Hawaii Baptist finds repeating not so easy


POSTED: Monday, November 10, 2008

When Word of Life took the floor against Hawaii Baptist on Saturday with the Division II girls volleyball state title at stake, history remained in the past.

The aura of HBA's homecourt may have hindered the Firebrands in their four seasons of varsity ball—they were swept in two matches this season—but on Saturday night, under the big lights of the Stan Sheriff Center, before prime-time TV cameras, the new-school academy stood toe to toe with the Eagles.

That's what made this final, won by Hawaii Baptist 26-28, 25-19, 25-27, 25-21, 15-13, a victory for prep volleyball. It was also a big step forward for the spirit of what Division II represents: smaller schools—tiny when it comes to Word of Life—that rely on dedication and work ethic to reach a championship level.

Not that the Eagles mind the attention, either. HBA's second state crown in a row—last year's title win came against Seabury Hall—required more time (2 hours, 35 minutes) and effort than any match it had played this season.

Down 22-12 in the third set, coach Myles Shioji called timeout and drew up a plan to rally. He expected HBA to win that third game. The Eagles nearly did, reeling off 10 straight points before falling, but the wind was back in their wings.

HBA changed things up on defense, particularly at the net. Leinaala Mussel became a significant factor as part of a double and even triple block that slowed WLA's Crystal Powell and Kainoa Ocasek just enough.

“;We didn't plan on the triples,”; Shioji said. “;We knew Word of Life would come out playing great.”;

HBA's jigsaw puzzle of role players stepped up, and Sarah Palmer continued her masterful work. Palmer's 34 kills and 17 digs were remarkable.

“;I had so much adrenaline, I could play 2 more hours,”; she said.

Hawaii Baptist was a half-step slow early on, though.

“;I kind of thought the court was like rubber. I was afraid of sliding,”; said Palmer, a junior who has already verbally committed to play for the University of Texas.

Soon enough, the lack of familiarity with the surface—which Palmer learned is smooth, not rubbery—gave way to a need for urgency.

“;Coach said to stay focused. All the girls rallied us together,”; she added.

Then there were the seniors, some who stepped into major roles after watching from the sideline in years past.

One of them was outside hitter/setter Chelsie Mow, lost in jubilant tears and buried under a pile of leis after the match.

“;We had the bull's-eye on our back. Myles said everyone would be after us. We lost half our team (to graduation) and we had to adjust to new defensive specialists, new setters,”; she said.

The result? A 19-2 season—with losses only to Division I state finalists Kamehameha and Punahou—and another big koa trophy for HBA.

“;Our chemistry was awesome,”; Mow said.

Palmer and some key teammates, like C'era Oliveira, will be back next year for a shot at a third state crown. For now, they can relish the moment.

“;This year was harder. Trying to defend the title when you're seeded No. 1, it's harder,”; she said.

Their main competition, once again, will likely be Word of Life.

“;We played the best match of our season. I want them to hold their heads up high,”; coach Lee Ann Satele said. “;To show everyone what they're made of. That spirit inside never gives up.”;

True to her word, the Firebrands stood tall in defeat.

“;To make it here as a team with everyone doing their job,”; Powell said, “;it's awesome.”;