STATE DIVISION I BOYS VOLLEYBALL
Lawson leads Raiders to upset of top-ranked Buffanblu
PUKALANI, Maui » The two most highly touted high school players in Hawaii will be joining forces next college season as members of the Stanford volleyball team.
At King Kekaulike
Waiakea def. Pearl City, 2-1
Waianae def. KS-Maui, 2-0
Roosevelt def. Kamehameha, 2-0
Iolani def. Punahou, 2-1
But last night, Iolani's Brad Lawson and Punahou's Erik Shoji were on opposite sides of the net in the championship match of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Division I tournament.
Iolani's plan was to find Lawson.
Punahou's plan was for Shoji to find his teammates.
In the end, Lawson and the Raiders got the better of Iolani when it counted most, defeating the three-time defending champion Buffanblu 25-22, 22-25, 25-20 at the King Kekaulike gym after twice being swept by their rivals in ILH play.
Lawson, a 6-foot-7 outside hitter, is described by his coach, Mike Among, as the best prep player in the nation. And it was hard to argue with that assessment following Lawson's sensational performance against Punahou.
Lawson finished with 25 kills, including 14 in the final game, as Iolani captured its second state title, the first coming in 2003. He also dashed Punahou's bid for a 27th title in the 39-year history of the event.
"Brad threw the team on his back," Among said, his voice choking with emotion. "I don't think he felt comfortable with the role earlier in the season, but he has grown into the role and he sure took on that responsibility tonight.
"But he wasn't the only one who stepped up tonight. I'm so proud of this group."
Among the major contributors were freshman setter Logan Nowack and senior libero Skyler Tajima, who played the role of human ball return to repeatedly keep plays alive.
Making the victory particularly sweet for Iolani was how it struggled to get into the tournament after losing a pair of matches to Mid-Pac and Kamehameha late in the ILH season.
"We came into the season ranked No. 7 in one of those Internet polls and first in the state," Among said. "It was a new position for us, and we didn't handle it well.
"Actually, I didn't handle it well because we stopped putting in the work required to hold onto those positions."
But two weeks of productive practices helped turn things around for the unseeded Raiders, who posted successive wins over Mililani, Waianae and Kamehameha to reach the final.
A pair of sophomores led Punahou's attack.
Henry Cassiday had 15 kills, while Taylor Crabb added eight. But between them they couldn't match the prodigious output of Lawson.
"Going into the tournament, I told the kids we received a precious gift just by getting in," Among said. "We asked them: 'Are we one of the top 12 teams in the state?' And they said, 'Yes.'
"We asked them the same thing as the tournament went on. 'Are we one of the top eight teams?' 'Are we on one of the top four teams?' 'Are we one of the top two teams?' And they always said, 'Yes.'"
Among didn't have to ask the logical next question after last night's match. The delight in the faces of his players, tears of joy in the coach's eyes and the numbers on the scoreboard provided the answer: "Yes."