Lady Mustangs Back With A Vengeance

Kalaheo High may have a Division II team officially for this week’s OIA volleyball playoffs, but there were times this fall when it played more like Division I.

Regardless of its designation, what matters most to head coach Berta Downey is that her Lady Mustangs are playing their best when it counts, and she hopes a slate stocked with DI teams will pay dividends in the coming days for its own DII format.

“We’re really proud of where we’re at right now,” said Downey, whose team finished 4-7 in its regular season after a 1-10 campaign in 2012.

While 4-7 doesn’t look that impressive on paper, seven of the matches were against DI teams that Kalaheo won’t see in the post-season. The team was the only one to date to take undefeated Kahuku to three games in a match, and it also played DI powers Farrington and Castle tough before losing. Kalaheo ended its season with consecutive wins over Anuenue, rival Kailua, and Kaimuki, thus earning the second seed for the OIA White playoffs. It hosts Waipahu at 7 p.m. Thursday in its first-round playoff match.

“You want to begin to peak right before the playoffs, and we feel like we are peaking right now,” said Downey, who is in her fifth season as head coach. “We turned many heads when we played the DI teams, and that proved to our girls that we could compete. The top teams – Castle, Kahuku, Farrington and Moanalua – are really tough.”

Downey’s 2013 team is a mix of veterans and talented newcomers, led by senior co-captains Skye Parker and Tati Schenk-Lee. “Tati has played very well, and Skye is playing excellent in the middle, along with Alex Jacobsen,” she said. “When our blocks are going, they’ve been unstoppable.”

Downey also praised the play of sophomore setters Siani Yamaguchi and Leslie Sanchez, as well as freshman hitters Syenna Masaki and Riley Lynch.

“Siani and Leslie are playing better than ever right now – they’ve done well with their ‘set’ selections and with running our plays – and our two freshman hitters (Masaki and Lynch) and our libero, Bobbi Anduha, also have been solid.”

Service has been the Mustangs’ forte to date. “Definitely our serving,” she said. “We’ve been serving the heck out of the ball, especially against the Division I teams we played. The next thing is that we’ve played some good defense out there, and our passing has been good.”

Only Roosevelt finished better than Kalaheo among East teams in DII. The Rough Riders earned the top seed out of the East. Kalaheo dropped a close match in three games to Roosevelt Sept. 3. Regardless of whom Kalaheo plays in the OIA DII playoffs, Downey’s emphasis is more on her own team, rather than a scouting report on opposing teams.

“We definitely have to keep our serves in. If we can do that, it will be awesome for us. And we have to play defense. When we play defense, we can beat anybody. The girls need to bring it every single match, like they have (in regular season).”

The top three finishers from the OIA White earn the league’s berths for the DII girls state volleyball tournament Oct. 29-Nov.1 at various Oahu sites.