Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Punahou captures ILH title

By Paul Honda


Tayler Higgins doesn't know the word complain.

The sophomore certainly knows patience. Higgins came off the bench for four blocks and Tai Manu-Olevao had four roofs to go with 10 kills as Punahou outlasted Kamehameha 25-22, 18-25, 25-23, 16-25, 15-13 last night to win the Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship.

Punahou won its second ILH title in a row, handing Kamehameha its second loss in as many matches. For coach Peter Balding, it was a first as girls volleyball coach.

"She stuffed game point in game 3," Balding said of Higgins. "She played awesome. She got to a lot of balls and got a lot of positive results. She's a consummate team player. She's been waiting for an opportunity and took full advantage of her opportunity. She was a huge difference for us today. Huge."

Balding saw a great duel between Manu-Olevao and Kamehameha's Misty Ma'a.

"We just decided that it was time to discipline ourselves and block somebody," said Manu-Olevao, a junior who has committed to play for UH.

"She blocked real well. She got blocks at key times," Balding said. "But you know, you gotta take it with a grain of salt because Misty got Tai a couple of times earlier in the match. It came out kind of even in terms of two warriors battling, but the timing was fortuitous for us."

Punahou outblocked Kamehameha 13-8 in the last three games thanks in part to Higgins, who saw playing time due to senior Shannan McCready's lingering injury problem.

Carly Kan, a sophomore, led the second-ranked Buffanblu with 16 kills and senior Ali Santi delivered 41 assists.

"We play for each other. We don't really pay attention to the crowd," Kan said of winning in the home of the dynastic Warriors.

Middle Brigitte Russo added eight kills, while Brittney Markwith chipped in with four.

The Buffanblu surprised the Warriors on Saturday to win the second-round title and force last night's winner-take-all match.

"It was a great team effort for us, top-to-bottom. You know, hat's off to Punahou for their effort. They deserved to win. They played well," Kamehameha coach Chris Blake said.

It was grit city for the blue-collar Buffanblu, who trailed 19-12 in the third set only to rally for the win.

"It was set 3," Blake said. "Not rolling through and closing the door."

In the final set, they were down 11-9 after Ma'a fueled the Warriors with two of her match-high 18 kills. An ace by McCready tied it at 11, and then Manu-Olevao brought her best defense of the night with back-to-back blocks of Ma'a on the right side.

Ma'a answered with a crosscourt kill from the right, but Manu-Olevao hammered her final kill to give Punahou a 14-12 lead. A Punahou hitting error allowed the Warriors to close within 14-13, bringing most of the 1,000 fans at Kekuhaupi'o Gym to their feet.

After a time out, Kamehameha's Faith Maafala, who had three aces, sent her try into the net, and Punahou celebrated another ILH title.

Punahou (18-2) will likely secure the top seed in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championships, which begin Wednesday on Maui.

Kamehameha (18-2) will be unseeded and, by far, the most dangerous team to open play on Wednesday. Last year, the Warriors were unseeded and went on to claim their fifth consecutive state championship.

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