Kohala is a much better volleyball team with Hana Caravalho in the lineup, relying on the 6-foot middle blocker to be a force at the net, and providing a glue that makes each rotation stronger.
He had other functions to attend during spring break and the Cowboys lost Big Island Interscholastic Federation games to Honokaa and Keaau without the athletic junior.
Since then, the Cowboys have found the team chemistry that propelled them into the four-team BIIF Division II playoffs.
No. 4 seed Kohala (5-7) plays No. 1 Honokaa (7-4) at 2:30 p.m. today at Kealakehe. In the other semifinal, it’s No. 2 Hawaii Preparatory Academy (6-5) vs. No. 3 Ka‘u (5-6) at 4 p.m.
In the BIIF Division I semifinals, it’s No. 1 Kamehameha (11-0) vs. No. 4 Kealakehe (6-5) at 5:30 p.m. and No. 2 Waiakea (10-1) vs. No. 3 Hilo (9-2) at 7 p.m.
As the BIIF regular-season champions, Honokaa and Kamehameha have already secured spots at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
If the Cowboys lose, their season is over. If they win, they play in the BIIF championship for a berth to the Division II state tourney.
The Cowboys defeated Pahoa in five sets to force a playoff tiebreaker game. On Monday at home, Kohala swept the Daggers, the defending BIIF champion.
“We were pretty determined to get that game at Pahoa and force a tiebreaker,” Kohala first-year coach Rodney Goya said. “It’s important for us to stay focused in the playoffs. We’re happy where we’re at.”
Caravalho and senior setter Trenton Lorenzo-Akamu are the returning starters. The outside hitters are a pair of seniors, Pono Giron-Arellano and Mark Edwards. They provide most of the offensive firepower and cranked double-digit kills Monday night.
The other two starting spots are filled by rookies: senior opposite Justice Lewis-Matsu and junior middle Felipe Ruvalcaba. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise with Caravalho out of the lineup.
“When Hana was missing, it gave the inexperienced players a chance to step up, and when Hana came back they had to find out who they were as a team,” Goya said. “The biggest thing is to create unity. … It’s a unique sport because you can’t rely on only one person, like in basketball for someone to go to the hoop and score. You need at least three people, to pass, set and hit.”
Ka‘u has often been the odd man out.
Last year, the Trojans finished as the league’s No. 3 team and had a state play-in game with Campbell, but lost in five sets.
Ka‘u last reached states in 2005, the first year of statewide classification. Before that, the Trojans made school history with their first state trip in 2002 and returned the next season.
During the regular season, Ka‘u hosted and swept HPA. A repeat gets the Trojans into the BIIF championship and a state berth if Honokaa eliminates Kohala.
“With their coach, Sharon Peterson, I know she’ll prepare for our team and we have to be prepared also,” Ka‘u coach Josh Ortega said. “I’ve known Noah Schenk (HPA’s top outside hitter) since he first started playing volleyball. … He’s a person we need to focus on. For our team, we have to be mentally prepared, get into it, and give it our all.”
Junior outside hitter Kai Enriques has carried the Trojans, who feature two other junior starters in setter Brian Gascon and hitter Anthony Emmsley-Ah Yee. Three seniors round out the lineup: setter Lehre Vidal and middles Larry-Dan Al-Navarro and Chance Emmsley-Ah Yee.
“Kai has been doing pretty good for us, attacking from the back row, serving. He’s versatile,” Ortega said. “Against HPA, he did a good job. Our kids play a lot of sports. We had four on the baseball team, and sometimes we’d have practice with three players. It’s our first week we’ve had our entire team every single practice. That’s kind of how our season went.”