KEALAKEKUA — After dropping their first set of the BIIF regular season, the Kealakehe Waveriders stepped on the throttle to pull off a four-set road victory over cross-town rival Konawaena on Wednesday.
The win improved Kealakehe’s record to a perfect 6-0, putting them in a tie with Kamehameha-Hawaii for first place in Division I. The Wildcats fell to 3-3 on the season after suffering their third straight loss, which included a five-set defeat to Makua Lani and a three-set loss to Hawaii Preparatory Academy. Konawaena is currently tied for third in Division II.
Kealakehe’s more impressive wins this season include the win against the Wildcats and a straight-set victory over Hawaii Prep earlier in the year.
The Lady Waveriders program has been on the rise over the past few seasons behind coach Kahinu Lee. Lee called last year’s five-set thriller over Konawaena a “big win for the school… team… and program.”
“One year makes a big difference,” Lee said. “We got a few transfers and I brought back one of my big guns. We also got a girl back from injury. It makes a difference.”
The early season victory against the Wildcats was much easier than last year’s win at the same time, despite the small hiccup in the opening set, which Konawaena took 25-22. While the Wildcats put up a fight for the rest of the match, Kealakehe rolled off wins in the next three sets 25-18, 25-21, 25-20.
“We got over-excited in the first set, that’s all,” Lee said. “Everyone builds this up as a cross-town rivalry but we are all family. I’m a graduate of (Konawaena). We made some little mistakes but we settled down and played ‘Riders volleyball.”
Under Lee, the girls program has improved along with the boys program. The Wildcat boys reached the state tournament last year.
“Nothing changes for the boys and girls,” Lee said. “It’s the same philosophy, the same scheme. It’s the same heart and dedication. Everything is the same.
In the cross-town rivalry game, Konawaena jumped out to an early lead before closing the set off with a shot by a Waveriders player that sailed wide.
In the second set, Kealakehe took command thanks to Ke’ala Wright, a transfer from Texas, who picked up several points at the net. Mirroring the end of the first set, the second set closed when a Konawaena shot floated past the back line and out of bounds.
Wright put the Waveriders up 6-2 in the third set behind back-to-back aces from the service line. Kealakehe took a commanding 13-7 advantage in the set, but the Wildcats continued to pressure, closing the gap to two points at 22-20.
The swing set looked like it could go either way at that point, but up 23-21, Kealakehe scored an impressive point that helped put the Wildcats away. During the point, Konawaena had several solid shots, but Aulike Kaiawe made a one-handed save on the first shot before Madelyn Blandford dove to make a tough dig on the next shot. Anastasia Tuifua put the point away with a lob that floated over Konawaena’s front line.
A block by Wright allowed the Waveriders to pick up the final point of the set.
“That was an important point. We had to have it,” Lee said. “Volleyball is a game of momentum. If you don’t stop it, or if you have it and let it fade away, it is tough to win.”
Both teams continued to battle in the fourth set before Kealakehe found some breathing room with a 14-9 advantage behind Wright’s serves. Tuifua also kept the Waveriders in front with her play at the net.
The Wildcats closed the gap to two for the second straight set, but the Waveriders closed the match moments later when Pomaika’i Nahuina spiked the ball off the hands of a Konawaena defender.
Next up for Kealakehe is a match-up with Makua Lani on Saturday. Konawaena will be back in action on Tuesday when the team travels to Waiakea.