Micah Christenson slams home 22 kills, propelling the Warriors past Punahou for the state volleyball title
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 15, 2011
KEAAU, Hawaii » Belief can be a powerful thing.
Kamehameha drove home that point with a rousing defeat of top-seeded rival Punahou, 25-23, 25-20, 25-23 yesterday in the Division I title game of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Boys Volleyball State Championships at Keaau High School.
Tournament most outstanding player Micah Christenson put together a masterpiece in his finale as an outside hitter and added a volleyball title to his basketball hardware as a senior. USC's future setter had 22 kills and no errors on .500 hitting with three blocks.
"I think it was our confidence and just believing in each other," Christenson said. "I think that was huge for us. We came together as a team this year and we won this game as a team. I think that's what got it done."
Kamehameha won its fifth state title in the sport and first since 2002. Punahou was denied a three-peat, its sixth title in seven years and its 30th championship overall.
The Warriors (21-3) were unseeded, but calling last night's outcome an upset would be a stretch. The Interscholastic League of Honolulu runners-up played at an otherworldly level the whole way in winning four matches in four days and never dropping a set; Kamehameha swept a previously undefeated league champion for the third night in a row.
After losing to the Buffanblu in the state final both of the previous two years, the Warriors proved themselves cured of persistent self-doubt on the biggest stage. Not even two losses to Punahou (21-1) in the ILH regular season could shake them this time.
By the end of the season, the Warriors were unshakeable in big moments as first-year coach Kainoa Downing often took a hands-off approach and let his players delegate.
Downing took a final timeout after Punahou fought off a first match point, with Kamehameha still leading 24-23. The coach stood far off to the side, a slight smile on his face, while the Warriors went to business in a tight huddle.
Out of the timeout, senior setter Elijah Aiona (36 assists, four blocks) set Christenson one last time, and the lanky 6-foot-6 hitter punished the ball from the 3-meter line off the Punahou block and down. The Warriors mobbed each other on the court, while a largely pro-Kamehameha crowd stood and cheered.
Daylan Chock added eight kills and eight assists, while middle Cullen Mosher had five kills and five blocks for the Warriors.
"I truly believed in them, and they believed in themselves," a tearful Downing said. "That's been the key for these kids. ... It's the duty of the coach to make them understand that they are good players."
"We knew it was there, but we never tapped into it," Aiona said. "When we were down (22-21 in Game 3) we didn't panic."
Punahou middle blocker Ben Lam did everything he could to keep the Buffanblu in it. He had a team-high 15 kills on .571 hitting, and future centerpiece Tui Tuileta added 14, but they couldn't overcome the Warriors' superior serve/pass game.
"You gotta give them all the credit in the world, they played an outstanding game," said Punahou coach Rick Tune, who stood and clapped as the new champs received their trophy. "Honestly, they were the better team tonight. My congratulations to them, they had a heck of a year. We played our hearts out ... but they earned this."
"All great things come to an end," Punahou senior setter Tyler Kubota said. "Everything (they did) jumps out. Micah himself had an outstanding game ... and the rest of the team just played up to his level. I saw him really leading that team. He carried them from start to finish."
Christenson put down nine kills in a tightly played Game 1, but it was unheralded opposite Rhett Kane who put down the deciding point of the frame after Punahou fought off two game points.
The Warriors allowed no respite for the Buffanblu in Game 2, seizing control with a 7-1 run halfway through. After Punahou's late lead in Game 3, Kamehameha used a 4-1 spurt to close out the match.