KEAAU – Ka’u High’s serving was fine during its last practice, boys volleyball coach Josh Ortega said, but Saturday it took a wayward turn after a change in scenery.
Something was different, all right.
“We were a little bit nervous,” senior Ryder Brown said.
And that was a good thing, because none of the Trojans, nor the Keaau High players on the other side of the laminated net, had felt this way in more than a year.
“The best part was it wasn’t just for fun,” Cougars senior Nalu Lyman said.
Ready or not after less than a month of workouts, the schools scratched the competitive BIIF itch for the first time this school year. They joined Pahoa at a complex area tournament, where the volleyball washers were as busy as the players, cycling balls in and out after each play during three matches. Players might have become used to wearing masks by now, but at least one was caught off guard by the net, which was encased in plastic.
“When I first saw that, I was wondering what it was for,” Ka’u senior Lentron Jara said.
Besides player safety, the net also provided a painful reminder of the casualties of a low serve. Mistimed deliveries weren’t just lost points, but they hit the plastic with a thud, which Ortega compared to the sound of a strong block.
“That’s a sound that makes you feel like you have to do better,” Ortega said, “and stay more focused. I asked the boys about it, but they are oblivious to it such things.”
“But we’re lucky to have this opportunity, and we did really well from what I expected.”
Especially since his setter, Jara – normally a defensive specialist – only begun setting last week, and his middle blocker, Brown, is a swimmer.
“The most coachable kid you could ever dream of,” Ortega said of Brown.
His first try at volleyball in 2020 lasted three matches before the pandemic shut things down. Since then, he’s been spending some of his free time swimming at South Point.
“We need to practice our communication, but just playing was fun, the hard hitting,” Brown said.
While all three teams were still reacclimating themselves to competitive volleyball, Ka’u got its key serves in when it needed to in the fifth set against Keaau, earning a 26-24, 14-25, 25-22, 20-25, 15-13 victory. The Trojans got by in Game 5 with the minimum six players.
“To me, it feels the same as a BIIF match two years ago,” Jara said.
Earlier, Ortega said his team got “cocky, I guess” in beating the Daggers in four sets.
“They were super excited to be back,” he said, “but each minute we’re reminding them of the rules, like you need to do this, you need to do that. But their spirit stayed up, so I was glad to see that.”
He’s become the trusted leader of Ka’u volleyball, coaching the girls team to the BIIF Division II title in 2012, and the boys to the ‘14 crown.
“When I coach, I actually play, I challenge them fully,” he said. “Friday, I scrimmaged them, with just one other person, and of course they smashed us. They love that, talking and taunting. It gets there ego up, so they can last through such things.”
When Lyman received good sets and was swinging accurately, he pounded the ball with authority. In the final match, the Cougars swept Pahoa (0-3), which entered the day with one game under its belt.
“We didn’t execute that well,” Lyman said, “it’s just that we’re are all off our games, but we’ll get it back.”
One thing he’ll never get back is his lost senior season of football.
“Unbelievable, but I feel like it was part of God’s plan,” he said.
With six younger brothers, including teammate Kepa Lyman, Nalu has made it his mission to be a strong and patient role model. That will continue at his next stop, Phoenix’s Grand Canyon University, where he plans to study nursing and walk on to the volleyball team.
“Just to change the chain, instead of going straight from here to construction,” he said. “I wanted to do something for my little brothers.”
Ka’u stole the first set from Keaau, taking the last three points on kills by Brown and Micah Espejo and Kelson Gallano’s ace. In an entertaining fifth set, the Trojans trailed 12-10 before kills by Brown and two from Kealiikoa Reyes Nalu helped clinch the match.
Jara, who plans to attend Universal Technical Institute in Arizona, perfectly described why so many were glad to be back on the court Saturday
“Bonding,” he said. “We just lifted each other up so we could win.”
• In a BIIF match Friday night, Christian Liberty defeated Parker 25-10, 25-14, 25-11 at home behind big efforts from Josh Rushton (16 kills, six aces, 11 digs) and Caleb Watkins (29 assists, three aces).