Last Thursday, down by a set to Hana in the semifinals of the MIL tournament, it looked like the Molokai Farmers might not be returning to the state championship volleyball tournament for a sixth straight year.
And then Molokai senior Leenell Hernandez — the only returning starter from last year’s team that won the division II state title — took over.
The Farmers were the third seed going into the Division II Maui Interscholastic League tournament at Baldwin Gym in Wailuku. Without a win over Hana — who had beaten them twice in Hoolehua during the regular season — Molokai had no chance of going back to the state tournament.
Behind Hernandez’s 22 kills and 14 digs, Molokai came back after dropping the first set 18-25, 25-21, 25-23, 25-21 to advance to the finals on Friday against the undefeated Seabury Hall Spartans.
Helping the Molokai cause was sophomore Taylor Keliihoomalu who added 10 kills, seven digs and a block. Sophomore setter Heather Place had 30 assists and a block, and senior Carol Kahee had 11 digs.
The Farmers pushed Seabury to five sets in the MIL tournament championship on Friday before losing. Hernandez had 24 kills and 19 digs for Molokai. Heather Place had 38 assists and Carol Kahee had 19 digs. The final score was 25-18, 18-25, 22-25, 25-23, 15-8.
As the MIL runner-up, Hana had one more shot at Molokai on Saturday to try and advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2005.
In another four-set thriller, this time at Kaulaheanuiokamoku Gym on the Kamehameha Maui campus, Molokai defeated the Dragons 25-21, 22-25, 25-18, 25-17.
Hernandez again was the most valuable player, leading the Farmers with 25 kills, nine digs and a block. In speaking to The Maui News about Hernandez, Molokai Head Coach Matt Helm said, “Luckily we had one girl this weekend who had that experience, and just that one person having that experience plays a big part because the girls can follow her lead.”
The Division II state tournament begins tomorrow in Kaimuki. Molokai (9-5 season record) will take on Saint Francis (9-2) at 7 p.m. The winner of this match will play the No. 2-seed Roosevelt (11-6) Thursday at 7 p.m. in Kaimuki. The loser plays the loser from the Ka’u-Sacred Hearts match at 3:30 p.m.
If Molokai continues to advance through the tournament they will play again on Friday in Kaimuki and then Saturday at the Blaisdell Arena.