Best Of The West Champ On Top
By Mark Tennis
Punahou High of Honolulu boasts about a zillion state championships in its storied history, but the boys’ volleyball team went above and beyond last weekend, returning home from the Best of the West tournament in Poway, California, with a first-place trophy, after topping almost all of mighty California’s top-ranked teams.
While the Buffanblu suffered a pool play loss to Edison of Huntington Beach, they still advanced to the gold bracket and won the title with a 25-22, 16-25, 15-13 triumph over Oak Park (Calif.). In the semifinals, Punahou edged Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) 26-24, 29-27 while Oak Park topped Loyola (Los Angeles, Calif.) 25-19, 23-25, 15-13.
Three of the four semifinalists at Best of the West were in the top five of the Flo50 preseason national rankings with Loyola at No. 1, Punahou at No. 4, and Oak Park at No. 5. Preseason No. 3 Newport Harbor (Newport Beach, Calif.) and preseason No. 7 Corona del Mar (Newport Beach, Calif.) also competed. Newport Harbor lost to Oak Park in the quarterfinals while Corona del Mar lost to Punahou.
Outside hitter Ryan Wilcox led Punahou during the weekend and was named Most Valuable Player. Teammate Kana’i Akana also made the all-tourney team.
It’s not the first time an expected top team from Hawaii went to the Best of the West and won. Punahou did it in 2010. The Buffanblu finished 11th in 2014, but didn’t attend in 2015 or 2016.
With the preseason No. 2 team, Glenbard West of Illinois, not having kicked off its season yet, Punahou became a fairly easy choice for No. 1 in this week’s Flo50. Oak Park, by virtue of its win over preseason No. 1 Loyola, also was moved up to No. 2 with Glenbard West dropping to No. 3.
Sure, there is the possibility that Glenbard West will continue to roll once its season does start and could finish unbeaten with another state title. If Punahou doesn’t lose in Hawaii competition for the rest of the season, however, going to face that gauntlet of big-time Southern California teams and winning a tourney title will keep the Buffanblu in the top spot all the way through the final rankings.
If you don’t know, the way national rankings should work, teams that get to be No. 1 don’t get dropped unless they lose a match or a game. Pecking orders can and do get flipped from No. 2 on down, but the No. 1 ranking is treated with more respect.
The highest-ranked newcomer in this week’s rankings is unbeaten Freedom of Orlando, Florida. The Patriots have emerged by beating a who’s who of top Florida teams so far, including Winter Park (9-1), Lyman of Longwood (6-1), Ransom Everglades (preseason No. 45), Archbishop McCarthy (defending state champ), and Mourning (which also has only lost to Freedom).