by Matt Antonic
It was the end of the line for the Club Pohaku 18 & Under team on Monday. A priceless chance for a happy ending.
High school graduation had come and gone. For all but two Pohaku players, the 18's championship matchup at the Triple Crown NIT against Club Invasion would be their final time on the court together, a conclusion to their club sports career.
Chances for happy endings in sports seldom present themselves, and for both teams Monday, a moment had arrived to write the final chapter on their terms. The team that would ascend to the stage to claim the trophy would be the one who had more desire.
It was the countless diving efforts that said Pohaku wanted it more. It was the ferocious effort to defend at the net. It was the increasing volume of screams coming from the bench and from the crowd. Everybody was on a mission. It was the incredible execution at the end of both sets.
Pohaku completed their final conquest of the Memorial Day weekend of the NIT, toppling Invasion in straight sets (27-25, 25-20) at the Kansas City Convention Center.
What began as a weekend full of possibilities ended in triumph, and it was obvious just how much it meant. Coaches embraced on the sideline. Players shed tears of joy. The final team photo op came with a banner proclaiming it champions.
It was this Pohaku age group’s first year together with the club, meaning it had to start at the bottom of the rankings. There was nowhere to go but up. If you asked anyone on the club, however, they would tell you the sky was the limit.
“We started from the bottom of every bracket,” Pohaku player Aubrey Lapour said. “We were ranked last in every tournament. Every outing, we kept going higher and higher.
The climb resulted in a second place finish at nationals, but it wasn’t first. That was more than enough motivation for Pohaku. “We had to top it,” Lapour said.
For coach Conan Salanoa, the final championship win was the culmination of the improvement his club had made since they came together. His experienced team had been tested time and time again, and was more than prepared for the final exam.
“They were used to it,” he said. “Being in the championship match at nationals, I think it helped them there and helped us win today.”
Pohaku didn’t spend it’s time before the match obsessing over strategy. It was about playing hard and overcoming challenges.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity,” Salanoa said. “We had one girl playing with a stress fracture, another with tendinitis, but they know how to earn things. To overcome that was wonderful.”
For Lauren Wheeler, the win was about settling the nerves. The team made a string of mistakes midway through each set that gave Invasion the lead. “We definitely got a little frantic,” she said. “We didn’t get down on ourselves. We didn’t have anyone getting in their heads.”
For most of Pohaku, the future is now. Many players will go on to play high-level volleyball at the collegiate level, the next stop in their sporting journeys. Lapour said she sees nothing but good things on the horizon for the people she says she considers family.
“I don’t think there is any ceiling for these girls,” she said. “With the amount of passion they have for the game and heart, they can do anything.”