After it was finally over on Saturday night, optimism filled Evan Enriques’ heart, similar to 2012 when Kamehameha couldn’t take down Punahou — the giant that takes everyone’s best shot and repels it.
The Buffanblu, taller and better balanced, beat the Warriors 25-21, 25-19, 23-25, 25-16 in the finale, again, at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I volleyball state tournament at Blaisdell Arena.
Enriques, a 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter, capped his career at states with a monster performance with 28 kills and 19 digs. He was named the Most Outstanding Player. He was the only Warrior on the All-Tournament team.
However, junior libero Kekaulike Alameda has a strong case for a recount. The 5-6 scrambling Warrior finished with a match-high 27 digs, providing a breather for Enriques, who’ll play libero at Stanford. He’s the primary passer, and most teams follow the same blueprint to pick on someone else to serve.
Their production wasn’t enough to overcome the Buffanblu (13-0), who have pocketed the last three state titles. They had three players on the All-Tournament team: senior hitter Larry Tuileta (16 kills, 22 digs), junior hitter Michael Maa (20 kills, 25 digs) and senior middle blocker Daniel Andrews (10 kills, five blocks).
“Punahou was pretty relentless. We’ve got one cannon in Evan and they’ve got two in Maa and Tuileta,” Kamehameha coach Guy Enriques said. “They’re a bigger team and it was difficult to key on one guy. Their ball-control was solid. Their serve-receive was solid. We really couldn’t run our middle because we lost the serve-receive part of the game. When you don’t win at serve-receive, it’s going to be a battle.”
It was an all-too-familiar scenario for the Warriors, who in 2012 faced the same opponents, and exactly in the same order: Kamehameha-Kapalama in the quarterfinals, Moanalua in the semifinals and Punahou in the state championship with the same results.
Back then as a sophomore, Enriques tore apart Punahou’s block with 42 kills and posted 12 digs in a five-set marathon loss. He was named the Most Outstanding Player, and setter Daniel Aina Jr. made the All-Tournament team.
That year, the Buffanblu landed four players on the All-Tournament team, including Tuileta, who’ll walk on to the USC football and volleyball teams. Like Enriques, a good friend from club volleyball, the strongest part of Tuileta’s game is not hitting, but passing.
Most of his 22 digs stopped Enriques from recording a higher kill total. And almost every single dig led to an on-the-money pass to setter Wil Stanley, who spread the ball and stretched Kamehameha’s block.
When the two teams collide with a state crown on the line, the powerhouse from the Interscholastic League of Honolulu always brings better depth. The Buffanblu also win out in the height department, too, and that helps big-time with the block.
Andrews is 6-8 and mobile, a double whammy for the Warriors. The other middle is 6-4 Akahi Troske; Maa and Tuileta are both 6-3, taller than all of Kamehameha’s starters. No surprise, the Buffanblu outblocked the Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion Warriors 12.5 to 8.
However, size wasn’t the biggest difference. It was firepower. Punahou hit .255 and hammered 60 kills from all spots on the floor. Kamehameha had a .148 hitting clip and registered just 42 kills, with Enriques accounting for 64 percent of the offense, the definition of a predictable attack.
Enriques took 77 swings, committed seven errors, and had a .260 hitting percentage. But his stats don’t really paint a complete picture. His intangibles separate him from others, even though he’s the tallest on his team, and shorter than most of the Buffanblu.
Game 3 pretty much highlighted Enriques’ value. He smashed 11 kills in the set, and showed his hitting savvy to give his team a 24-23 lead. When the Warriors desperately needed a point, he delivered.
A triple block went up on his first attack, and the ball bounced back. Enriques took another swing, but realizing Punahou was consistently digging his roll shot, he cut the ball around the block, and found the floor.
That was similar to a pitcher bending a curveball around the plate and catching a strike on the corner. Not everyone can do it. Enriques has all the shots, the technical skill to execute each one, and the floor vision to know what works best.
Next year, the Warriors (15-1), depending on one’s perspective, will either be a similar team with all of the starters back, except for Enriques, or very different because of his loss.
His brother, 6-foot junior Emmett Enriques (four kills, eight digs), will be promoted to L1, the designated first option at left-side hitter. The Enriques freshmen twins, Avery and Addie, will return as the setters.
Junior middle blockers Hanale Lee Loy (one kill, one block) and Alapaki Iaea (one kill, four blocks), and sophomore hitter Isaiah Laeha (six kills, there digs) round out Kamehameha’s youthful lineup.
“I think we’ll have a good shot next year. We’ll see how the kids perform in the offseason,” Guy Enriques said. “They’ll have to answer the question: How good are they? Or were they riding on Evan’s arm. But I think we have potential.”
Much like his brother, when Emmett is presented with a challenge he’ll look to knock it out of the park.
“We’ll have motivation for next year,” he said. “People think our team was only Evan. We have the ability to raise our game.”
Sometimes, the most priceless memory is not the finish line, but the journey. That’s what Evan Enriques holds in his heart, and a large dose of optimism.
“We’ve spent so much time together, four months to get here,” he said. “What I’ll remember most is playing for the team. I have faith that they’ll do good without me.
“I woke up on Saturday morning, realizing it would be the last game I’d play for Kamehameha. I’ve had a good run. We played a great match and made everybody proud.”