The self doubt was gone and the moment was theirs for the taking.
Third-ranked Kamehameha jumped on the back of senior hitter Micah Christenson and rode his 28 kills all the way to Hilo in a 25-16, 19-25, 25-23, 25-15 defeat of No. 2 ‘Iolani last night, giving the Warriors the Interscholastic League of Honolulu’s second and final state berth with the playoff win at Kapalama Heights.
One of the two deserving, senior-laden teams was going to walk out of Kekuhaupio Gym disappointed, and the USC-bound Christenson had no intention of letting Kamehameha (17-3 ILH) be that group. The 6-foot-5 star put down 10 kills in the fourth and deciding frame to emphatically send the Raiders packing.
"We didn’t want to let up at all, because ‘Iolani’s a very capable team," Christenson said. "I was feeling good in the fourth. I mean, I told our setter (Elijah Aiona) just distribute, but I’m here if you need me."
They did, and he delivered, putting the ball down from all angles and avenues.
After the teams took turns dominating the other in the first two games, the Warriors took the pivotal third game on a dump shot by Aiona as the home crowd exploded. It allowed the hosts to play free and loose instead of tightening up as they did in a four-set loss at ‘Iolani (16-4) last Saturday.
With ILH champ Punahou ready and waiting for next week’s state tournament, Kamehameha had to first overcome its season-long inferiority complex before it could join the Buffanblu.
First-year Kamehameha coach Kainoa Downing said he backed off during timeouts for the first time all season and let the players seize the moment on their own, with Christenson taking a leadership role.
"I think in the third game, these kids finally believed in themselves," Downing said. "I think for us, it’s what’s going to turn the end of our year. They didn’t believe in themselves, that’s why we did so bad in that second game.
"I think they finally understood what they can do."
Besides Christenson, five other Warriors posted four or more kills, including Aiona, who had 42 assists. Savili Bartley and Daylan Chock each got in on six blocks for Kamehameha.
‘Iolani came close to punching its ticket, but became the odd team out among the ILH’s Big Three. Coach Mike Among couldn’t find fault in his team’s effort. Nine seniors played their last match for him.
"Real proud of my guys, they fought to the end, stuck together ’til the end," Among said. "Kamehameha just made more plays than us. Excellent match, I think. We stuck with them as much as we could all the way, and they just had that extra separation at the end there."
The Raiders hung with the Warriors for the first half of Game 4, pulling to within 13-11 on a block. But Kamehameha used a 12-4 run to close it out, with Christenson absolutely annihilating the ball down the middle for the Warriors’ second-to-last point.
Senior hitter Logan Nowack led ‘Iolani with 16 kills, while junior Gabriel Vega added 11 and senior Colin Tseng seven.
The playoff happened because ‘Iolani finished in second place during the second round of ILH play, while Kamehameha was third. Their positions were swapped in the first round.