It wasn’t too long ago that Waiakea was a powerhouse in Big Island Interscholastic Federation girls volleyball, relying on defense and ball-control to consistently beat taller or harder-hitting teams.
The Warriors last won consecutive BIIF titles in 2008 and ’09 when Chelsey Buyuan shined as a defensive back-row wizard, who happened to double as a versatile shot-making outside hitting threat.
The road to the BIIF championship still runs through Kamehameha, the four-time defending champion, which returns a bulk of its firepower, including seniors Kaiulani Ahuna, Zoe Leonard and Harley Woolsey.
However, for the first time in a while, the second spot to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state tournament is wide open.
That’s because of all the league’s Division I teams (Kamehameha, Hilo, Kealakehe, Keaau and Waiakea), the Vikings took the biggest graduation hit, losing four senior starters.
Hilo has been to states the past three seasons. Waiakea last qualified in 2010. That’s the musical chairs spotlight to watch for the BIIF season, which starts Aug. 26.
For a sneak preview, there’s the second annual Waiakea Invitational. But the old rivals don’t meet in the first round, maybe only in pool play, which runs Friday.
Drawing on her philosophy that defense is the key to an offense’s engine, second-year Waiakea coach Ashley Hanohano touts her back-row people.
“Kayla Kahauolopua is a very talented freshman,” she said. “We’ve got another defensive specialist freshman in Jordyn Hayashi. Casi Gacusana, a junior, moved up from the junior varsity. Our younger girls have been very impressive.
“We’ve got a great group of girls. They’re mentally, physically tough. They’ve got the team mentality and positive attitude. That’s what we look for. We’ll have a great defensive team this year.”
That’s nice, but people don’t pay a lot of dough to watch LeBron James play defense. NBA fans love to see offensive highlights, same thing with BIIF volleyball.
“I don’t know who’ll give us offense right now,” Hanohano said. “Defense comes first and offense will fall into place. We’ll have a big block from our middles, and a big block on the wings. Everyone is 5 feet 8 and above.”
Hanohano doesn’t need to detail what Kadara Marshall, a 5-9 junior middle, can do. When the athletic Warrior jumps and flashes her arm swing, her actions speak louder than words.
Monique Apuakehau, a 5-9 senior, will hold down the other middle spot. She and Marshall received All-BIIF honorable mention last season.
Alison Fuata, a 5-9 senior, will take swings at outside hitter. Like Marshall, she played soccer at Waiakea, but didn’t play volleyball last year.
Fuata, who previously played volleyball at St. Joseph, can pound balls. As a sophomore, she got honorable mention in 2011 in a talent-packed year. Eight players signed to play college ball, including player of the year and Ka‘u middle Marley Strand-Nicolaisen at University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Senior Kylee Ancheta and sophomore Taniah Ayap will see time at setter. Hiilei Ishii-Chaves, a 5-10 junior, will attack from the right side, and juniors Cierra Toledo-Muragin and Lindsey Maikui and senior Tiani Teanio will take swings at outside hitter.
Ayap, Ishii-Chaves and Maikui also received All-BIIF honorable mention last season.
“I love defense, and I’ve always believed that defense wins games,” said Hanohano. “But offense definitely sells tickets.”
Well then, BIIF fans are in for a treat because three of the league’s top shot-making outside hitters will be in the tournament: Kamehameha’s Ahuna, known for her package of shots; Konawaena junior Chanelle Molina, blessed with an abundance of athleticism and determination; and Hawaii Preparatory Academy senior Gabbie Ewing, whose soccer-skill court vision translates to her versatile hitting.