Spunky Kalaheo Gets Ready

The Kalaheo girls volleyball team hasn’t relied on moral victories during its rebuilding phase, but head coach Berta Downey is the first to admit that last season’s close loss to Kahuku on the road was akin to a win, because of its long-term effects.

The Division I Red Raiders, who went on to finish third in the OIA Red last year, had all they could handle from the Division II Mustangs. Indeed, Kalaheo was the only team to take Kahuku to three games in its 2013 season.

“Seeing they could play with them — that was the turning point for our girls,” said Downey. “From that game on, we won the rest until our last game of the (OIA DII playoffs). It was a nice stepping stone for us.”

Since Kahuku is in DI this year and Kalaheo in DII, the teams won’t cross paths in the post-season again, but their match at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Kalaheo could prove one of the more intriguing to watch.

As last season’s OIA DII runner-up, the Mustangs are off to a 3-1 start now, with wins over Kaiser, McKinley and Farrington, and a loss to Roosevelt. They will play three of their last five at home, including Thursday’s match.

A win over Kahuku would naturally be a huge boost, in Downey’s view. “Every year, they reload,” she said of Kahuku. “We’ll have to block and dig balls. Our girls chose this for our senior night, so we are hoping that the energy that usually fills the air on those nights will help with our play. Kahuku runs a real fast offense. Our digging and our passing are what helped us (in 2013).”

Kalaheo is still a relatively young team with only two seniors, but because it went with a young lineup last year, it’s more seasoned than it looks. Among the veterans back in the fold are senior middle blocker Alex Jacobsen, junior setter Siani Yamaguchi, sophomore outside hitter Syenna Masaki and junior libero Bobbi Anduha.

“Alex came back strong this year,” Downey said. “She really wants to play, and she’s been averaging six kills a game over the last four. Syenna has become our go-to person. She’s turned it on and is averaging between seven and eight kills a game. She can do anything on the court.

“Siani shares a role (as setter) with Leslie Sanchez and has been setting a lot quicker this year,” Downey said. “We want to run a quicker offense this year. Bobbi came back really strong with her passing from her Club season. She’s improved every year with us.”

Sanchez also plays a hitter position when not setting. “She’s become just as much of a leader as Siani — they complement each other,” Downey said. “(Junior outside hitter) Violet Subee also came back strong from her JV season, and (sophomore) Riley (Lynch) has come a long way from last year.”

Downey attributed the Mustangs’ growth to having a roster with 11 of 13 girls having played Club volleyball during the high school off-season. “That’s huge for a varsity program, especially in the OIA. You have to have those kind of numbers (to compete for championships).”