Kahuku downs Mililani to capture 13th OIA title

CJ Caraang / SL

Someone put out a red alert, the title is coming back to the North Shore.

Kahuku swept Mililani, 25-15, 25-15, 25-17 in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I championship match to capture its 13th overall league crown Thursday night at McKinley's Student Council Gymnasium.

The Red Raiders, the top-seeded team from the OIA Eastern Division, have not lost a set this season as they improved to 14-0 and claimed their first OIA title since 2012. They also handed the Trojans (12-1) their first loss of the season.

Kahuku made the OIA championship game last year, but was swept by Moanalua in the process. The lost fueled the Red Raiders coming into this season as senior middle Phoebe Grace said it was a memory that this year's seniors wanted to forget.

"When we started up against this year, we really wanted to push and we just had a better focus and a better mindset," she said.

Senior setter ShaRae Niu echoed Grace's sentiments.

"This means a lot, especially since what happened last year, and for the past couple years we haven't won an OIA championship so this is good and it feels great for all the hard work that we put in during the season."

Second-year Kahuku coach Mounia Tachibana said she didn't even realize that her team didn't drop a set yet until hearing about it from some of the announcers during warmups.

CJ Caraang / SL

"We just really focused on our side and focused on what we got to do," she said. "We always reflect on our goals, always set new goals, set higher goals and have higher expectations. As coaches we can only do so much, but the ones that are really playing are the ones on the court."

The Red Raiders returned 10 players from last year's team that made it to the Division I state semifinals. Tachibana said the biggest difference between last season and the current one was the mental aspect of the game.

"It was a good sacrificial year because it got our heads ready for this year, especially with most of my girls being juniors and younger," she said. "It was good for them to realize late in the year that they could have done better than they should have."

Grace, a 6-foot-2 University of Utah-commit, set the tone early as she had two kills and had a hand on a block for the first three points of the match. Her third kill of the night gave Kahuku a 6-0 lead in set one and forced Mililani to call timeout.

"Phoebe Grace is an awesome middle, and that's why she's a Utah-commit," said Niu, who had 26 assists. "She's very mobile and she can move around so it's good for us."

With Grace commanding so much attention, doors started to open for the Red Raiders. A wide variety of attacks from the outside, right side and back row kept the Trojans off balanced for the entire night.

"Our coaches always tells us to establish the middle and Phoebe does a good job at establishing herself, so it's easy for everyone to get one-one-ones," said Niu.

The end result was five Kahuku players finishing with five kills or more. Grace had eight kills, four blocks and an ace while junior opposite ShaLi Niu had eight kills, three blocks and three aces to lead the way. The younger Niu also had back-to-back service aces to close out the match in the third set.

Carey Williams had six kills while Cheyenne Teo and junior Laulove Tonga each had five more to round out the Red Raiders' attack. Teo and Williams also helped stabilize the back row with 11 and nine kills respectively.

"I think that just shows how much our team wanted it, because usually there's only one person that has that much, but I think since it was OIA, our coach just kept telling us that you have to leave it all on the court because you'll never have this chance again," said Grace.

The Trojans, the top-seeded team from the West, had no answers for Kahuku's attack.

"You have to give it up to them, they've been going at it and in the preseason that started getting it together early," said Mililani coach Val Crabbe.

Senior middle Katie Asbery and senior outside hitter Ashley Pawlak led the Trojans in the loss with seven and six kills respectively.