Lady Mules Hoping To Turn High Seed Into Title Success

On a team with plenty of collective athleticism, Leilehua’s cohesiveness has carried them in 2013, to hear girls volleyball head coach Larry Cantero tell it.

“From day one, everyone has been a team player,” said Cantero, whose team finished its OIA West season with a 7-3 mark. “So many of our wins this year have been ‘team wins’ all the way around. Everyone has accepted their role, and they win together and they lose together. That’s what I’ve liked best about this group – they’re all in it together.”

Cantero is hoping that mindset will continue this week when the playoffs begin. Leilehua earned the No. 3 seed out of the West for the OIA tournament and will meet East No. 6 seed Kaiser in a match Wednesday night. A first-round match between the East No. 4 seed and the West No. 5 seed begins at 5 p.m., and Leilehua’s match with Kaiser will begin immediately after that one.

The Mules enter the post-season riding some momentum, having won three of their last four matches. The only losses to date came to West No. 2 seed Kapolei and top-seeded Mililani on the road and to Nanakuli at home. Leilehua beat Radford, Waianae, Waialua, Waipahu, Pearl City, Campbell and Aiea.

Cantero cited veteran leadership among the reasons why Leilehua was able to earn such a good seed for the OIA playoffs. In senior outside hitter Kayla Kilaulani, the Mules have one of the West’s most seasoned players. “She brings experience to the court as a four-year starter, and she tries to push the girls,” Cantero said. “Her overall presence gives the girls confidence.”

Fellow seniors Talea Ala Iliama and Kimberly Duyan also have figured big for Leilehua this fall, according to the coach.

“Talea’s strength is that she’s well-grounded and is like a spiritual leader for us,” Cantero said of the middle hitter/middle blocker. “Kimberly is our utility player. She comes off the bench for us, and has played that role really well, jumping in wherever we need her. She’s that athletic and knows the game well enough to play every position.”

Cantero also praised the play of junior outside-hitter Alexis Fetui, one of the league’s top performers from the class of 2015. “Her strength is her competitiveness and her talent for the game. She’s very capable and, although she’s not a senior, she pushes the girls.”

The top six finishers at the OIA tournament will earn the league’s berths for the Division I girls state volleyball tournament, which will run from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1. Leilehua last qualified for a state tourney in 2011, when it was competing in Division II. Cantero can be counted among those who believe that peak performance begins in the mind.

“Right now our defense has been our strength – we’re fighting for every ball,” he said. “But what I worry about is the mental game. We’ve been emphasizing the mental part lately. If we are in it mentally and in it together, we are a very, very good team. Physically, we have what it takes to win.”