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Warriors outlast Sabers in 5 as MIL competition finally returns

Kamehameha Schools Maui’s Haylee Pruse sets a ball in front of Haven De Silva in the second set Saturday night during the teams’ MIL opener at Shine Matsui Athletic Center. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAHULUI — The scene inside the Izumi “Shine” Matsui Athletic Center on Saturday night made it clear this was no ordinary Maui Interscholastic League girls volleyball opener.

The players from Kamehameha Schools Maui and host Maui High all had a little extra pep in their steps as they warmed up, although the smiles were covered by face masks when they were on the court.

The Warriors won the 2 1/2-hour match in five sets, 18-25, 25-21, 23-25, 25-18, 15-12. It was one of two MIL Division I matches on the first day of competition in the league since the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down on March 13, 2020.

“We were supposed to be the head coach last year, but we’ve been waiting patiently,” first-year Kamehameha Maui head coach Evan Jenkins said. “It’s amazing. I think everyone’s nerves are even more because we just haven’t been on the court. We didn’t have a season to get to know a lot of the players. The juniors are first time on varsity, and others who are on varsity, it’s been two years. So, I told them it’s getting the flow and working on being together on the court.

“We’ve been practicing for about a week and so it’s kind of just throwing it out there, but just super happy to see the teams (playing). Maui (High), thank you for a great game, just keeping it lively, and looking forward to the rest of the season.”

The Warriors’ Mahie Dean hits a second-set ball Saturday night

The Sabers came out blazing, scoring seven straight points in the first set after losing the first point of the night.

From there, the match was back and forth all night. Kamehameha battled back from a set down twice and the fifth set was tied at 11-11 before the Warriors pulled out the match.

“Oh my gosh, the last time I played was freshman year, so it’s just been so long — and to have a game like this, five-setter, and they are such a really good team,” said Kamehameha Maui’s Mahie Dean, a junior opposite hitter. “Our team has just been really amazing, the new coach, everybody is just working well together, and being back on the court and playing again has just been so much fun.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions on spectators, the only people in the gym were varsity players and coaches, junior varsity players for each team, administrators and athletic trainers for each, one referee, three officials at the scoring table, one student videographer from each school, and two members of the media.

Hiilei Fuqua, a junior middle blocker for the Warriors, said playing without fans was a little weird, but she was just thankful to be back on the court, especially after practice for the 2021 season was halted on Aug. 4 by the state Department of Education decree that all players, coaches and volunteers must be vaccinated for COVID-19 or have an approved medical or religious exemption.

Maui High players celebrate a first-set point Saturday night.

“It felt amazing, just to be with the team and have so much fun,” Fuqua said. “Like, we’ve been training so hard, so to see it pay off was really nice.”

The match was live streamed on YouTube with 150 to 190 viewers checking in throughout most of the contest, according to Maui High officials.

“I know that my family was watching and it’s really nice that they are doing stuff like that because everybody’s parents want to watch,” Fuqua said. “It’s nice that they are keeping it safe and being able to watch from home, the players are safe, the coaches are safe and everybody else.”

The Sabers were led by Teiva Miller, a senior outside hitter who was collecting kills from all over the floor all night long. Neither team kept statistics, but Miller was dominant.

“It felt so good, especially this game — that was like the most rallies we’ve ever gotten and that was like the best game we’ve ever played,” Miller said. “It was so fun.”

Photos take the place of fans in the stands at Shine Matsui Athletic Center.

“We pushed hard and this is only the beginning, it’s only the first game, so I think we’re going to go up from there,” she added. “I’m excited for the season.”

Maui High head coach Kenny Houpo declined comment after the match — he received a yellow card late in the contest.

Kealohilani DeNisi, a junior middle blocker for the Sabers, was also a key member of their attack that nearly pulled out a rare victory over the perennial MIL powerhouse Warriors.

“It feels amazing, 2019 I played JV, so it’s a whole new experience and I loved it, that was one of the most fun games I’ve ever played,” DeNisi said. “Even from club, it’s not the same. I just love this school spirit and energy when we go out there and we’re all cheering.”

DeNisi noted that family on the Mainland were tuned into the match that finished after 8:30 p.m. HST.

Kamehameha Maui’s Jaqui Brandon defends a first-set shot by the Sabers’ Makena Reis-Schranz.

“Oh, I love it even though there’s no fans. I don’t think that’s too important just because it’s all about the game,” DeNisi said. “All my family, even my family on the Mainland, they were all watching it.”

In the other MIL match Saturday night, Baldwin swept Lahainaluna 25-13, 25-14, 25-15 in Lahaina.

Lilinoe Paschoal had 18 assists, four kills and two service aces for the Bears, while Ariana Naipo had seven kills, two aces and a block. Amanda Naipo added six kills and two aces, and Monique Pante had nine digs and three aces.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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