PUKALANI - The King Kekaulike High School boys volleyball team has been to the state tournament and knows it is going back.
Now, Na Alii (9-0) have something much bigger in mind.
One season after their first trip to state, Na Alii rolled to a 25-7, 26-24, 25-22 win over Baldwin at the King Kekaulike Gym on Thursday to clinch the Maui Interscholastic League Division I regular-season title and a state berth.
King Kekaulike High School’s John Eddins attempts to block a shot by Baldwin’s Trent Helle during the second set of Na Alii’s 25-7, 26-24, 25-22 victory over the Bears on Thursday night in Pukalani.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"It was quick, but it was close," King Kekaulike coach Kilohana Miller said. "The first game, you know, was different, but these last two we did what we needed to do and they showed that they pulled it out at the end - that is what we are going to need going forward."
The match took less than an hour to complete and left no doubt who is standing on top of the MIL heap right now. King Kekaulike beat the Bears (6-3) in four sets in the teams' first meeting this season.
With the MIL tournament to come, Miller knows there is a lot of volleyball left -Baldwin posted a five-set win over Na Alii in the league's D-I overall championship match last season.
King Kekaulike def. Baldwin 25-7, 26-24, 25-22
Kamehameha Maui at Maui High, no score reported
Lahainaluna at King Kekaulike, 6 p.m.
Hana at Molokai, 7 p.m.
Hana at Molokai, noon
"Even though we have the state berth, it doesn't mean we have the top seed - we want the top seed (from the MIL) because we want to have that bye (at state)," Miller said.
An MIL title would be the first for King Kekaulike in boys volleyball, but that is not what the ultimate prize is for this team.
"They have moved on from last year, they have a goal and that's to win states," Miller said. "They are not worried about what happened last year, they are focused on them right now. Don't get me wrong, an MIL title would be big for the school, for them - it would justify all the hard work and training they have put in."
Reigning MIL Player of the Year John Eddins was under the weather, but still ran the offense well. He had eight kills and 24 assists. Victor Ragland had 11 kills and six blocks, Lionel Mills had 11 kills and two aces, and Keita Naito had 12 digs.
"There is always room for improvement and that is why the team is doing the things that it is doing," said Eddins. "We are working hard every single day and the sky is the limit and they all know that. From the third string to the first string, we are all working hard."
Baldwin was led by 17 assists and three kills from Justyn Kuhaulua-Feiteira. Gabe Ross had nine kills, Jaryn Kuhaulua-Feiteira had six kills, Tyler Arbogast had six kills and a block, Kyson-Lee Kaiama had 10 digs, Ryan Garces added 12 assists, two kills and a block, and Brad Bowlin had five kills and a block.
Eddins knew the Bears would fight back after the lopsided first set.
"We always want to come out from the first point, our coaches stress that and that is what we did," he said. "We came out, all the boys lifted each other up, positive energy - that is what it does."
Baldwin coach Kalei Houpo tipped his hat to Na Alii.
"They played a hell of a first game, we didn't," Houpo said. "We played well. ... I'm happy with how we played tonight."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com