KAHULUI - Dominated in a first set less than 20 hours after getting swept, things couldn't have looked much darker for the Maui High School boys volleyball team on Saturday in their packed and steamy gym.
The Maui Interscholastic League's second berth to the Division I state tournament was on the line, and the Sabers were trying to get there for the first time since 2001, back when Dio Dante dominated the court.
The former University of Hawaii standout would be smiling at the way this year's Sabers battled back for a 15-25, 25-19, 25-21, 22-25, 15-11 victory over Kamehameha Maui in a pressure-packed match that took two hours to finish.
Maui High’s Ryan Dalut prepares to block a shot during the first set of his team’s 15-25, 25-19, 25-21, 22-25, 15-11 win over Kamehameha Maui on Saturday, which gave the Sabers the Maui Interscholastic League’s second spot in the Division I state tournament.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
R.J. Moku of Kamehameha Maui attempts a first-set kill as Maui High’s Jaryn Kuhaulua-Feiteira goes up for a block.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"I believed in these kids all the way," said Maui High coach Philip Velasco, who didn't get the job until one day before practice started this season. "It is just that they were really nervous considering the magnitude of this match. Maui High hasn't been to the state tournament in a long, long time. Great effort by the kids, they played their hearts out. I couldn't be more proud of these guys."
The Sabers (8-7) got 20 kills from Jaryn Kuhaulua-Feiteira and 11 from Kepa Fuentes. Ryan Dalut passed out 35 assists, Sage Malaikini had five kills and two blocks, Mark Calija added five kills and three blocks and Daniel Hermes Da Fonseca chipped in four kills and two blocks.
"Everybody was big, as a team they did everything," Velasco said.
Kuhaulua-Feiteira, a junior, was on two state tournament teams at Baldwin before this season. The Bears dispatched Maui High in a little more than an hour on Friday in the MIL tournament final, wrapping up the league crown.
"This is pretty big for us," Kuhaulua-Feiteira said. "Baldwin, they came hard, so this was all-or-nothing for us this game. We knew we would have to push more and then we really did a great job today."
Kuhaulua-Feiteira said the back-and-forth action Saturday was "a lot of fun. I play club with those (Kamehameha Maui) guys and they really gave 100 percent, maybe even 110 percent."
The state tournament is on Oahu, starting Wednesday.
"We still have to get better for the state tournament, those guys play year-round, so we are really going to have to bring our 'A' game to Oahu," Kuhaulua-Feiteira said. "This is just the beginning for us."
Kamehameha (7-7) got 20 kills and four blocks from senior Kahiau Andrade. Kawelau Yen had seven kills and three aces, and Kolby Ah Sau also had seven kills.
"That's great volleyball," said Warriors coach Robert Brede. "It could have gone either way and I believe that everybody played to their potential. That's all we can ask for."
Maui High, which has seven seniors on its 13-player roster, swept Kamehameha on Wednesday in the semifinal round of the MIL tournament. On Saturday, the Warriors dominated the first set and the Sabers did likewise in the second. The third was tied at 14-14 when a combined block by Da Fonseca and Calija started a 4-0 run that gave Maui High the momentum to finish.
The fourth set was tied 18-18 before Andrade capped a 5-0 run with three straight kills.
In the final set, Maui High rebounded once more to take a 9-4 lead, but the Warriors closed within 13-11 on a kill by Andrade. A kill by Fuentes and a combined block by Calija and Malaikini ended the drama.
"I took over at the last minute," Velasco said. "And considering everything that we went through, just to come and go to the state tournament is just the icing on the cake."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com