OLINDA - The Seabury Hall boys volleyball team has been in the last three Division II state finals, but the Spartans have come up short in their last two tries on the big stage.
Tuesday night at the Erdman Athletic Center, they started the journey in hopes of a return ticket with a convincing 25-14, 25-16, 25-20 sweep of King Kekaulike in the Maui Interscholastic League opener.
Na Alii were unbeaten on the way to winning their first MIL Division I title last season.
The Seabury Hall triple block of (from left) Max DeLyon, Ryan Noufer and Blake Rizzo get a piece of a shot attempt by Kalani Racoma of King Kekaulike in the second set of the Maui Interscholastic League boys volleyball season opener on Tuesday.
The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo
"I think coming into it we didn't set ourselves up for the amount of energy we needed to bring," said Seabury Hall junior outside hitter Blake Rizzo, who finished with a match-high 13 kills. "We kind of came in here a little relaxed and laid back and that just shows us that we need to come into every game, regardless of who we are playing, with full energy and full ambition to do as well as we can."
If the Spartans were not completely ready, it was hard to tell.
They rambled out to 4-0, 12-6, and 16-8 leads before a kill by Makena Jost ended the first set.
The second set was tied at 7-7 before an ace by Max DeLyon gave Seabury Hall a 12-8 advantage, a Cameron King kill made it 21-15 and then Rizzo took command with four resounding kills in five points to end the set.
In the third, Na Alii took a 15-14 lead after eight ties on a block by Linden Janes. A kill by Colton Cowell made it 17-15 Na Alii and a double block by Liam Chan-Hodges and Janes made it 18-16.
Seabury Hall rallied from there, ending the match on a 9-2 run. DeLyon's third ace gave the Spartans match point and his 33rd assist set up Jost for the clincher.
Jost finished with seven kills and King had six. The 6-foot-5 Rizzo showed he will be a force this season with three aces on a deadly jump serve to go along with his prowess at the net.
"I feel all right, I know what I need to work on," Rizzo said. "I figured that out, so I will work on that in the next few practices and hopefully improve my game very soon - my timing especially and getting my arm up."
Rizzo and DeLyon were sharp for the first match of the league season.
"We work very well together," Rizzo said. "I have been a middle the last two years with him and we just have that connection that a setter and a hitter should have, so I'm lucky to have a setter like him."
Rizzo says he now has a chance to show what he has learned playing with the likes of Rocky DeLyon, Max's older brother and fromer MIL All-Star who is now playing for NAIA powerhouse California Baptist.
"I learned my approach and timing from Rocky, which is very helpful," Rizzo said. "I have learned a lot from coach Scottie (Zucco) playing beach, just the knowledge of the game."
Zucco, Seabury Hall's longtime girls volleyball coach, was on the Kekaulike bench Tuesday an assistant. Kekaulike had been without a coach until Zucco and head coach Scott Sniffen swooped in to start practice just last Wednesday.
Both of the MIL championship teams returned just two starters. Seabury Hall participated in a preseason tournament and jamboree while Kekaulike looked for a coaching staff. Na Alii also lost two-time MIL Player of the Year John Eddins, a setter, to graduation.
Cowell had six kills and Lionel Mills added five to lead Na Alii.
"It was our first match, so we just wanted to see how we are doing," Sniffen said. "One thing we are struggling with is setter, but I'm impressed with what the boys did."
Seabury Hall coach Caleb Palmer knows King Kekaulike will get better as the season continues.
"They are young, just like us, trying to find their way and figure things out," Palmer said. "First game of the season, so we are all just trying to make some plays and come out with a victory."
There is unfinished business for the Spartans, Rizzo said.
"It would mean a lot to get to states again this year," he said. "It would mean even more to get there my senior year, so right now we are focused on doing the best we can."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org