Punahou uses deep bench to earn top seed in state tournament


POSTED: Sunday, October 18, 2009

As the Punahou girls volleyball team plowed its way to an unbeaten regular season in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, coach Jim Iams stuck with a consistent rotation.

Why change when it had worked so well as the Buffanblu cruised to a 27-match winning streak (including the preseason), the ILH regular-season crown and the top ranking in the state?

But in the ILH second-round final, a much-anticipated tilt against No. 2-ranked Kamehameha, Punahou was struggling. After powering its way to an easy first-set win, the Buffanblu got skittish, worrying about each and every mistake against the reigning four-time Division I state champions, who surged to a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five match.

That's when Iams figured he had to get a little creative with his lineup. He replaced starting setter Malia Patterson, a senior, with junior backup Shannan McCready. He inserted little-used freshman Tayler Higgins at the opposite position for senior Ali Santi. He even removed outside hitter Tai Manu-Olevao for a few points to calm her down after some errant swings.






No. 1 Punahou 3
No. 2 Kamehameha 2



McCready gave the team a boost with some nice digs and perfect sets, Higgins (who conceded to being “;pretty nervous”;) played the rest of the match and Manu-Olevao settled down as Iams' shuffle worked perfectly. Punahou came from behind to best Kamehameha and capture the ILH second-round championship 25-14, 15-25, 21-25, 25-16, 15-9 played on the Punahou campus.

“;The whole team was tight and nervous and not playing—individually and collectively—the way they were (before),”; Iams said. “;I was just trying combinations that might get a little bit of a flow to it. ... We were just tight. Kamehameha has been the champions for so long we can't remember, and I think we all wanted it awful bad. Sometimes that works against you. We were just fighting ourselves as much as we were Kamehameha most of the day.”;

The Buffanblu have now beaten the Warriors (17-3) three times this season—once in the preseason, once in a three-game match in the regular season and again yesterday.

With the win, Punahou (19-0) earned a first-round bye and the No. 1 seed in states.

And as the Buffanblu have done all season, they rode the strong right arms of outside hitters Manu-Olevao and Juliana Behrens (each had 15 kills to lead all hitters), minimized their passing and serving mistakes (six aces with only three service errors), and played a scrambling defense to force long rallies and keep the pressure on Kamehameha's hitters.

Though sophomores Amanda Wasko and Misty Ma'a led their team with 11 and 10 kills, respectively, the Warriors' shaky passing and lack of a go-to hitter proved costly as they slid into long scoring droughts over and over again. Punahou went on a 20-5 run to end Game 1, 6-1 and 8-4 runs in Game 4, and an 8-2 run to end the match.

“;Overall, we played really well,”; said Kamehameha coach Chris Blake. “;But Punahou played well at key moments.”;

These two teams could still meet in the state championship tournament (Oct. 28-31). But for now, Punahou has an ILH championship—at the expense of a program that has dominated for as long as the Buffanblu players have been in high school—to celebrate.

“;They've won four state championships the last four years,”; Patterson said. “;It felt good to take them down.”;