency brakes. He’s got a good memory of the Warriors rolling into the BIIF championship with an undefeated record and Hilo walked out with the title.
“Hilo has a good coach in Drew Fernandez. You can’t count them out and Drew will have them prepared,” Enriques said. “Anastasia Tuifua (an All-BIIF first-team pick) is a horse for Kealakehe. I hope other teams rise to the occasion. That will make our league a little stronger.”
That said, here’s a simple mantra for Enriques to deliver to his Warriors: It’s our turn now.