Ka Ulukoa Makes 14 Open finale a firework show

July 02, 2014, 6:03 p.m. (ET)

HOUSTON – Ka Ulukoa (Aloha Region) took home gold for the 14 Open division at the Boys’ Junior National Championship, overcoming a set-back in the first frame to take the three-set thriller against Torrimar (PU), 20-25, 25-14, 18-16.

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Torrimar had a strong lead before Ka Ulukoa came back on a short, unanswered run to close the gap within five during the first set 17-22. A short timeout allowed Torrimar to get composed and hold a lead to take the set 25-20. The squad played like a well-oiled machine that could respond with an answer shortly after Ka Ulukoa put down shots.

The second set saw Torrimar start behind, 2-4, but after using errors they were able to tie it at 4-4. Ka Ulukoa started the stanza with urgency, following through on longer rallies to force a timeout while leading 8-4.

A few hard shots, aces and Torrimar errors later, Ka Ulukoa built its largest lead of the match, 12-5. The cushion proved large enough to hold at 17-11. Before long, Ka Ulukoa stretched its command to 21-12, ensuring a rumble to the third set by splitting it 1-1; 20-25, 25-14.

“All tournament this team played steady, not making many mistakes,” head coach Diana McKibbin said. “They all know their jobs and they chipped away point by point this match. It wasn’t much of a momentum changer because that’s the way they approach the game.”

The third frame started as expected for those in the boisterous crowd, tied 3-3 with neither team letting the other budge. It wasn’t until two kills and a double block by Torrimar that a lead of any kind grew, Torrimar going up 6-3.

Ka Ulukoa came within reach, 7-8, refusing to let Torrimar run away with it. Three consecutive points via Lorenzo Lopez’s serve, Torrimar maintained momentum at 11-7.

With the championship on the line, the teams went through five ties and four lead changes in the final stretch. Led by a Ka Ulukoa comeback on a 5-1 run to make it 12-all, a long rally allowed Ka Ulukoa to find a gap to tap in a point for a 16-15 advantage. Torrimar responded with a huge slam to tie it once more but the final two points came swiftly to allow Ka Ulukoa to take the final two sets and the match, 18-16.

“This team doesn’t give up. We maintained solid mental play and mentally took care of our responisbilities,” said McKibbin. “This is a well-disciplined group and we played as a team throughout.”