It’s not easy to walk into a lion’s cage, steal his dinner and eat in front of the king of the jungle, but that’s exactly what Kealakehe did to Hilo on Monday night.
The visiting Waveriders made themselves at home, put their feet up on the coffee table and swept Hilo 25-16, 25-17, 25-23 in a BIIF Division I showdown to remain unbeaten at the Vikings Gym.
Kealakehe (7-0) was well-balanced, looked relentless and attacked the ball with authority. The Waveriders were highly efficient with 38 kills and just 26 unforced errors.
Hilo (5-2), the defending BIIF champion, looked tentative, struggled with its ball-control and gave away too many free points. The Vikings had 27 kills and 33 unforced errors, a formula for defeat when giveaway points outnumber kills.
The Viks know all about Kealakehe’s All-BIIF senior middle blocker Anastasia Tuifua, who was the focus of attention. Still, she hit to open spots and finished with a match-high 11 kills.
The surprise was Aaliyah “Ki’i” Aukai-Takata, last year’s libero. The 5-foot-3 junior outside hitter sparked the offense with seven kills, often jumping high and taking smart shots.
“Ki’i was very strong with her hitting,” Kealakehe coach Jaymie Nield said. “She showed up. She can jump and played an all-around game.”
Aulike Kaiawe added nine kills as a setter/hitter. The other setter/hitter, Kaliee Kahawaii, had five kills.
Pomaikai Nahuina, at 5-4, didn’t let Hilo’s bigger block bother her. The junior hitter slammed five kills, providing a threat in every rotation for the Waveriders.
Mahala Kaapuni cranked up the heat and slammed 10 kills, Taylor Canon added six kills, and Leiali’I Makekau-Whittaker hammered five kills for the Vikings.
It was that sort of match for the Vikings, who couldn’t catch a break. In Game 1, libero Jamie Chun made a diving dig, a teammate popped the ball up, and Chun hit the ball, with her back to the net, out of bounds. Great play, followed by no reward.
So, it went for Hilo, which watched as Kealakehe scored five straight points to close the first set.
In Game 2, the Vikings had 13 unforced errors; the Waveriders had just six giveaway points. Life is a breeze when the other team is handing out free points.
The third set showed why Tuifua is such a weapon. She knocked down Kealakehe’s last three points, displaying her savvy shot-making, to close the match.
The Waveriders, no doubt, had an enjoyable bus ride back home. But they can’t soak in their joy for long.
Kamehameha (10-0), the lion that has been starving for a BIIF title since 2014, visits on Wednesday in a battle of unbeatens. The winner jumps into the driver’s seat for the BIIF regular-season title, which includes the league’s first berth to states.
What could have been a banana peel trap-door match wasn’t and that left first-year coach Nield in happy spirits.
“They fought. They dug deep and fought,” she said. “We play Kamehameha on Wednesday, and it could easily have been a distraction. I’m very proud of the girls that they took care of this game.”
She credited strength and conditioning coach Mosese Tupou for putting the girls through the ringer. He worked them over, and they were physically and mentally ready to go.
“They know they can do hard things,” Nield said. “They worked hard on their strength and conditioning, and the plyometrics helped.”
The game plan was to contain Kaapuni, who’s athletic enough to hit over the block and hits hard enough to tool shots off it. She’s hard to stop, so the best hope was to contain her.
“We knew she can hit the ball all over the place,” Nield said. “We wanted to take away the line and have her hit angle. But she can hit through the block or over the block.”
Last year, the Viks eliminated the Waveriders in the BIIF semifinals in three sets. Kealakehe has an elephant’s memory about that loss. The victory was a breakthrough of sorts.
Kealakehe beat Hilo twice in the preseason, but Nield dismissed that.
“They’re going to come back stronger and fight harder,” she said. “We had to fight just as hard.”
The Waveriders did that, and know they’ll need a repeat against the Warriors, a hungry lion not looking to give up dinner or a match.