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Punahou stays perfect in ILH

By Brian McInnis


The celebration lasted for all of about 15 minutes. Then it was back to business for the top-ranked Punahou boys volleyball team.

Punahou rallied for a 21-25, 25-20, 25-19 win over No. 2 Kamehameha last night in front of a packed crowd at Hemmeter Fieldhouse, giving the Buffanblu (10-0) command of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu first round — and a huge leg up on one of two ILH state berths — with four matches to play.

Knocking off visiting Kamehameha (11-1), which was previously unbeaten in ILH play, was big in establishing the league's pecking order. But the Buffanblu players, following coach Rick Tune's lead, tempered their excitement almost immediately after the match.

"We're done (celebrating)," Tune said. "We're looking to (Hawaii Baptist Academy) on Friday, and we got Lanakila Baptist on Thursday. So I don't want to have any disrespect towards them, either ... and AOP next week."

Punahou ends the first round against Mid-Pacific.

It was the Warriors who came out sharp last night. Kamehameha's steady play was enough to claim the first set as Punahou, perhaps still feeling aftereffects of its straight-sets loss to nationally top-ranked Mira Costa on Saturday, inflicted damage on itself with a multitude of errors.

"You know, I guess this team just likes to give me gray hairs," Tune quipped. "Kamehameha played great the first set."

Just as they did against another ILH contender, ‘Iolani, earlier this month, the Buffanblu shook off their early foibles when backed into a corner. Punahou's passing steadily improved, evidenced by senior middle Ben Lam's routine crushing of balls down the middle served up by senior setters Tyler Kubota and Lowell Tong.

Lam had 12 kills and five blocks, while freshman hitter Larry "Tui" Tuileta posted a team-high 13 kills and added two service aces. Kubota and Tong had 18 assists apiece in splitting setters' duty.

"That ‘Iolani match helped us realize that we can lose the first set, but we can fire back in the next two right away," Lam said. "(From then) our setters and passers were amazing ... on target every time. Lowell and Ty were just setting me perfectly."

Kamehameha's go-to offense, swings by Micah Christenson off the fingertips off Elijah Aiona, wasn't enough to keep pace. The Warriors clawed to within 18-17 in the second set, forcing a Buffanblu timeout, and trailed just 21-20 when Christenson slammed a kill off the block. But Punahou got a kill from Sean Gruebner, forced two Kamehameha attack errors then evened the match at a set apiece on a big solo block by Kupono Fey.

Punahou got out to leads of 8-4 and 15-9 in the third set and was content to trade points from there, riding thunderous kills from Lam to a comfortable finish.

The teams split two matches in the Hawaii Boys Volleyball Invitational last month. Warriors coach Kainoa Downing thought his team could respond in its upcoming second-round meeting with the Buffanblu if it could improve its consistency.

"Of course they're always a good team, but we just made too many simple mistakes," Downing said. "We went through different extremes. You've kind of got to stay level. We played level in the first game, but didn't in the second or the third."

Christenson led the Warriors with a match-high 14 kills, while Aiona had 24 assists.

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