Strong Teamwork Propels Aiea Volleyball Girls To State Tourney

For the Aiea girls volleyball team, there was no direct line to earning a berth in the upcoming Division I state tournament.

Na Ali’i had entered the recent OIA playoffs on a three-game losing streak after closing out their season against three of the West’s elite – Mililani, Kapolei and Leilehua.

Aiea’s senior class had never won a playoff game and had lost their only previous post-season contest two years ago in a first round game.

“Getting that first playoff win was a big boost to their confidence,” said co-head coach Kory Toyo, who oversees the program along with Blythe Yamamoto. Aiea defeated East power Kalani in Na Ali’i’s first-round game.

“The Kalani game was huge for us,” added Toyo. “That was one we really needed to win.”

Aiea met top-seeded Kahuku – the defending OIA Champion – in the second round. Although it dropped the match in three games, Aiea had some promising moments against a Red Raider team that was still undefeated at press time.

Another stiff test awaited in the third playoff game when Aiea faced a Kapolei team that had beaten it only 15 days earlier. The Hurricanes entered that match with a record of 9-2. This time around, Aiea prevailed in two games, winning 25-23, 25-23. The win officially insured Na Ali’i of one of the OIA’s six berths for states,

“We’re senior-heavy this year, and they’d never been to a state tournament, so we’re just so happy for them to be able to experience this in their last year,” Toyo said. “Because we’d lost to them (Kapolei) already, the girls really wanted to come back and redeem themselves. It was also do-or-die for making the state tournament.

“It was a team win,” she added. “The stats don’t necessarily show it, but we did all of the little things well – the things that we’ve been telling them all season.”

Senior leadership has figured big in Na Ali’i’s success this fall. Veterans Roina Ma’afala, Megan Ma’afala-Maiava, Mich’lae Higa, Paula Mao-Tamasese and Kanoe Griep-Kadokawa helped the team to a 6-1 start, heading into the home stretch of the season. Aiea’s rotation also includes underclassmen Destyni Grace, Leleo Maeva, Lole Kalani-Liulama and Katelyn Nakasone.

Mao-Tamasese and Grace were key contributors to the win over Kapolei that put Aiea over the top in its bid to qualify for the state tournament. “Paula had a phenomenal match, including four blocks,” Toyo said. “Destyni did a great job of setting. She had 21 assists. She had to learn fast this year to play with the older kids. I’m so proud of all of them. They had to work for this. (A coaching) Change is not easy, but they adapted. They’ve been playing for each other, and no one player has really been standing out.”

Aiea was to continue play in the OIA tournament late last week. The OIA playoffs continue this week. Na Ali’i will travel to Hawaii island next week for the state tournament, which runs Oct. 29-Nov. 1 in Hilo.