[ HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL ]
Although Kalaheo had already clinched a spot in the Oahu Interscholastic Association volleyball playoffs well before yesterday's regular-season finale with Castle, the Mustangs were not without motivation.
The Mustangs' search for perfection remains an ongoing process, after all.
"I think we're starting to peak, but I don't think we're playing our best yet," said Kalaheo middle blocker Sam Wilhoite, after the Mustangs beat the Knights 25-18, 25-16.
"I hope we're not. We can play better than we are right now. Being in the East, we don't always get the competition that the teams in the West and the ILH do -- they're usually stronger divisions -- so we were pumped for this game because it was some of the best competition we were going to get (in the East)."
Aside from neighborhood bragging rights being on the line, Castle beat the Mustangs in last year's meeting.
"It felt good to get a win back (from Castle)," Wilhoite said.
With the victory, the Mustangs finished 8-1 in the OIA East. Although their record is identical to Kahuku's, the Red Raiders get the nod as league champions, having won the head-to-head battle. Elias Ayau led Kalaheo with seven kills, while Mana Guerreiro and Wilhoite added five apiece.
"It was an opportunity for us to prepare for the playoffs," Kalaheo coach Sivan Leoni said. "This match didn't matter for us (in terms of the league race) -- we were either first or second place, even if we lost, so we get a bye on Thursday anyway. But, overall, I was happy. The kids relaxed a bit and played pretty good."
Castle (5-4), which won the East last season, was without power hitter Morris Leiato, who was held out of action pending clearance on an academic matter.
As it was, Castle was hard-pressed to maintain the pace, falling behind 10-3 to begin Game 2. Although the Knights battled to within 12-9, they struggled with Kalaheo's serve all afternoon. The athleticism of Wilhoite, Guerreiro and Ayau, who provided much of the Mustangs' height advantage, also prevented the Knights from seizing any momentum.
"They did great on their serves, and we weren't able to pull through with ours," Castle coach Pat Gomes-Woolsey said. "Our defense was kind of off today, and we missed a lot of our serves. Without our serves, we can't start the game; without the defense, we can't start our offense. We weren't able to kick-start our game."
A pair of kills by Guerreiro, followed by an ace from Ryan Belles and a big block from Wilhoite, completed a 4-0 Mustang run that increased Kalaheo's lead to 20-10 in Game 2. It was the sequence that best typified Kalaheo's dominance for this day. Following a timeout, Alika De Rego (match-high eight kills, three aces) delayed the inevitable for Castle with three straight kills, but the Knights came no closer than seven the rest of the way.
Game 1 had been much closer, with the score tied at 17 before Wilhoite provided back-to-back kills followed by a point from Guerreiro to make it 20-17 Kalaheo. A big hit by De Rego, which beat the block of Wilhoite, pulled Castle to within 21-19, but a series of hitting errors plagued the Knights the rest of the way in Game 1 and enabled Kalaheo to close out the encounter.
"We've been playing pretty good the past few matches," said Leoni. "I've been happy with our progression since the loss to Kahuku -- we peaked at the right time. Now it's a whole different volleyball game. We have to take it a step further."