Learning curve


POSTED: Friday, August 21, 2009

The rebuilding process is never easy, and the Word of Life girls volleyball team is discovering just how hard it truly is.

Last November, the young Firebrands lost a heart-breaking Division II state championship to Hawaii Baptist, falling in the title game in five sets. Through graduation, Word of Life then lost power hitter Crystal Powell, an All-State/Fab 15 selection who is now playing at Chaminade, and four other players who were major contributors in the state championship game.

And this week's Ann Kang Invitational Girls Volleyball Tournament at 'Iolani School has been less than kind to Word of Life.

After dropping two matches—both in straight sets—before beating 'Iolani's B team on Wednesday, the Firebrands had the misfortune of facing powerhouse Punahou yesterday ... with four underclassmen in the starting lineup ... and without top outside hitter Kainoa Ocasek, who rolled her right ankle against Kahuku on Wednesday and did not suit up for yesterday's matches.

Punahou predictably rolled past Word of Life in straight sets 25-15, 25-19 last night. Yet despite the lopsided defeat, Word of Life saw some reason for optimism in the midst of its growing pains.

“;It is Square One as a team,”; said Word of Life coach Lee Ann Satele. “;But these are experienced young players. They're ballplayers. This is probably our best ballhandling team that Word of Life has ever had. We're probably the best balanced team we've ever had. Now it's just getting them to play together.”;

Facing powerful Punahou outside hitters Tai Manu-Olevao and Juliana Behrens, Word of Life was overmatched as it fell behind early. But the Firebrands fought back and even narrowed the 9-1 deficit to 13-11 on an Angel Savea kill. They would get no closer, as the Buffanblu recorded 12 of the final 16 points to win Game 1.

Punahou led the entire second set as well, though Word of Life narrowed a five-point deficit to 15-14 before an untimely service error killed the Firebrands' rally. The Buffanblu scored 10 of the final 15 points to cruise to the victory, although their coach was far from pleased with his team's play.

“;Word of Life is a very good team and they serve the ball very, very well, very aggressively, and we didn't handle that very well,”; said Punahou coach Jim Iams. “;That's something we need to do a better job with. We have to be able to win that battle more than we did today, and I think that was a little bit of a disappointment. ... On balance, (the match) was OK. I wasn't excited about it, but we were able to beat a team that I think is a pretty solid team.”;

The glaring difference between the two Interscholastic League of Honolulu programs was at outside hitter. While Manu-Olevao and Behrens dominated the play with a combined 16 kills, Word of Life's shaky passing prevented its hitters from finding any sort of rhythm. The Firebrands mustered only 18 kills as a team.

Despite the loss, Satele saw a number of positives from her team, especially the youngsters. Savea, a freshman who played for the injured Ocasek, held her own on the court. Sophomore setter Shelbi Miyashiro did the best she could with the passes, and sophomores Jedidah Hanakahi and Alexis Villa played scrambling back-row defense that kept Punahou's hitters from recording even more kills.

So while things are a bit rocky now for the Word of Life girls volleyball team, watch out for the Firebrands when they get experience and have more time to jell, warned junior Kaena Kaina with a smile and a laugh.

“;We're rebuilding,”; she said. “;We're still an immature team. But we're trying, we're getting up there. ... As soon as we start meshing together and as soon as we start clicking, then we'll be winning games like crazy.”;




Yesterday's scores


Ann Kang invitational

        » Redondo Union def. Mid-Pacific 25-17, 25-8

        » Edison def. Maryknoll 25-14, 25-21

        » Mater Dei def. Van Nuys 25-9, 25-17

        » Kahuku def. Molokai 25-13, 25-16

        » Redondo Union def. Van Nuys 25-11, 25-12

        » Edison def. Molokai 25-20, 25-16

        » Mater Dei def. Mid-Pacific 25-17, 25-21

        » Kahuku def. Maryknoll 25-15, 25-16

        » Punahou def. Word of Life 25-15, 25-19

        » HBA def. Kaiser 25-23, 25-15

        » Farrington def. Moanalua 27-26, 26-24

        » 'Iolani def. Iolani B 25-11, 25-19

        » Punahou def. Farrington 25-22, 25-19

        » HBA def. Iolani B 25-29, 25-12

        » Word of Life def. Moanalua 25-19, 25-19

        » 'Iolani def. Kaiser 25-15, 25-21





        » Pearl City def. Radford, 25-19, 25-14

        » Aiea def. Leilehua, 25-13, 25-11

        » Mililani def. Campbell 22-25, 25-19, 15-13

        » Pearl City def. Radford, 25-21, 25-23
        » Leilehua def. Aiea, 25-22, 25-23
        » Mililani def. Nanakuli 25-11, 25-12