OIA RED CHAMPIONSHIP
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Moanalua girls volleyball team celebrated after beating Kahuku last night in the OIA Red final.
Kabalis comes up big to lead Moanalua past Kahuku for the title
Kaleinani Kabalis knows all about finishing strong, and now, so do her beloved teammates.
Moanalua, a team that struggled through midseason, got 20 kills and 17 digs from Kabalis to sweep Kahuku 27-25, 25-15 last night to capture the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red Conference championship.
A raucous crowd of about 2,500 saw the final at McKinley Student Council Gym. Seventh-ranked Moanalua (10-4) proved to be the hottest team in the league, living up to its billing as the preseason favorite.
After losing to Roosevelt in last year's final, Na Menehune decided to come out without any hesitation on the hardwood.
"We were just going for it, not holding back," Kabalis said.
Kabalis hit .447 and had a plethora of kills from the back row. Kahuku's defense wasn't bad; the Lady Raiders had a lot of touches on Kabalis' kills. She was just deadly accurate.
"Kahuku's defense was good," she said. "In the first game, I was, 'Oh no, they're digging my ball, dangit!' "
Moanalua coach Tommy Lake has his first OIA title after five years with Na Menehune.
"Last year, we played almost, like, not to lose," he recalled. "Today, they were ready to play."
Kayleen Ponce added five kills and a match-high three service aces, and Sarah Robinson tallied three timely kills.
Leilani Tafuna sparked No. 5 Kahuku with seven kills. The Lady Raiders had only one ace to go with six service errors.
Kabalis had her team's first 10 kills as Moanalua and Kahuku battled in Game 1. The set was tied seven times, though it was Kahuku that led 23-19 after Alayna Galeai came through with a roof on Kabalis and a kill on a tip over the middle. With Kahuku's horde of fans -- including a large number of football players -- cheering on, Moanalua staged a comeback.
After Kabalis slammed a kill and roofed Shanlie Kaulula'au, Moanalua was within 23-22. Kahuku took a two-point lead after Nile Te'o gently tipped a kill over the middle, but the Lady Raiders failed to finish off Na Menehune. A hitting error by Galeai gave Moanalua a break, and Kabalis tied it at 24 with a dink shot from the back row.
Te'o gave her team a 25-24 lead with a kill down the middle, but Kabalis delivered another kill from the back row and Deanna Maio came through with a clutch ace to give Moanalua the lead. Ponce then ended the set with her first kill -- the only kill not registered by Kabalis in the opening game.
By the second set, the wind was out of Kahuku's sails. Moanalua rolled to an 11-4 lead thanks to a pair of aces by Ponce and superb defense. Lavinia Latu's kill brought Kahuku within 12-8, but Moanalua went on a 5-0 run to put the game out of reach.
"That first game was tough. It could've gone either way," Kahuku coach Uila Fotu-Vendiola said. "We had trouble passing and we made mistakes that gave them some free points. Moanalua got the momentum and we couldn't get back in a rhythm."
Fotu-Vendiola was impressed with Kabalis and her teammates.
"She played well. Our game plan was to contain her, but the rest of her team played well. They stepped up," the first-year coach said.
Lake was happy with his standout player, both on the court and off.
"Kalei did an awesome job pulling this team together. She's a great team captain," he said.
Kabalis spent some of her time on the court talking with her team's servers.
"I just gave them positive affirmations. 'You're a great server, you can do it,' " she said.