• Paul Honda-Hawaii Prep World

The most dangerous 5th-place team in history


The room was still.

The room was frantic.

The room was insanely loud.

No matter what Moanalua did, Kahuku had an answer. And before long, as Moanalua scratched and clawed from behind, Kahuku put an end to Na Menehune’s season with an incredible 25-23, 20-25, 25-22, 21-25, 15-11 win.

An astounding quarterfinal victory by a team that finished fifth in its league. Beating a league champion. Advancing to the final four. Perhaps it’s only in Hawaii that this happens, more so between two teams from the same league this early in a state championship tournament.

On this night, it didn’t matter who Kahuku played. The Lady Raiders played their best match of the season. Five losses, five major lessons learned. Moanalua hadn’t lost a match all through the regular season and playoffs. So we have a conundrum, perhaps, as Kahuku prepares to face defending champion ‘Iolani in the semifinal round of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Girls Volleyball State Championships tonight.

>> Overflow and abundance

The OIA fills six spots in the 12-team Division I volleyball state tournament.

The league has been opposed to expanding from eight teams to 12 before. In fact, then-executive director Dwight Toyama talked openly about his preference for shrinking the field in boys sports like football and basketball. Some of it was about quality control, really. And being more practical. And giving more meaning to the state tourney by focusing more on league champions.

If that scenario had played out, if applied to girls sports, Kahuku as the OIA 5 would not have qualified in an eight-team state field.

Therein lies the rub, of course. Girls sports, participation numbers, all leagues want more and more. Not just to satisfy Title IX, but because there is a need. Female student-athletes have higher grade-point averages than boys in just about every study done, and athletics helps women achieve higher self-esteem on the whole. The studies are right.

But, in at least one boys sport, the OIA pulled out of Division I participation. The upcoming state football tournament has fewer teams mainly because the OIA reduced its entries into Open and D-II tiers. The downsizing affected other leagues, and now the tourney has 12 teams now instead of 20. There may be a lot of fans who don’t like seeing fewer OIA teams in a state tourney, but it’s also strange to have three out of the four Open Division football teams come from one league. That’s the formula, at least this year.

It’s unavoidable in these brackets when a league has half of the state’s teams. The other extreme would be one league, one champion, one representative. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

>> Familiarity

Normally, teams from the same league that meet in the state tourney have faced each other multiple times already. In football, St. Francis and Damien are playing tonight for the ILH D-II title. They’ve already played THREE TIMES. However, for Kahuku and Moanalua, there was one meeting during the regular season, a maxed-out three-set win by Moanalua. They didn’t meet in the playoffs.

Still, Kahuku learned much from the close loss to Moanalua and morphed. No matter what the situation is at state-tourney time, it is almost always preferable to face a new opponent. And preferably from another league.

>> Energy

The Red Raiders journeyed from 35 miles away to see their volleyball team. They did more than spectate. They were, as always, a force of nature, at least 150 classmates and alumni and parents and siblings and tutus screaming and chanting from start to finish. Was that a factor in the match? Absolutely. On a scale of 0 to 10, the volume and support for Kahuku in Moanalua’s gym was somewhere between a 9 and 10. For Moanalua? Their fans were supportive in a nice way, and with far less volume. Something around a 5 or 6.

No matter how great a team is, let alone high school players, that kind of intensity in a gym carries over to the court. Moanalua played its heart out, but momentum felt like it was with Big Red almost all night.

Whatever the environment, the game is the game. Kahuku looked and felt like something special on Thursday night. No big cameras. No large arena. Just an immaculate high school gym and the loudest, most spirited fans cheering on a team of destiny. The drive home was sweet. For one more day, Kahuku’s dream lives on.

When the doors open at McKinley Student Council Gymnasium for Red Raiders versus Raiders — Kahuku-‘Iolani — the early start time (5 p.m.) might have an effect on Kahuku’s fan attendance. The room will be still for awhile. Check back and maybe it will become insanely loud again. Never has a fifth-place team reached the state finals. You never know.

The most dangerous 5th-place team in history


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