Aiea Girls Volleyball Team Prepares To Face Rival Leilehua

The Aiea girls volleyball team passed its first test of the season in riveting fashion, going 8-1 to capture the annual Longy Okamoto Pre-Season Tournament.

A greater challenge looms next Monday when Na Ali‘i travel to Leilehua to open OIA play.

Not lost on the current team was a defeat administered by the Leilehua Mules on Aiea’s home turf last fall. Adding to the sense of urgency is that the teams will meet only once in the regular season, although a rematch in the post-season is a good possibility in Octo- ber. (Leilehua is moving up to Division I this year.)

“There’s no room for error,” head coach Erin Okamoto said of the season in general. “Leilehua was pretty young, too, last year, so they have all returnees. They always have a good team.

“We lost to Leilehua at home last year, and now we’ll have to go there, so hopefully the girls will be pumped up to play them,” she added.

“As far as being mentally ready to play, they all know how each other ticks now.”

Although still on the young side with a team dominated by juniors, Aiea’s 2012 edition is nevertheless seasoned, since the majority of those juniors now are third-year varsity players. Their performance at the Okamoto tournament was a confidence builder, as Aiea posted wins over Hanalani, Iolani JV team, Saint Francis JV team, Waipahu, Kapolei, Kalaheo, Pearl City and Mililani over three days of volleyball. Aiea’s only loss came to Aiea-Blue.

“They were mad that they lost one, but it was to their own team,” Okamoto said. “I like to see us lose once in a while. It keeps things in perspective.

“You have to be able to handle a loss.”

Okamoto liked the pace of the tournament, which is named for her late father, as much as her team’s execution.

“There was no waiting around, and no sitting down,” she said.

She believes that Aiea’s team unity is its strength in the early-going.

“They’re more cohesive with each other. Many of them have played with each other for three years, so they have a bond. They’re more of a team now.”

As in past seasons, Okamoto regards her current team as generalists rather than specialists, an arrangement she hopes will pay dividends down the road.

“We teach all of them every position so they can all handle the ball if needed.

“We’re balanced. We have well-rounded players, we think. They don’t look tall, but they jump well.”