Kealakehe and Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino faced off in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation volleyball contest Wednesday night at Ellison Onizuka Gymnasium. As expected, the Waveriders easily defeated Na Io in three sets, 25-13, 25-12, 25-7.
With the win, Kealakehe improved to 2-0 on the young season.
For Ehunuikaimalino, the scoreboard was not the primary focus.
Wednesday’s contest was Ehunuikaimalino’s school debut in boys volleyball and its first in a team sport outside of paddling. Ehunuikaimalino, which has a high school enrollment of around 75 students and a kindergarten through 12th-grade total of 213, also became the first Hawaiian immersion school in the state to participate in an indoor sport.
“The boys had a lot of fun. The reason we formed the team in the first place is because we are a small school and wanted to build on the camaraderie between the boys,” said Ehunuikaimalino head coach Kensy Apaka. “We wanted to have something for our kids to look forward to. The real reward of all this was hearing the boys say how much they enjoyed just being out there.”
In its first set ever, Na Io took a 2-0 lead on two scores by freshman Ikaika Chapa, to the delight of the small, but committed fan base who showed up to support the team at Konawaena’s Onizuka Gym, where Ehunuikaimalino plays its home games.
“I think everyone was surprised,” Apaka joked of his team’s early lead.
The shocked Waveriders recovered after the initial deficit, riding their experience to win the set 25-13.
Ehunuikaimalino started the second set with a similar effort, racing out to a 4-2 lead and leaving the Kealakehe players with puzzled looks on their faces. However, the Waveriders recovered swiftly, winning the set 25-12, and then taking the final set convincingly for the victory.
“Anything can happen,” said Kealakehe head coach Kahinu Lee. “The boys got a little lazy and started standing around. After that, I told them to come out and play hard, whether they are a first-year program or any other team. Play hard and do what you are supposed to do.
“It was a good learning experience for our boys. They had to learn to battle against a lot of things they will not normally see.”
There were plenty of mistakes for Ehunuikaimalino — stray serves, miscommunication and rookie blunders — but Apaka was not discouraged by his team’s effort against the Waveriders.
“Our numbers limit the number of high school sports we can have,” Apaka said. “The majority of these boys have never played volleyball in their lives, but in this game they had fun, tried their hardest and represented well.”
While inexperienced, Na Io showed off raw talent and athleticism on many occasions, headlined by reigning BIIF Division II Defensive Player of the Year Makoa Chapa, who plays for Konawaena during the football season.
“Konawaena has been gracious enough that we can let out kids play sports with their teams, but the boys really wanted to form this team to represent the school,” Apaka said. ”We do have athletes. We have kids who participate in soccer, football, paddling and other sports. It’s just taking those skills and molding them to work on the volleyball court.”
For Ehunuikaimalino, having athletic teams available for students is essential for the school’s future growth.
“A lot of our kids leave us when they get to ninth grade because of lack of electives and sports. We cannot offer all the extracurricular things other schools can offer,” said Ehunuikaimalino principal Healoha Paulino, who was in the crowd for Wednesday’s matchup. “Our vision is that we can begin to offer more sports like this to the kids and as the years go build more of our own teams.”
Because Ehunuikaimalino serves students from Waikoloa to Ocean View, carpooling situations make it difficult to assemble full teams for practice.
The team also has to deal with not having its own facilities. Currently, Na Io practices at the Konawaena Intermediate playground court — a court that is outdoors and a net that is not regulation size.
“The kids have a lot of obstacles,” Paulino said. “They have to sacrifice a lot and it is a big commitment to be a part of this team.”
Despite the loss, Apaka left the court optimistic about his squad’s efforts and ready to take the experience into the team’s second game at Honokaa Friday.
“We know there will be matches lost, but hopefully we can win a few,” Apaka said. “The most important part is the relationship the boys grow with their peers.”
Paulino echoed Apaka’s thoughts.
“Anytime our kids can have a great time like this, we are all for it. It’s really fun to be in the crowd and watch it and it was a family affair for all of us.”
Kealakehe head coach Kahinu Lee is also dealing with a maiden voyage type of season. Lee started at Kealakehe when the school opened, but has spent the last decade running Konawaena’s volleyball programs.
“This season has been a learning experience for me as well as the boys,” Lee said. “I played against these boys but never coached them until this year. We are learning how to get along, what things work and what don’t, and what we can accomplish as a team.”
Kealakehe will face its toughest test of the season on the road against defending Division I champion Waiakea Friday.