OLINDA - Pakalana Helekahi-Cass and Diana Naihe, the only two seniors on the Hana High School girls volleyball team, were in the 5th grade the last time the Dragons qualified for the state tournament.
Helekahi-Cass led a dramatic comeback against St. Anthony on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Maui Interscholastic League Division II tournament to punch the Dragons' return ticket.
Hana won 25-27, 19-25, 25-15, 25-23, 15-6 in 2 hours, 12 minutes at the Erdman Athletic Center. In the fourth set, the Dragons trailed 20-13.
Pakalana Helekahi-Cass (facing camera) celebrates with her Hana High School teammates after Thursday’s 25-27, 19-25, 25-15, 25-23, 15-6 win over St. Anthony in a Maui Interscholastic League Division II tournament semifinal match at Erdman Athletic Center.
The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo
"Yeah, the fourth set I was getting worried," Helekahi-Cass said. "But then I knew my team would stick together and push through as long as we didn't give up. St. Anthony was good tonight, they're awesome. They picked up balls that I thought touched the ground already. They were doing good, their defense was on."
Hana (10-2) entered the third set having lost five sets in a row - the Dragons were swept by Seabury Hall in a playoff match for the MIL regular-season title on Monday.
Today at 5 p.m., Hana gets another shot at Seabury in the league tournament final at Kaulaheanuio-kamoku Gym on the Kamehameha Maui campus.
Thursday's Results At Erdman Athletic Center
D-II semifinals: Seabury Hall def. Molokai 25-10, 25-9, 25-15
D-II semifinals: Hana def. St. Anthony 25-27, 19-25, 25-15, 25-23, 15-6
Today's Matches At Kaulaheanuiokamoku Gym
D-II final: Seabury Hall vs. Hana, 5 p.m.
D-I final: Baldwin vs. Kamehameha Maui, 6:30 p.m.
Both teams have clinched state spots, but a Hana win would force a playoff match for the overall D-II championship on Saturday. That possibility seemed very far away for the Dragons in the fourth set Thursday until Helekahi-Cass started going to work.
She had two straight aces to make the score 20-17 and her kill gave the Dragons a 23-22 lead. In the final set, she had five kills and two aces to salt it away.
Hana did not keep full-match statistics.
"Especially when we were behind, like, seven points, I was doubting myself," Helekahi-Cass said. "I just believed in our team and I knew my team could do it. I couldn't have done it without them. First state tournament for me in my whole high school career."
St. Anthony (6-5) has never been to a state tournament in girls volleyball, but finished one of its best seasons in recent memory with a gargantuan effort. Four senior starters leave the Trojans, but four freshmen also saw significant floor time against the Dragons.
"Real close, real close, the girls played their hearts out," said St. Anthony coach Al Paschoal.
One of the seniors, Keani Pacheco, decided to be at the volleyball match instead of attending the Trojans' football game against Molokai as homecoming queen.
"Accolades go to her for that, the team is more important and that is why we love her," Paschoal said.
Alicia Ballesteros led the Trojans with 18 kills, 19 digs, and an ace Thursday, Pacheco had 10 kills, 29 digs and three aces, Maddy Dixon had 42 assists, four kills and three aces and Kaitlin Lopez had seven digs - all are seniors.
"We will be OK. Hana played awesome, the (fourth) set we had a big lead on them," Paschoal said. "That is the one thing about Hana, they don't give up. We played them a ton of times, we went out and spent the night in the preseason. They are amazing. It is going to be a heck of a final in the tournament."
Hana coach Louis Hoopai was relieved to see his team emerge from Monday's struggles and earn another shot at Seabury.
"St. Anthony played a hell of a game, I told these girls they have got to watch their defense," Hoopai said. "Their defense was unreal and their hitting was turning on, too. For some reason, we came out flat again."
Asked what was on his mind when his team was down two sets, Hoopai smiled and said, "Go home and practice. Man, I don't know, I thought we were going to lose, but it says a lot about our girls the way they came back.
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org