Girls volleyball: After winning BIIFs, Kamehameha eyes states

Maraea O’Connor’s last play on the volleyball court on Saturday night was somewhat simple — a setting assist — but also significant because it showed how much the Kamehameha senior and her teammates have grown.

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Maraea O’Connor’s last play on the volleyball court on Saturday night was somewhat simple — a setting assist — but also significant because it showed how much the Kamehameha senior and her teammates have grown.

For much of her career, the 6-foot big blocker and opposite or right-side hitter — with the short, strong arm swing — saw limited minutes, and rarely spent any time in the back row.

But in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I championship against Waiakea at Konawaena’s Ellison Onizuka Gym, O’Connor was a full-rotation force, and her assist was a set not everyone can make because it required perfect touch and timing.

From O’Connor’s right-back position, she fed Kaiulani Ahuna, who was the middle back, and the following powerful, finishing back-row kill pushed Kamehameha over Waiakea 25-17, 25-21, 25-19 for the school’s fifth consecutive BIIF title.

It was almost like a play earlier in the season at Koaia gym, where Zoe Leonard, from the deep right corner, bump-set the ball all the way to the left post, where Ahuna smashed down a kill from a much longer distance.

It was perfectly placed. No one else in the league has that play in their package. Both assists — O’Connor’s forward angle set and Leonard’s long-distance ball — were technically sound and surprising because BIIF fans aren’t usually treated to that type of sharp ball-handling.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t all that surprising because the Warriors, under first-year coach Sam Thomas, actually practice stuff like that. His philosophy is to take a swing from every part of the floor, and that’s where O’Connor fits in.

Last year, the Warriors only had Ahuna as a full-rotation force. She attacked from everywhere: the left, middle, right posts and the from the back row. The only problem was everyone knew it, and camped on her with double blocks.

That was one reason Interscholastic League of Honolulu runner-up Punahou swept No. 3 seed Kamehameha in the quarterfinals at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state championships at Keaau High’s gym last year.

The state seedings were released by the HHSAA on Sunday, and No. 3 seed Kamehameha (15-0) will face either the winner between ILH runner-up Punahou (12-3) or Nanakuli (9-4), the Oahu Interscholastic Association’s No. 4 team, on Saturday at Kamehameha-Maui’s gym.

BIIF runner-up Waiakea (12-4) will play OIA No. 3 Mililani (11-2) at 7 p.m. Friday at Moanalua High’s gym in Honolulu.

At Onizuka gym, Waiakea senior outside hitter Alison Fuata concluded her BIIF career with a flourish with 13 kills. But Kamehameha had just two much firepower, better ball-control and more kills, 34-26.

Kamehameha has not won an opening match at states in 10 consecutive trips. It has a talented roster with three USA Volleyball A-1 players: Ahuna, Leonard and junior setter Kamalu Makekau-Whittaker, who verbally committed to Cal State Northridge, which plays with Hawaii in the Big West Conference.

If there’s any year to get over that first-game hump, it’s this year for the Warriors, who have eight seniors, with seven who start or play major parts: Ahuna, O’Connor, Leonard, libero Harley Woolsey, middle blockers Pua Wong and Iliana Nakamoto and hitter Jeyci Kalili.

Maybe two decades from now, O’Connor will remember the BIIF championship against Waiakea as the most memorable of a hard-earned career. That’s because for the first time she was the team kill leader, not the hard-swinging Ahuna.

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She hammered 12 kills while Ahuna had 11 kills, the last from a simple yet significant assist from O’Connor.

“I’m proud of myself. I played my best in front of my family and the local crowd for the last time on this island,” O’Connor said. “I think I came a long way as a player. I feel all the hard work I put in was worth it, and I got to do what I love.”

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