PUKALANI -Taylor Fernandez realized it was time to take matters into her own hands.
Her King Kekaulike High School girls volleyball team had surrendered a two-set lead against Baldwin at Na Alii's gym in the Maui Interscholastic League opener Tuesday night, but seven kills by Fernandez - including a resounding pounder on match point - led a Na Alii landslide in the final set of a 25-14, 25-20, 12-25, 23-25, 15-8 win.
"We were just a little bit worried, but I think we all had faith in each other," said Fernandez, a senior and two-time MIL All-Star at outside hitter. "We knew we would pull it through in the end."
First Photo: King Kekaulike High School’s Ui Javier-Kepani keeps her eye on the ball in front of Piikea Dudoit during the first set of Na Alii’s 25-14, 25-20, 12-25, 23-25, 15-8 win over Baldwin on Tuesday in Pukalani.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER?photo
As of late, the two teams have battled for state-tournament spots behind eight-time defending MIL Division I champion Kamehameha Maui - Baldwin went last year, King Kekaulike in 2010. They each knew this opener was large, and Fernandez saved her best for when it counted most.
"I think after a while the thought of their win just kind of motivated all of us," Fernandez said. "So when my teammates play better, their vibe comes to me and then I just feel a little bit better. I think we kind of took it for granted and just relaxed a little bit more. We kind of fixed that after our coach talked to us. We got our intensity back after that."
The message that King Kekaulike coach Kapeka Vares had for her team was simple.
MIL Girls Volleyball
King Kekaulike def. Baldwin 25-14, 25-20, 12-25, 23-25, 15-8
Maui Prep vs. St. Anthony at Lahaina Civic Center, 6 p.m.
St. Anthony at Maui High, 6 p.m.
Kamehameha Maui at King Kekaulike, 6 p.m.
"She said we better pick it up because this is our house and they shouldn't be taking this win from us," Fernandez said. "This is our house and that definitely motivated all of us."
Fernandez's first kill in the final set made the score 2-0, and her second gave Na Alii a 4-2 lead. After Baldwin got within 7-6, she started demanding the sets.
Ui Javier-Kepani pushed the lead to 8-6 with a dink, and Fernandez followed with back-to-back kills, then finished things with three more in the last four points.
"Baldwin came back with those two sets and I'm glad they did, it was a good battle," Vares said. "Both teams did
really, really great. This is just the first round of three."
Vares knew where she wanted to go in the final set.
"Taylor just needed some one-on-one talking," the coach said. "She came up big down the stretch tonight."
While Kamehameha appears to be the favorite once again - the Warriors' 54-match league winning streak, an MIL volleyball record, was snapped by Baldwin in the league tournament last season - Fernandez said her team isn't going to concede anything.
"Kamehameha is always the team to beat and we are accepting the challenge," she said. "We are excited to play them and we can't wait."
The first meetings of the year between the Warriors and Na Alii are on the next two Thursdays, both at King Kekaulike.
Gabriela Cordoba had nine kills and nine digs for the Bears, Pelemarie Buika had eight assists and seven kills, Olivia Wallace had six kills and two aces, Taylor Badois had four kills and three blocks, Karissa Kalehuawehe had 12 assists and Meakalia Stout had 10 digs.
"This group is different, we lost a bunch of girls to transfers and whatever, so we have three captains - we have to get them going," Baldwin coach Kauila Houpo said of Buika, Stout and Badois. "We have had them since their freshman year, so they should understand what needs to happen. They are three quiet girls, so we're working on making them more vocal."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org