Buffanblu didn't panic
Outstanding balance helped Punahou go 19-0 and win another state championship
THE DIFFERENCE between No. 1 and No. 2 is sometimes a matter of role play.
For Iolani, Kawika Shoji did a lot of everything, from hitting on either side -- even the back row -- to setting and defense. He had plenty of help, but it didn't compare to what Punahou brought to the table.
The Buffanblu had the state's tallest outside hitter in Spencer McLachlin as well as elite players at almost every position. Erik Shoji, who collected 11 digs, and setter Riley McKibbin gave coach Peter Balding more than just outstanding balance.
They helped bring Punahou another state championship. The Buffanblu finished 19-0 after outlasting their rivals from the Interscholastic League of Honolulu in the state final.
Behind spirited leader Shoji, Iolani took the first game and threatened to mar Punahou's season of perfection.
"Coach settled us down. He told us to go back to our basics," McKibbin said. "Right after the first play of the second game, we realized it was our game."
Balding has been part of Punahou volleyball for most of the past quarter century. With the level of talent and depth his team had, Balding confessed to some rather unusual worries.
"You know what, from the standpoint of going to practice each day, it was great," he said. "But I had a fear of injury, of sickness. A lot of prayer got me through, and letting the guys do their thing."
Even when Iolani gave perhaps its best effort of the season, McLachlin didn't panic.
"Minus the first game, it was our best match," the 6-foot-7 junior said, heeding the words of assistant coach Rick Tune. "Coach said great teams find a way to win."
With a second state crown in a row, McKibbin said this one was far more enjoyable because Punahou's home crowd was able to attend. Last year's tourney was in Hilo.
For McLachlin, the season of perfection was well-appreciated.
"Last year, it went by in a blur," he said. "This time, I savored every moment."
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