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Kahuku outlasts Kamehameha to win volleyball invitational

The Kahuku girls volleyball team celebrates after defeating Kamehameha in the Hawaii Girls Volleyball Invitational championship final. Peter Caldwell | SL

KAPALAMA HEIGHTS — The Kahuku girls volleyball team put the rest of the state on red alert Saturday afternoon.

The Red Raiders defeated defending state champion Kamehameha in a three-set thriller to take top honors in the 13th annual Hawaii Girls Volleyball Invitational at Kekuhaupio Gymnasium. Set scores were 25-23, 21-25 and 25-22.

With 10 players returning from last year's state semifinal team, Kahuku has the pieces in place to push for a title this season.

"It was really exciting to play the number one team in the state," said Kahuku coach Mounia Tachibana. "We do have a lot of players on our team that are returning, and I think they're just ready. It's a different mentality and environment for our team this year."

The Red Raiders showed off their strength and depth in the win over Kamehameha. Carey Williams led Kahuku with 11 kills, seven digs and two aces while middle Phoebe Grace held down the front line with seven kills and five total blocks (one solo) in the victory. Katelyn Erickson added six kills and setter ShaRae Niu had 23 assists with three kills and three aces.

"That's kind of what we've been working on in practices," Tachibana said on her team's balanced attack. "We just want to make sure that if somebody is off, we can have the whole team playing as a team and less as individuals. A lot of the girls, especially at this age group, are going to have their good and bad days, but it's a team sport."

For Kamehameha, the tournament was a chance to get valuable playing experience against high-caliber teams before the start of the regular season.

"We've barely been together for a little over a week so the tournament put us into a lot of tough positions that allow us to grow and get better, and Kahuku definitely did that for us" said Kamehameha coach Chris Blake. "I'm proud of the way our girls responded. Seeing them and looking at their disappointment — their expectation of success for these guys is to want togged better, and I think they definitely did that."

Kayla Afoa had a match-high 13 kills with seven digs and two aces to lead the Warriors. Kili Robins added nine kills, Tymane Talanoa had seven and Braelyn Akana chipped in five more to round out the Warriors' kill leaders. Sophomore setter Lexis Akeo had 27 assists and libero Kyra Hanawahine had 11 digs and six aces, both of which were match-highs.

Grace dominated the first set for Kahuku with five kills and three total blocks coming in the opening frame. The 6-foot-2 middle blocker's performance helped negate a handful of service errors by the Red Raiders.

Kamehameha stormed back in the second period with a 7-1 run that was led by Hanawahine's serving. Kahuku clawed back but the early lead helped propel the Warriors into a third and final set.

The last stanza of the afternoon was a back-and-forth contest, but who pulled away late to take the match.

"I think the girls did very well at sticking together as a team and just playing the mental game more with themselves, and challenging themselves to just be better," said Tachibana.

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