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'Iolani humbles Punahou


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POSTED: Friday, April 10, 2009

'Iolani is the reigning Division I state champs in boys volleyball, but less than two weeks ago, the Raiders were humbled and embarrassed on their home court by Punahou.

Earlier this week, 'Iolani coach Mike Among made his team watch the final 15 points of the pivotal second set of that match. Point-by-point. When his players begged him to turn off the tape, he refused. They had to relive each and every mistake, every bad pass, every stupid decision.

It was a brutal film session that turned into a brilliant motivational tactic as second-ranked 'Iolani traveled to No. 1 Punahou yesterday for the rematch. And the Raiders got their revenge in an emotional 2-1 victory (25-22, 20-25, 25-21) over the team ranked first in the nation by ESPN.

“;We were just cringing,”; said 'Iolani senior Taylor Donovan. “;We told (coach) to shut it off but he kept playing it. It just fired us up. We wanted to come back and win.”;

Win they did, but it wasn't easy. With starters Logan Nowack and Nick Christmas coming off the bench thanks to missing Wednesday's practice due to illness, the Raiders fielded an unusual lineup. They went small, using 5-foot-8 senior Chris Llarenas as an outside hitter facing Punahou's massive lineup that features 6-7 sophomore Josh Taylor, 6-6 senior Maddison McKibbon, 6-5 sophomore Ben Lam, 6-3 junior Henry Cassiday and 6-3 junior Taylor Crabb.

“;It's nice to know we can put any six guys in and play a tough game,”; said Donovan.

Against Punahou's height and strength, the much smaller Raiders focused on defense, setting up their diggers deeper on the court to make it easier to scoop up any deflections off the block. They served Punahou tough, making it hard for the Buffanblu setters to give their hitters great swings. 'Iolani relied heavily on its transition game and its scramble plays on offense. And libero Scott Sakaida played a superb game, spoiling some of Punahou's hard-hit balls as he finished with a match-high 13 digs.

As 'Iolani celebrated the victory on Punahou's home court, the Buffanblu had a sour taste in their mouth. They were frustrated with their own play, knowing they're capable of throttling the Raiders. They passed and served poorly. They failed to establish their big block. And they looked timid and overwhelmed in the third game with the match on the line.

After jumping out to an 8-5 lead in the third game, Punahou's Taylor slammed home what looked like a kill. But 'Iolani dug the ball up and back to Punahou, which inexplicably failed to play the overpass as the ball fell between two players onto the court. That started a string of Buffanblu errors - a hitting error here, a serving error there and a passing error everywhere - that eventually cost them the match.

“;Sometimes you've just got one of these matches where you come out flat, for whatever reason,”; Punahou coach Rick Tune said. “;For whatever reason tonight, we came out flat. That's not taking anything away from 'Iolani, who played a heck of a match. They deserve all the credit in the world for this one. We've just got to play better.”;

“;This was probably our worst passing match of the whole year,”; Tune added, clearly frustrated. “;I'm perplexed as to why.”;

But this is likely just the beginning of what promises to be another heated year in the 'Iolani/Punahou boys volleyball rivalry that pits the winners of the last six state championships against each other. After yesterday's loss, USC-bound McKibbin is anxious for yet another rematch.

“;We definitely want to play them again,”; he said with a frown.