POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 02, 2012
When the book is closed on Punahou's 2012 season, one of the more memorable sets will be a largely meaningless one against Mililani in the state semifinals.
After dominating the Trojans in the first two sets Thursday, coach Peter Balding put his reserves in and they closed it out for a 25-13, 25-16, 26-24 win over Mililani to put the Buffanblu in the state title game of the Division I New City Nissan Girls Volleyball State Championships. Punahou plays Kamehameha today at 7 p.m. at the Blaisdell Arena.
DIVISION I VOLLEYBALL: FIFTH-PLACE BRACKETThursday's results
» Moanalua def. Kamehameha-Hawaii 22-25, 25-18, 15-12
» Pearl City def. Kamehameha-Maui 27-26, 15-25, 15-12
"It was a great comeback by Mililani," Balding said. "I saw it as an opportunity to get some kids some playing time and I wanted to honor that and if it meant we were going to lose a game, so be it. My kids deserve to be on the court and they made plays."
Claire Feeley led the Buffanblu with four kills in the final set, and Remo Gaogao matched her with four more. The Trojans forced Balding to call his first timeout when they trimmed the lead to one, 24-23. McKenna Granato hit wide for Punahou to tie it, then Carly Kan hit one off the block for the advantage. Kelly Matthews blasted another kill off the block to end it. Punahou got kills from nine different players off sets from Tayler Higgins, who had 42 assists.
"We always say we can put anyone out there," Kan said. "And we can because we won that set. They were put in a pressure situation and they just kept fighting for it. We believe in every single person."
Samantha Fischer led the comeback for the Trojans, collecting four of her team-high eight kills in the final set. Jordyn Keamo and Kristen Miguel each had two.
It was such a departure from the first two sets, when Punahou played to near perfection.
"Right before, we were talking in the middle that we wanted to come out strong," Kan said. "We knew Mililani was a really tough team and they have proven themselves in the OIA, so we wanted to make sure we were in the right mind-set and just dominate. We were all pretty much in it and there was a pretty good team connection."
Kan, who led all scorers with 10 kills, pounded the first two points of the match uncontested and Marissa Behrens drilled the third to the floor. Punahou led 14-6 after the first rotation and 23-13 after the second, not making its first hitting error until Gaogao went long after 33 points had been scored. It was Punahou's only error in the first set.
Mililani was just as efficient initially, making only three errors in the first set but giving Punahou the middle of the net. The smaller Trojans only had three errors but yielded the net to the Buffanblu and tried to compete with the defending state champions by digging up everything. That's not so easy to do against Punahou.
"I don't think we were shellshocked," Mililani coach Val Crabbe said. "They are just so big and really quick, the only other teams that have been quick for us is Kahuku and Kamehameha-Hawaii, but Punahou is so quick. Their transition is like two steps and for us it is like shuffle-shuffle-shuffle. We knew how good they were."
Punahou ran out to a 9-2 lead in the second set and cruised from there. Mililani cut it to three, 17-14, but Punahou went on an 8-3 run that ended on a kill by Gaogao.
"I like what we are doing, I like the way we are passing and serving," Balding said. "We are moving our feet pretty well and I like that."
The Buffanblu ended Kamehameha's six-year reign as state champion last year and suffered their only loss of the season to the Warriors. Still, Balding had no preference who will show up across the net and his girls echo his teachings.
"We take care of our side of the net," Kan said.