OIA GIRLS VOLLEYBALL DI CHAMPIONSHIP: KAHUKU 3, MILILANI 2

With a thrilling comeback in front of raucous fans from both schools, Kahuku dropped Mililani in five sets Wednesday night to repeat as the OIA girls volleyball Division I champion.

It took a mighty effort to put the 21-25, 25-17, 21-25, 27-25, 15-12 victory in the books at the Radford High gym, though.

In that crucial fourth set, the Red Raiders (13-0) clawed back from a 24-21 deficit to stay alive. One more point by the Trojans on any of three straight serves would have meant the title would have gone to Mililani (11-2).

Now for Kahuku, it’s on to the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the D-I portion of the New City Nissan/HHSAA Girls Volleyball State Championships that start Monday.

“It’s unreal,” said the Red Raiders’ Mele Taumoepeau, who hit .438 with 15 kills, many of them at crucial junctures, and added 12 digs. “My team was able to push through, especially in that fourth set. But we knew what we wanted, our mission, and we came here and did just that.”

 There is another mission that Kahuku shares with Mililani, and that’s to win a state title, something an OIA team hasn’t done since the Red Raiders won it in 2002.

“We want to end up there (as champions) on that Saturday night,” Taumoepeau said.

The 20-year OIA drought is not lost on the Trojans, either.

“Of course, definitely,” said Mililani setter Anae Asuncion, who had 43 assists, when asked if an OIA team can win D-I states in the near future.

Although the Trojans failed to regain the OIA crown they won in 2018 and 2019 before the pandemic canceled the 2020 season, they will still move on as an unseeded team at states.

“We really pushed to the best of our abilities tonight,” Asuncion added. “Especially since it was against Kahuku. They really are a strong team, but we did absolutely amazing tonight. I wish we won, but it is what it is. We still have states.”

With a whopping 21 kills, the Red Raiders’ Cha’lei Reid led all players in that category. Three teammates reached double figures in assists — Dakota Keni with 19 and Madison Mamizuka and Dani Kapu with eight each.

Alexis Rodriguez (20) and Erica Roberts (14) were the Trojans’ kill leaders.

At various points in the five sets, there were 13 ties and nine lead changes.

Aside from leading the whole way in the second set, Kahuku led most of the way in the first and third sets only to watch it slip away both times. The same thing almost happened in the fourth set, when the Red Raiders frittered away a commanding 20-15 lead and somehow found a way to send the match to a fifth set.

When Reid’s match-winning kill hit the floor, the rowdy Kahuku fans stormed the court in celebration.

“We were really able to push together,” Kahuku’s Taumoepeau said. “Every time we were in a slump, we were able to come back quickly.”