The deficit kept getting deeper for Konawaena, which didn’t seem worried at all, trailing 17-9 in the fourth game of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II volleyball semifinals.
Then Courtney Kaupu switched the momentum with a crosscourt kill, the Wildcats stopped Hawaii Prep’s 10-point run, and Konawaena won in four games on Friday at Kealakehe, securing a berth in the Division II state tournament.
Kaupu pounded 11 kills, while freshman Chanelle Molina ripped 13 kills to lift Konawaena past Ka Makani 19-25, 25-23, 25-21, 28-26, earning a chance to win the school’s first BIIF championship since 1998 when there weren’t statewide classifications.
“I’m really happy, especially since it’s my freshman year,” Molina said. “I’ve improved since the other games. Each game, I build my confidence, and that makes me a better player.”
In the other semifinal, Ka‘u swept St. Joseph 25-16, 25-19, 25-19.
The No. 2 seed Wildcats (13-4) will meet No. 1 seed Ka‘u (15-2) at 5:30 p.m. today at Konawaena High’s gym for the BIIF title.
The No. 3 seed Ka Makani (12-5) will play No. 4 seed St. Joe (10-7) at 4 p.m. today for the league’s third spot to the Division II state tournament, which will be held Tuesday-Friday on Oahu.
The fourth-game rally didn’t surprise Konawaena coach Amy Dunston at all. In fact, she pointed out that her team prepared for the same situation the day before in practice.
“Mental toughness is what won us that game,” she said. “We practiced that we were down 15-7. We brought the boys team to practice against us, and we rallied to win. I told the team we have to do today what we did yesterday. They’re all so tough. That’s why we won.”
Konawaena sophomore Kaela Avanilla added eight kills, and junior middle blocker Rayne Izumi-Baltero had six kills, showing additional firepower from its young guns.
That was enough offense to offset HPA’s trio of hitters. Gabbie Ewing, a sophomore, had 22 kills, while junior Tiana Reynolds added 15 kills, and freshman McKenna Ventura had nine kills, including six in the fourth game.
“The things we practiced we did very well, like blocking and basically defense,” HPA coach Sharon Peterson said. “I wanted to see us put up a better defense against their offense. We had a good fight but didn’t win. I’m happy with how we performed. I’m hoping we can take what we did into (today’s) match.”
Kaupu smashed five kills in the fourth game, and Avanilla and Izumi-Baltero had four apiece.
Molina carried the load in the second and third games, hammering four kills in each game for the Wildcats, who beat HPA in five games at Ellison Onizuka Gym at home during the regular season.
It’s always a friendly battle between the teams because several players are on the Hoopa Hawaii Volleyball Club team, including Ewing, Ventura, Molina, Avanill and Konawaena setter Makani Wall.
“We’re the only club in West Hawaii,” said Dunston, also a coach for Hoopa. “We play year-round — that’s what keeps the girls strong. The more you play, the better you get.”
Molina is about 5 feet 4, and Avanilla may be a centimeter shorter. But they play much bigger than their size, taking huge rips at the ball. But Dunston likes their technical skill and toughness as well.
“They’re such good, sound players,” she said. “They have that drive to play hard and play well. They have that inner strength to work it out and play hard. They’ve got a desire to win.”
In the first game, Konawaena’s ball-control was a bit shaky. HPA’s last four points went this way: hitting error, ball-handling error, hitting error and ace by Reynolds.
Then, the Wildcats kept playing better and better.
“It was a spectacular game,” Avanilla said. “We worked together and were talking. We’re like one big happy family. Both teams wanted it. But smart play, power and working together as a team made the difference for us.”