Dragons clinch state D-II tournament berth

LAHAINA – When the Hana High School girls volleyball team got a taste of the Division II state tournament last season, the Dragons decided they wanted more.

They clinched that chance with a 25-18, 25-21, 25-19 sweep of longtime nemesis Molokai in the semifinals of the Maui Interscholastic League D-II tournament at the Lahainaluna Gym on Thursday.

“We just worked together, staying together is what makes our team,” senior outside hitter Shalen-Brae Hoopai said. “It feels really good, no words to describe it.”

Her father and coach, Louis Hoopai, said the Dragons gave him some nervous moments when the Farmers rallied from 18-7 down in the third set and got within 23-19 – two kills by Hana’s Brandy Lecker-Tolentino finished the hour-long match.

The Dragons will play top-seeded Seabury Hall in the tournament final today at 5 p.m. at the Lunas’ gym. The Spartans defeated Lanai 25-6, 25-11, 25-21 in Thursday’s other semifinal.

“No way we expected to sweep (Molokai),” Louis Hoopai said. “Their defense is tough. Maybe they only have one or two good hitters on the team, but their defense is unreal.”

Shalen-Brae Hoopai said the competition in the MIL – Seabury Hall is the defending state runner-up and ranked eighth in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser top-10 overall poll this season – has made the entire league better.

“I think it brought us together more as a team,” Shalen-Brae Hoopai said. “Coaching and practice made us better, but playing tough teams is good for us. We just had to work hard tonight.”

Lecker-Tolentino led the Dragons (8-3) with five kills and Jayna Hoopai and Rachel-Lee Scott each had four kills. Precious Helekahi finished with 10 assists and Scott added five aces.

The Dragons and Farmers (9-4) split regular-season matches on the Friendly Isle, but Hana grabbed the important second seed for the tournament based on sets won head-to-head, 4-3.

“We were just trying to spread out our hitters because they were putting up a good block, so we wanted to stretch out our hitter so we could hit the seams,” Louis Hoopai said. “I was worried in that third set, it looked like they were coming back. I could not put in my second string, (the Farmers) are too tough.

“At this point, you have got to go hard or go home.”

Louis Hoopai agreed that the entire MIL Division II has been tough this season. He pointed to St. Anthony taking Lanai to five sets on Wednesday and Maui Preparatory battling Molokai.

“I think so, I’m pretty sure everybody is better,” he said. “Seabury, they have got trees over there and that is a well-rounded team. To put up a fight against them, I think we have a chance also.”

Molokai fell short of the state tournament for the second year in a row. The Farmers are the only MIL girls team to ever win a state crown, in 2010.

“Hana came out to play, they really showed up,” Molokai coach Mahealani Rawlins said. “We are much better than how we played tonight. We had one of our key players who took a family vacation to Disneyland – one week out and it showed.”

The Farmers got nine kills from Taylor Keliihoomalu, four kills apiece from Rebecka Adolpho and Taylor Tamanaha, four digs apiece from Kelsie Espiritu-Tanabe and Caylee Ledesma, and 17 assists from Shaniah Mollena-Lopez.

“I’m pretty sure both Hana and Seabury will do well, represent the MIL well at state,” Rawlins said.

With Seabury on the horizon, Hoopai said, “We have got to serve tough and stretch out their blockers, try to hit our seams. Same thing as tonight.”

* Robert Collias is at