Punahou Stuns Moanalua in 5-Set Thriller, Advance to HHSAA Boys Volleyball Division 1 State Title Match
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAY 13, 2023
MOANALUA — The Punahou Buffanblu (13-5) shocked the Moanalua Na Menehune (15-1) in five sets (25-22, 21-25, 20-25, 27-25, 15-11) at Moanalua High School Friday night. The Buffanblu advance to the HHSAA boys’ volleyball D1 state championship game at the George Q. Cannon Center on the BYU-Hawai’i campus on Saturday, May 13 at 7 p.m. HST.
A packed house from the start, fans understood the environment that the game deserved as two of the state’s top programs faced off.
The Buffanblu proved to be a bit more prepared to take on the top-seeded Na Menehune than other opponents, as the teams battled to a 13-13 tie midway through the set before Punahou opened a three-point lead.
Moanalua would begin to fight back, tying the opening frame at 21 after a block at the net by multiple Na Menehune.
Punahou wouldn’t panic though, taking four of the next five points to win the opening set, 25-22, and hand Moanalua the team’s first set loss all season long. Na Menehune had won all 15 previous matches in straight sets over opponents.
Na Menehune would come roaring back in the second set, but not before Punahou had an impressive showing early in the frame. Keying in on unforced Menes errors, the Buffanblu held an early 7-3 lead.
Punahou continued to capitalize on Moanalua mistakes, reaching 20 first and holding a five-point lead with it before the three-headed Moanalua Monster of Kai Rodriguez, Justin Todd and Zachary Yewchuk turned up the heat to help Na Menehune snatch the second set, 25-21.
The set win proved to be the momentum boost that the OIA champs needed, as the “Big 3” from Moanalua who committed to the University of Hawai’i for next year continued their hot play to power Na Menehune to an early lead over Punahou in the third set.
The breathing room the tournament’s top seed grabbed at the beginning of the set proved to be important, as the Buffanblu played Na Menehune relatively even for the rest of the frame. With the added boost from the early set points, Moanalua took a commanding 2-1 set lead over Punahou, the 9-time defending state champion.
The Buffanblu wouldn’t waver in confidence after falling behind, with players motioning to the Na Menehune crowd the number five after Punahou dropped the third set.
Understanding the mission at hand, Punahou remained calm while trading point after point in the fourth set with Moanalua, all the way up to 15. While Na Menehune was the first team to 20 in the set, the Buffanblu used timeouts to attempt to stop the Moanalua momentum.
The top-seeded Na Menehune got three set point tries to put away Punahou in the fourth set, leading 24-22 with two sets in hand already, but could not close the frame. The Buffanblu grinded their way back, scoring five of the next six points to win, 27-25, and force a decisive fifth set against the hosts.
Both sides looked for an early advantage with only one set left to decide the first member of Saturday’s state championship match. It was host Moanalua that jumped ahead early, 7-5, and forced another Punahou timeout.
The representative out of the ILH took the break in action to collect themselves, storming out of the timeout to take a 12-10 lead after freshman Kanalu Akana delivered an ace. The Buffanblu wasted no time closing out their OIA counterparts, scoring three of the final four points to take the set, 15-11.
Aloha, Moanalua.— Paul Brecht (@12brecht) May 13, 2023
Na Menehune fall for the first time all season, losing to 9x defending state champion Punahou in a thrilling 5-set comeback.
Buffanblu advance to the state title match looking for their 10th D1 state title in a row.@HIsportsradio pic.twitter.com/5H4WBCL83F
Leading the way for Moanalua in the loss was Justin Todd, who had 22 kills and a pair of service aces for Na Menehune. Fellow senior and future ‘Bow Kai Rodriguez also chipped in 20 kills and an ace in the effort for the OIA representative in the state’s final four.
Punahou’s Emanuele Clini turned in a championship effort of his own, racking up 20 kills and two service aces in the win for the Buffanblu. Two other Punahou players recorded double-digit kills during the match, as Evan Porter and Ian Kinney ended the night with 14 and 11 kills respectively to help the ILH powerhouse advance.
The loss for Moanalua is the first of the season for the top-ranked team in Hawai’i, who entered the state tournament with a perfect 14-0 record. Na Menehune will play Saturday against KS-Hawaii at Cannon Center in the third-place match. First serve expected to be around 3:30 p.m. HST.
Punahou advances to the HHSAA Division 1 state championship match against Kamehameha-Kapālama as the 9-time defending D1 state champions and looks for the program’s 10th consecutive state crown. A win in Saturday’s match would mark the 39th time that Punahou would be the Hawai’i boys volleyball state champions.
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