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Maui Prep wins on opening night at new Bozich Center

A bronze sculpture of the school mascot pueo is featured outside Maui Preparatory Academy’s Bozich Center. Wednesday night’s volleyball match between MPA and St. Anthony was the first girls MIL competition in the new building. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

NAPILI– Tessa Chin closed her eyes and took a deep breath before serving the ball during the fifth set of the opening girls volleyball match for Maui Preparatory Academy.

“I basically was telling myself to focus and not look at the scoreboard because I knew that the second I did, I was going to start freaking out,” said Chin, who ended up with an ace to gain the winning point for Na Pueo’s 25-10, 25-18, 19-25, 22-25, 15-12 victory over St. Anthony in the new Bozich Center in Napili.

The players were full of energy and excitement Wednesday night during the close opening match for the Maui Interscholastic League Division II girls volleyball teams.

Even more so, Na Pueo (1-0) were able to officially compete for the first time in their new home gym, which includes the main court, digital scoreboards, stage area, changing rooms, administrative offices, and dance studio. It was the first girls MIL event of any kind in the new building.

“It’s mostly hype for having a big team and a big gym and all this new stuff we can appreciate,” said Chin, who looks forward to the day when the bleachers can be filled with family and friends. “Especially having our first match in here and winning– Maui Prep is an amazing school, we have amazing athletics, but this was something else.”

Maui Prep’s Hailey Walpole hits a second-set shot against the block of St. Anthony’s Aaliyah Myrick (left) and Natalie Petty.

Ryan Kirkham, MPA high school principal and girls volleyball coach, said Tuesday before the match that the Bozich Center is an “absolute godsend for our school.”

When the school’s doors opened in 2005, the concept of a gym would come up, but plans were never solidified.

“So the fact that we actually have a gym that we can go and practice in after school, it puts a smile on our faces every time we walk in there and that we have this amazing little facility that we’re able to call our own,” Kirkham said.

Only one MIL boys basketball game was held in the facility back in February 2020, prior to the COVD-19 shutdown.

“We had enough done where we were able to have approval to host an MIL game that night, then of course COVID happened a month later,” Kirkham said. “That’s the only time that we’ve really had it open for fans was that one basketball game back in 2020.”

Maui Prep's Bozich Center hosted MIL volleyball Wednesday.

Multiple planned “grand openings” of the gym were then canceled throughout the pandemic, too.

A couple club basketball and volleyball tournaments were held in the Bozich Center in the past year, with no spectators, as a way to get seniors one last opportunity for playing time, he said.

Coaches are still keeping their “fingers crossed” for news of allowing fans in the stands.

In the meantime, Maui Prep and St. Anthony on Wednesday night had just a little taste of what the sports camaraderie and environment at the Bozich Center could be like in the future as the MIL ramps back up.

Screams and cheers between teammates filled the gym as the Trojans (0-1) made a comeback after being down two sets and forced a fifth set.

Maui Prep players (foreground) and St. Anthony players wave before the start of play.

“We really fought hard and fought back with trying to overcome the sweep in the beginning,” St. Anthony coach Kalani Souza said. “Our team showed a lot of fight. It was a great match in this beautiful gym right here.”

This was St. Anthony’s first time playing on an actual court in a long time.

“We practice outside in the grass, so we’ve never been in a gym before today, so this and me being a first year coach for these girls, it shows a lot,” Souza said.

Before their match, Kirkham told The Maui News on Tuesday afternoon that there’s a “great deal of nervousness and apprehension” among Na Pueo’s squad, where some of the players are relatively new to the sport of volleyball.

“I told them in our post-game meeting that the coaching staff are just so proud of them, not that they won a match, but we’re proud of them for the way they handled adversity tonight,” he said Wednesday. “They battled back. This is a really new team. They were experiencing the natural highs and lows of volleyball.”

Chin finished the match with 11 aces. Teammates Avery Kirkham had 10 aces, Lacie Leon made four digs, while Margaux Perchard and Lacie Leon added five kills each.

St. Anthony did not keep statistics.

“This is a new season and we’ve only had limited time to work on certain things, but the things we worked on in practice, we saw tonight,” Kirkham said. “That team unity and energy, so much fun to watch.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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