The best time to knock out a five-time defending state champion is as early as possible.
The ‘Iolani Raiders had No. 1 Kamehameha on the ropes with a balanced attack led by setter Loxley Keala and a powerful wall that included Haley Robinson. In the end, though, the visiting Warriors were unflustered and efficient in a 25-20, 25-13 sweep yesterday of No. 5 ‘Iolani.
Misty Ma’a led Kamehameha (4-0) with seven kills despite ‘Iolani’s superb defensive effort. Middle blocker Talia Jardin-Fermentez added six kills without a hitting error, plus three blocks.
"They keyed on Misty, so it came down to making adjustments," coach Chris Blake said.
Setters Kelci Renshaw (17 assists) and Alohi Robins-Hardy (five assists) also distributed the ball to Brit Kalepa (six kills) and Nicole Sniffen (four kills), as the Warriors proved far too cohesive for the talented, but inexperienced Raiders.
" ‘Iolani brought it. We always expect everybody’s best match," Blake said. "This is the first time we’ve seen them. They’ve got a talented setter and athletic middle blocker. They’re very young."
Robinson finished with two kills, three blocks and an ace for ‘Iolani (2-1), while Keala tallied seven assists. Kamehameha’s blockers consistently challenged ‘Iolani outside hitters Sara Watanabe and Eesha Chun-Dela Cruz, limiting them to a combined three kills.
With several starters back from last year’s squad, the Warriors never lost poise despite falling behind in the opening set. One constant in the comeback was the back-row play of liberos Chelsey Keoho and Kalehua Katagiri.
"We have good overall intensity," Jardin-Fermentez said. "We finished well against Punahou (in the state final last year). Now we know how to do this. We practice hard every day. Our goal is to get progressively better until our last match is our best."
The first set could have unnerved Kamehameha. A block by Keala and a string of unforced errors by the visitors helped the Raiders seize a 10-5 lead before Blake called time out.
The Warriors chipped away, but Robinson helped her team regain momentum with big roofs. A kill by Chun-Dela Cruz gave ‘Iolani a 16-13 lead.
From there, Kamehameha tied it at 17-all, 18-all and 19-all before taking a 20-19 lead on a kill by Kalepa off a feed from Robins-Hardy.
Another block by Robinson brought ‘Iolani within 21-20, but Ma’a came up with a block of Chun-Dela Cruz and followed it with a spike from the right side for a three-point lead.
A tip for a kill by Kalepa and a net violation by the Raiders closed out the first set.
Robinson’s kill and ace gave the Raiders a boost early in the second game, but Kamehameha went on a 5-0 run. A block by Sniffen and an ace by Keoho gave the Warriors a 9-4 lead.
‘Iolani was within 14-11 on a roll shot by Watanabe, but the Warriors ruled the rest of the way.
It was only fitting for a team that closes pre-match warm-ups with a simple cheer: "Dominate!"
Kamehameha hit .393 in the match, including just four hitting errors, plus four aces to go with five service errors.
‘Iolani finished with a .128 hitting percentage with two aces and five service errors.
While Renshaw provided a steady influence, the freshman, Robins-Hardy, glided across the floor effortlessly.
"She gives us more. She can get to more balls," Blake said. "It’s a team concept and everybody is going to contribute."