Kahuku hands Moanalua first loss in five-set thriller
The Red Raiders celebrate after beating Na Menehune in five sets. Pete Caldwell | SL
SALT LAKE — ShaLi Niu did a little bit of everything Thursday night. The 6-foot-1 senior lefty recorded a triple-double and was one of four players in double-digit kills to lift unseeded Kahuku to a thrilling upset of second-seeded Moanalua in five sets in a quarterfinal round match of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Division I Girls Volleyball State Championships. The set scores were 25-23, 20-25, 25-22, 21-25 and 15-11. The Red Raiders (12-5) knocked Na Menehune (14-1) from the unbeaten ranks to advance to Friday's semifinals, where they will meet defending state champion Iolani at 5 p.m. at McKinley's Student Council Gymnasium. Kahuku, which finished third in the Eastern Division of the Oahu Interscholastic Association and fifth in the league tournament — which Moanalua won just last week — avenged a regular-season loss to the Menes back on Sept. 19. "It feels good, it definitely feels good. We struggled all year, came in fifth in the OIA, but the beauty of it is, like we said last year, ‘It's not how you start, but how we finish,' and that's kind of what we're riding off of right now," Red Raiders coach Mounia Tachibana said. Niu, one of six seniors for Kahuku, split her time between setter and hitter while playing in all six rotations. She posted 11 kills and 12 digs with 22 assists, and also was in on three blocks. Niu also had one of her team's 10 service aces. "I think it just came down to who wanted it," Niu said. "We were really excited for this game, especially after losing to them earlier in the season and finding out they won the OIA championship, it just motivated us to play against them and win." Outside hitters Katelyn Erickson and Ana Kemoeatu put down 15 and 13 kills, respectively, and the latter also notched four digs and four aces, while middle hitter Lauolive Tonga posted 13 kills, 10 digs, four block assists and two aces. "We depend on a lot on our outsides — Kate and Ana — and especially when Live Tonga comes into the middle, I try to use her as much as I can because she's very diverse," Niu said. "She can run around to the 3 and to the side and she won't get tired, so I like to use her." Keaupunilani Kamakeeaina also contributed 25 assists, 10 digs and two aces for the Red Raiders, who have won four straight matches — including a five-set win over Hilo on the Big Island in Monday's first round. "I think the girls are hungry for it and nothing's pretty — whatever we're doing on our side, it ain't pretty — we gave some sets away, we gave a lot of points away due to a lot of errors, but our consistency has been that we've been struggling all year together," Tachibana said. "We have fun together, we make good points, good things together, so consistency is we were together." After the teams split the first two sets, Kahuku used an 8-0 run midway through game 3 to turn a 15-9 deficit into a 17-16 lead. Moanalua tied it at 22 after a Kahuku service error, but the Red Raiders scored the final three points of the set — on a pair of Na Menehune hitting errors sandwiched around a net violation — to pull back ahead, two games to one. The teams exchanged runs early in game 4, which was tied as late as 21-21 following a kill from Erickson on the left side. However, Moanalua closed it out with a 4-0 run that included a couple of blocks by Jeslyn Spencer and Delylah Sanerivi to once again even the match. Game 5, however, saw the Menes commit three errors off the bat, which they were never able to recover from. Kamakeeaina connected with Erickson on the left side, then Penina Matau in the middle on back-to-back kills that gave the Red Raiders a 10-5 lead and forced a timeout by Moanalua. Na Menehune consequently went on a 5-1 run that was capped by a Sara Ehnstrom kill off a back set from Emily Dulaney to cut the deficit to 11-9, but Kahuku answered with thunderous kills from Tonga and Kemoeatu to stretch their lead back to four. Spencer then found the seam for her game-high 19th kill of the night, but her next attack sailed long to give Kahuku match point. After the Red Raiders returned the favor with an out serve, Niu went to Tonga in the middle to end the match. "It was a great game. Kahuku came to fight," Moanalua coach Alan Cabanting said. "Number eight (Tonga), she's so good. We struggled being able to contain her. Like I've been saying every year, it's going to be about the serve and pass. This time around they were able to serve more balls so that they could set (Tonga), because when they can get her into the offense, it's just really, really difficult to be able to stop her." In its huddle between sets 4 and 5, the Red Raiders were visibly dejected, but they did not let them deter them from a hot start in the deciding game. "To me it came from our seniors," Niu said. "Our seniors did not want to end their season like that here, so it just came down to who wanted it more and I'm glad we came out with the win." Niu had a handful of kills come on the second touch. Time after time the southpaw caught Moanalua's blockers off guard with well-timed dump shots. "They went with a 4-2 lineup and so they had that front row setter dumping or setting the ball and it was difficult for us to make that adjustment," said Cabanting, whose team had a first-round bye Monday. "We're used to being hit at hard and so when you hit at us, we're able to dig balls, we're able to make plays, but when you start throwing things that's unorthodox, it took us a little while to adjust and by the time we figured it out it was too late for us to do anything, but Kahuku played well." Libero Serenity Mamizuka, who spent the regular season with Kahuku's white division (developmental) team before being promoted to the varsity, finished with a match-high 25 digs and Skyy Botelho added 17 digs in the win. The last time the teams met, Moanalua came away with a three-set win over Kahuku — but was a far different Red Raider team. "I think just have more experience now," Tachibana said. "We've had a lot more practice and a lot more time together, and just playing together. In the beginning of the season I said we were a young team, we were a new team and a lot of these girls weren't returning from last year." Moanalua's senior duo of Ehnstrom (13 kills, 13 digs, 21 assists, 3 block assists) and Dulaney (11 kills, 11 digs, 25 assists, two block assists) each had a triple-double, while libero Hula Crisostomo led the way defensively with 23 digs. "They fought really hard, they battled from the first point all the way to the end," Cabanting said of his team. "These girls, they just didn't give up, they didn't relent. Even when their backs were against the wall, they continued to fight, they continued to give it their all and so losing like this, batting all the way through, that's the most you can ask of the girls, but Kahuku played well. They switched it up, they changed it up a little and we struggled being able to adjust to it." Moanalua will host third-seeded Kamehameha-Maui — which lost to Iolani in straight sets — in a 6:30 p.m. consolation match Friday.