PUKALANI - In a season full of five-set matches, the King Kekau-like High School volleyball team went the distance once again in an important win over Maui High.
Tuesday night's 2-hour, 4-minute victory - 18-25, 25-11, 25-20, 23-25, 16-14 at Na Alii's gym in front of about 200 fans - was the fifth straight for King Kekaulike, which took further control of second place in the Maui Interscholastic League Division I race.
Next up for Na Alii is unbeaten Kamehameha Maui on Thursday night at Kaulaheanuiokamoku Gym. The eight-time defending MIL D-I champions can clinch the regular-season title and a state-tournament berth with a victory.
King Kekaulike High School’s (from right) Caitlyn Cole and Zoe Del Conte-Napolitano put up a block against Maui High’s Michelle Weckwerth during the first set of Na Alii’s 18-25, 25-11, 25-20, 23-25, 16-14 victory over the Sabers on Tuesday in Pukalani.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
A loss by King Kekaulike (6-3) on Tuesday would have given the Warriors the regular-season title, but Na Alii senior outside hitter Taylor Fernandez made sure that didn't happen. She finished with 27 kills, 10 digs and five aces.
Na Alii played their third straight five-setter against the Sabers (4-5), and fifth of the MIL season overall.
"It is really close between us, Maui High and Baldwin," said Fernandez, an MIL All-Star last season who is considering the University of Hawaii-Hilo to continue her career.
|King Kekaulike||6||3||.667||2 1/2|
|Maui High||4||5||.444||4 1/2|
|Maui Prep||0||8||.000||6 1/2|
King Kekaulike def. Maui High 18-25, 25-11, 25-20, 23-25, 16-14
Baldwin def. Lahainaluna 25-11, 25-17, 25-8
St. Anthony vs. Maui Prep at Wailuku Gym, 6 p.m.
King Kekaulike at Kamehameha Maui, 6 p.m.
Lahainaluna at Maui High, 6 p.m.
Hana at Lanai, 7 p.m.
Seabury Hall at Molokai, 7 p.m.
"But I like it personally and we all like the challenge. It is just more motivation for us to push more. Our team we can push pretty hard."
After the first two sets were split with relative ease on each side of the net, the match heated up.
Fernandez's kill gave Na Alii a 16-11 lead in the third set and Pua Borden slammed home a kill to make the score 20-13 before the Sabers ripped off five straight kills. Kalia Aguera, who finished with five kills and two aces, had a nifty roll-shot kill that started a 3-0 run to end the set.
In the fourth set, Maui High bounded out to an 8-2 lead before King Kekaulike rallied to go in front 17-13 on a bump kill over all of the Sabers by Hiilei Mahuka-Kihewa, who finished with seven kills and an ace. Borden, who totaled six kills and a block, gave Na Alii a 22-18 lead with a kill.
Libero Kayla Uyesugi had 15 digs for King Kekaulike, most of them down the stretch as the teams traded long rallies. Jenna Mauliola added five kills and an ace.
The Sabers scored the last seven points of the fourth set - Christina Lotulelei and Toa Tongi each had a pair of kills in the run.
Sulieti Hifo was key for the Sabers all night as she tried to match Fernandez. The sophomore finished with 15 kills, six digs and two aces. Mele Eno-moto had 31 assists and two blocks, Kuulei Wasserman had 10 digs, seven kills and two blocks, Tongi had five kills, Michelle Weckwerth had four blocks and Lotulelei finished with eight digs.
In the fifth set, it was back-and-forth again. Back-to-back kills by Fernandez gave King Kekaulike a six-point lead and Mahuka-Kihewa stretched the advantage to 10-3 with a kill. Aguera appeared to put things out of reach with a kill to give Na Alii a 12-5 lead, but the Sabers rode five straight serving points by Zeida Roberts to close to 13-12.
Maui High fought off two match points on back-to-back kills by Hifo to tie it at 14-14, but Fernandez finally ended things with her last two kills.
The long nights are a test for King Kekaulike coach Kapeka Vares, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant with her second child. Her son Lawai'a, 2, checks on his mother during matches when he is not walking around the gym with his grandfather.
"It's always fortunate to play that last set because it is to 15, so there are less errors, and it really tests you," Vares said. "It shows who wants it more. Tonight I couldn't determine who wanted it more because it was pretty even. Maui High really battled us. I'm trying not to stress too much. I like to keep it balanced to show the girls, 'You know what? If I'm OK then you should be OK.' "
The MIL tournament begins in two weeks.
"I don't want to wait for the league tournament," said Maui High coach Lena Quilantang, whose team fell into a third-place tie with Baldwin. "I want to see the progress now so we are ready for the tournament. It doesn't matter who we play because we are all going to have to come with our games. We are just getting stronger and stronger - this team might surprise some people."
* Robert Collias is a firstname.lastname@example.org