Lawson stood tall when it counted
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Wes Nakama
Even at 6 feet 7, 'Iolani School senior Brad Lawson had to reach down deep to scale new heights this past boys volleyball season.
The outside hitter found that something extra, and the result was a state championship for the Raiders and Advertiser State Player of the Year honors for Lawson after a recent vote of coaches and members of the media.
Lawson added another big honor this month, as he was featured on the cover of Volleyball magazine as team captain (Player of the Year) of the publication's annual "Fab 50" list of best players in the nation.
But the honors, and state championship, did not come easily.
Chronic knee pain and then a jammed right (hitting) wrist caused Lawson to miss several matches in the middle of the season. He returned to help 'Iolani secure a state tournament berth as the Interscholastic League of Honolulu runner-up, then led the Raiders to sweeps of Mililani and Wai'anae in the state tourney first round and quarterfinals, respectively.
In the semifinal match against ILH rival Kamehameha, 'Iolani coach Mike Among said Lawson "was making some mistakes" in Game 1, a 25-23 Raiders victory. In the second game, the Warriors took a 24-21 lead and were about to force a decisive Game 3 when Lawson rose to the occasion.
"He had some key kills and blocks," Among said. "We were able to score six of the next seven points to win 27-25, and he was a big part of that."
In the title match against three-time defending state champ Punahou, Lawson got blocked on his very first swing.
"He just laughed to himself," Among said.
Lawson then got the last laugh, as he notched a staggering 31 kills to lead 'Iolani to a stunning 25-22, 22-25, 25-20 upset, ending the Buffanblu's four-year streak of 74 consecutive regular and postseason victories.
"In the middle of the third game, he looked at Logan (Nowack) and said, 'Set me the ball,' " Among said. "Then he just carried us the rest of the way."
Lawson's dominant hitting came from all over the court, with many of his spikes starting from the back row. Among said he also was a skilled passer and blocker.
Punahou led the way with three Advertiser All-State first-team selections: setter Erik Shoji, outside hitter Taylor Crabb and opposite Maddison McKibbin.
Outside hitters Kaina Palama of Roosevelt and Anthony Robinson of Wai'anae round out the first team.
Shoji, a 6-1 senior, was an All-State first-team libero as a freshman and sophomore and made it as an outside hitter as a junior. This season, he added setting to his many duties and contributed in just about every facet of the game.
"He did whatever they needed," Among said. "He was so valuable on defense in the back row, but he also could set, hit and block. His volleyball I.Q. is amazing, and he was the glue that held that team together."
Crabb (6-2 sophomore) and McKibbin (6-5 junior) stepped in and helped keep Punahou's win streak alive throughout the season despite heavy losses to graduation, including two NCAA Division I products.
Robinson, a 6-foot junior, helped the Seariders capture their first OIA Red Conference (Division I) championship since 1997. Palama, a 6-2 senior, helped Roosevelt take second place in the OIA and third in the state tournament.
Like Lawson and Shoji, Palama is a repeat Advertiser All-State first-team selection.
Among was named Coach of the Year after guiding the Raiders to their first state title since 2003.
Reach Wes Nakama at email@example.com.