Sabers fall to Trojans in state opening round

Jon Aunese of Maui High School hits against Mililani’s Nathaniel Johnson in the second set of the Sabers’ four-set loss to the Trojans in a state tournament first-round match Monday. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

KAHULUI — The Maui High School boys volleyball team ran out of magic in the Izumi “Shine” Matsui Athletic Center on Monday.

The Sabers were facing Mililani in the first round of the New City Nissan Division I state tournament, a postseason appearance the Sabers were making for the first time in five seasons.

After losing the first two sets, they cranked out one more set before falling, 25-17, 25-20, 19-25, 25-17.

“They were a tough opponent, but at least we tried,” Maui High senior frontliner Jon Aunese said. “We showed them how Maui High was, what we got. For Mililani, they are tough opponents and we respect them for giving us a good match.”

The respect was mutual.

Maui High’s Julius Benavidez tries to block Mililani’s Chance Guillermo in the second set Monday.

“It feels good to come out to an outer island and get to see what the competition is like on the other islands, so that was really nice,” Mililani coach Trenton Niino said. “I told the boys: ‘We’re here for business, it is not a vacation. We’re not here for Krispy Kreme, we’re not here for guri-guri ice cream. We’re here to play a game, win and get off.’

“Hats off, man. They are a great program. They’re scrappy. They gave us a good fight.”

The Trojans (11-3) get No. 1 seed and 10-time defending state champion Punahou next.

“That’s just the way the chips fell, you know?” Niino said. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall. That’s the mentality we’re going in with.”

The Sabers rolled out to a 20-12 lead in the third set before the Trojans rolled off three straight points. Maui High finally put the set away on a kill by Julius Benavidez.

The Sabers’ Rexie Butihi hits against the Trojans’ Alrick Boncato.

Mililani bounced out to a 7-3 lead in the fourth set, prompting a timeout from Sabers coach Kenny Houpo.

The lead grew to 13-5 before a sideout, two straight aces by Ryan Piano, a Trojans error and a kill by Benavidez brought Maui High within 13-10.

A dink by Mililani’s Nathaniel Johnson, who finished with a match-high 19 kills, and an ace by Chance Guillermo pushed the lead to 16-10.

Rexie Butihi slammed home a kill and Trent Takara had a block to bring the Sabers within 20-16, but they would not get any closer.

“Coming into the match we didn’t know what Maui High looked like at all,” Niino said. “I just told the kids, ‘Do what you gotta do, play your game’ and that’s it, taking care of business.”

The Sabers (8-8) climbed into the state tournament with five-set wins last Monday and Wednesday over Lahainaluna, wrapped around a five-set loss to MIL champion Kamehameha Maui.

Benavidez finished with 13 kills, Aunese had seven kills and setter Denniel Carreon dished out 26 assists and had 13 digs.

Maui High senior outside hitter Chey Higashiguchi sprained his ankle at practice on Friday and watched the match from the bench on crutches.

“That was a big killer right there,” Houpo said. “We had to find other guys to step up. Any team coming from Honolulu, they’re going to be tough and now the boys know. We can tell them all we want, but until they actually play against them … now they know.”

* Robert Collias is at

New city Nissan Boys Volleyball Division I State Championship

Monday’s Results

First round

Kamehameha Hawaii def. Waianae 25-27, 25-22, 25-23, 23-25, 18-16

Mililani def. Maui High 25-17, 25-20, 19-25, 25-17

Waipahu def. Kaiser 25-23, 26-24, 21-25, 18-25, 16-14

Iolani def. Kapolei 25-17, 25-9, 25-21

Thursday’s Matches


At Moanalua

No. 4 Kealakehe vs. Waipahu, 5 p.m.

No. 1 Punahou vs. Mililani, 7 p.m.

At McKinley

No. 3 Kamehameha Maui vs. Iolani, 5 p.m.

No. 2 Moanalua vs. Kamehameha Hawaii, 7 p.m.

Friday’s Matches

Fifth-place semifinals • At McKinley

Moanalua-Kamehameha Hawaii loser vs. Kamehameha Maui-Iolani loser, 5 p.m.

Punahou-Mililani loser vs. Kealakehe-Waipahu loser, 6:30 p.m.

Semifinals • At Moanalua

Moanalua-Kamehameha Hawaii winner vs. Kamehameha Maui-Iolani winner, 5 p.m.

Punahou-Mililani winner vs. Kealakehe-Waipahu winner, 7 p.m.

Saturday’s Matches

At Blaisdell Arena

Fifth-place match, 12:30 p.m.

Third-place match, 3:30 p.m.

Championship, 7 p.m.

Division II Boys Volleyball State Championship

Thursday’s Matches

At Kalani

No. 2 St. Francis vs. Konawaena, 5 p.m.

No. 3 Molokai vs. Kalani, 7 p.m.

At St. Francis

No. 4 Hawaii Prep vs. Pearl City, 5 p.m.

No. 1 Kapaa vs. University, 7 p.m.

Friday’s Matches

Consolation semifinals • At Kalani

Kapaa-University loser vs. Hawaii Prep-Pearl City loser, 5 p.m.

St. Francis-Konawaena loser vs. Molokai-Kalani loser, 7 p.m.

Semifinals • At St. Francis

Kapaa-University winner vs. Hawaii Prep-Pearl City winner, 5 p.m.

St. Francis-Konawaena winner vs. Molokai-Kalani winner, 7 p.m.

Saturday’s Matches

At Blaisdell Arena

Fifth-place match, 11 a.m.

Third-place match, 2 p.m.

Championship, 5 p.m.