[ HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL ]
open volleyball seasons
Two defending Interscholastic League of Honolulu volleyball champions take the court tomorrow for 2003 league openers.
The Kamehameha boys team begins defense of its state and ILH titles at home against Hanalani at 10 a.m., while the ILH champion Kamehameha girls team -- a third-place state finisher a year ago -- hosts Hanalani at 11:30.
Setter Ainoa Miyashiro, outside hitter Adam Tuifagu and middle blocker Ernie Vidinha are back to lead the way for the Warrior boys this season.
"I'm telling the guys that this is a new year," Kamehameha coach Pono Maa said. "We're a work in progress and there's a lot of room for improvement, but we're heading in the right direction."
The team lost Isaac Kneubuhl, last year's Star-Bulletin All-State Player of the Year, to graduation, and he won't be easily replaced.
"Isaac was our stabilizer, our leader and our kills leader," Maa said. "This year, we have a lot of role players and I'm asking them to step up.
"We have major challenges ahead and we're expecting to be challenged right off the bat. Iolani is tough, Punahou will be right in there and Damien has been playing well in the preseason. Every program is improving."
Outside hitters Mounia Nihipali and Kristen Ponce are the keys to success for the Warrior girls, who have 10 returnees and seven seniors. They'll be taking their sets from Kana'i Bento.
"A lot of what we're doing right now is working on playing as a team," said Kamehameha girls coach Chris Blake, who has been part of four state titles as a coach -- three with Kamehameha in the late 1990s and one with Iolani in 2001. "It's a very talented, deep team."
Blake expects Punahou and Iolani to be the most serious challengers to the league crown.
"Iolani has a good returning core with a lot of seniors," he said. "And Punahou is very young, but definitely a very strong team, too."
Aneli Otineru is the big gun for the Buffanblu, whose roster is bolstered by setters Pohai Nuuhiwa and Kaui Robello, and opposite Spenser Rigg. Two freshmen -- Larissa Nordyke and Liz Kaaihue -- are likely to be in the mix.
"We had a good preseason, but no one remembers the preseason," Punahou coach Scott Rigg said. "But things look promising. We're young at some positions -- but with kids who are seasoned for their age -- and we're untested in league play."
Rigg sees Kamehameha as a talented team still putting the pieces together and Iolani as a dangerous foe, having beaten the Buffanblu twice a year ago. He thinks Hawaii Baptist Academy and La Pietra will also be highly competitive.
The Iolani girls lost the Star-Bulletin All-State Player of the Year in setter Kanoe Kamana'o, who is playing for the University of Hawaii, but the Raiders have a similar player on the roster -- sister Kapua Kamana'o, a freshman starting setter. Middles Pono Fernandez and Rebecca Lisle and hitter Lacey Lavarias are among the key returnees.
In the boys ILH race, Iolani is looking to gain ground on Kamehameha this year. The Raiders finished third in the state a year ago and lost to the Warriors in the ILH championship match.
"We've got so many starters coming back," Iolani coach Luis Ramirez said. "And many of them had great summers, playing for successful Jr. Olympics teams and club teams."
Star-Bulletin all-state first-team setter Sean Carney is back to distribute the ball for the Raiders, who get plenty of support from middle blockers Todd Blankenship and B.J. Takushi, outside hitter Kyle Pape, setter/opposite Kawika Shoji -- son of UH coach Dave Shoji -- and back row specialist Michael Contee.
Pape and Blankenship were members of the Iolani basketball team that won the state championship in March. Teammate Derrick Low, the Star-Bulletin basketball player of the year and a all-state first-team volleyball selection as an outside hitter, decided to skip volleyball this year. He orally committed to play basketball at Washington State next fall.
Ramirez said Low will be missed, but that his absence creates better balance.
"It's a good opportunity to see what kind of character these kids have," Ramirez said. "We're making really, really good progress."
The Iolani coach knows Kamehameha is the team to beat, but thinks Punahou is up-and-coming as well.
Buffanblu opposite Spencer McLachlin and outside hitters Riley Tang of Maryknoll and Kawika Lopez of Damien are among the league's other players to keep an eye on.
>> Hawaii Baptist at Iolani, 10 a.m.
>> Hanalani at Kamehameha, 10 a.m.
>> University vs. Lutheran, at La Pietra, 10 a.m.
>> Maryknoll vs. Lanakila Baptist at Punahou, 10 a.m.
>> Mid-Pacific vs. Christian Academy at Saint Louis, 10 a.m.
>> Punahou at Saint Louis, 11:30 a.m.
>> Mid-Pacific vs. Christian Academy at Sacred Hearts, 10 a.m.
>> Hawaii Baptist at Iolani, 11:30 a.m.
>> Hanalani at Kamehameha, 11:30 a.m.
>> St. Andrew's Priory vs. University, at La Pietra, 11:30 a.m.
>> St. Francis at Punahou, 11:30 a.m.
>> Maryknoll at Sacred Hearts, 11:30 a.m.
>> Word of Life vs. La Pietra/Assets/Waldorf/Academy of the Pacific at La Pietra, 1 p.m.