The girls basketball regular season begins this week in the ILH and OIA. ALREADY! The days of January starts are long gone. Girls basketball is ahead of the boys by two weeks, as it has been in recent seasons, to alleviate strenuous gym-time challenges at just about every high school.
Interesting that there are a number of coaches, current and retired, who still bemoan the conflicts caused by having boys and girls season in the winter instead of split up as it was for decades until a few years ago. As a fan, I liked having the seasons apart, and it wouldn’t matter to me if the boys or girls played in spring. Six months of prep hoops was a blessing back then. But we move on…
Here’s how I voted in this week’s season debut of the Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10. Our debut rankings can be found at the bottom.
Pupule BKG ballot 12/4/17
1. Maryknoll Spartans (8-0)
Skinny: Unbeaten. Unchallenged. Dominant.
Plus: Eleven seniors, 11 pluses. Coach Chico Furtado believes in preparation, and this team is prepared and seasoned for success top to bottom, even as the coach persists in the drive for perfection.
X-factor: At this point, only injuries could stop the Spartans.
2. Kamehameha Warriors (9-1)
Skinny: The lone loss came early in preseason with C Kalina Obrey and PG Jewel Paaluhi-Caulk sidelined with injuries. Both are back now.
Plus: Sophomores are beginning to step forward for the Warriors.
X-factor: Injuries. Obrey returned full force from an early injury, and now UC Santa Barbara signee Kiana Vierra is out with an ankle injury.
3. St. Francis Saints (9-0)
Skinny: The Saints scorching the nets, beating small schools and big ones — Punahou, Kapolei — alike. They also have wins over Sacred Hearts and Moanalua. Based on their perfect start and those quality wins, I have the Saints ahead of almost every other team, including Lahainaluna, which lost to Campbell over the weekend. The resume speaks volumes, though it doesn’t necessarily mean I would expect the Saints to beat Lahainaluna or Konawaena. Yet.
4. Lahainaluna Lunas (6-2)
Skinny: It was a strange week for the Lady Lunas, who won their MIL opener on Tuesday (135-game win streak in league play), lost to Campbell on Thursday, then beat host Konawaena in double OT on Friday.
Plus: Early-season injuries gave younger Lunas a chance to gain experience in tournaments on Oahu and the Big Island.
X-factor: I still believe it comes down to the senior standout guards, Rachael Balagso and Braeanna Estabillo. If they remain aggressive, everything else falls into place, like their young post players.
5. Konawaena Wildcats (8-2)
Skinny: With freshmen and sophomores comprising half the roster, the Wildcats are progressing as expected. The double-OT loss to Lahainaluna might have been an upset in years past, but the two teams are very similar with stellar backcourts and young posts. The team that upset Lahainaluna during the tournament was Campbell, which Konawaena beat 59-29 on Saturday.
Plus: Kawena Kaohimanu stroked six 3-pointers (20 points) in a 59-29 win over Campbell on Saturday. That’s the same Campbell team that upset Lahainaluna on Thursday. Go figure.
X-factor: The bench. As a starting group, the Wildcats are as tough as most teams statewide. The youth brigade will need to develop each day if Konawaena has a chance to repeat as state champions.
6. ‘Iolani Raiders (4-2)
Skinny: The Raiders are fairly young, but have enough experience to make a run once again. Among their wins is a 55-47 game against Waiakea. Both losses were by single digits to Konawaena.
Plus: Fabulous freshman Lily Lefotu Wahinekapu has the makings of a franchise player, but the ILH has rarely been favorable for teams dependent on a single player. The Raiders have plenty of talent, and the experience of PG Tori Maeda, slasher Kellie Okamura and post Kayla Malta helps immensely.
X-factor: C Saige Ka‘ahaaina-Torres could be the biggest x-factor of all. The all-state volleyball player of the year has the athleticism and power to transform the future.
7. Punahou Buffanblu (7-1)
Skinny: First-year head coach Shawna Kuehu is building a program with her imprint, and the pieces are there. There have been close wins (Kalani, Kaiser), and a loss to a powerful St. Francis squad. This is easily one of the most fascinating storylines of the season.
Plus: Expectations are inherently high within the program, but on the whole, after a few seasons off the radar, the Buffanblu can thrive with the spotlight on the likes of Maryknoll, ‘Iolani, Kamehameha, Sacred Hearts. Or can they?
X-factor: The slim margins of victory can be telling that, as Coach Kuehu has said, there is much to work on. But to win close games with two freshmen at the forefront, that’s a good sign for Buffanblu faithful.
8. Mid-Pacific Owls (3-3)
Skinny: The Owls have a close win over Waiakea and a close loss to Konawaena. They’ve also lost to Hilo and Moanalua, otherwise they would be a bit higher on this pupule ballot.
9. Waiakea Warriors (6-4)
Skinny: The Warriors lost to Maryknoll and Kamehameha during their trip to Honolulu last week. Already, they’ve played most of ILH Division I, losing also to Mid-Pacific and beating Sacred Hearts. They’re young and fast and spunky. Sophomore Kelsie Imai might turn out to be the best of the Imai sisters. Coach Brandon Kauhi has a senior-less team, but he put them through the fire this preseason and has to like what he has going.
Plus: The Warriors play fast and as one. They might be too young to realize that young teams aren’t supposed to be quite this good.
X-factor: How will they compensate for a lack of rebounding? It’s a similar challenge that Hilo faced for many years while Ben Pana was coach.
10. Sacred Hearts Lancers (7-4)
Skinny: They’ve beaten a bunch of teams by double-digit margins. Their losses have been to Konawaena, Hawaii Baptist (who they beat over the weekend in a rematch), St. Francis and Waiakea. They’ve got just enough depth and power and skill to compete against any team. Dallas Martinez has been unstoppable at times, a true power guard.
Plus: The Lancers are gritty and though their style is sometimes physical and not pretty, their determination makes them a fun team to watch. They don’t do anything for show. It’s intriguing to see a team like this — which was also in the Top 10 last year during at the start of ILH play – take on such a challenging role. The Academy is a competitive D-I program, and if they were in D-II, they would be a definitely contender for the state title. In D-I, they’re too good to ever consider dropping back to D-II at any point. Especially since most of their key players are still underclassmen.
X-factor: Last year’s team had great momentum, then lost a string of games in league play and never quite recovered. Can the Lancers eke out a win during week one?
On the ballot cusp:
Moanalua Na Menehune (5-4)
Skinny: The Menes have been interesting to say the least, with an early win over MPI, but losing handily to Punahou, Mililani and Sacred Hearts.
Kalani Falcons (3-3)
Skinny: The Lady Falcons started off 0-3, losing to Maryknoll and Kamehameha handily. The last of those losses was a 44-42 tilt against Punahou, and that might have been the pivot point. Since then, Kalani has dominated Molokai, Pearl City and Nanakuli. Coach Chi Mok’s team is ready to run and run and run.
Hilo Vikings (4-2)
Skinny: Early losses to Mililani and ‘Iolani have been followed by wins over Mid-Pacific and Kaimuki.
Hawaii Baptist Eagles (8-3)
Skinny: The Eagles have been resilient and smart, a team using all kinds of off-ball movement to get scoring opportunities. Ally Wada remains a stellar, returning all-state player for this D-II program. Their losses have been to Kamehameha-Hawaii, Sacred Hearts and Kamehameha.
Plus: The negative of having no height — Wada is their tallest starter — is compensated to some extent by their overall quickness and speed. They stayed with Kamehameha through three quarters, though the Warriors played without Kiana Vierra (ankle).
X-factor: In D-II, the Eagles won’t be hard pressed to rely heavily on Wada. If they were in D-I, she might have to average 25 per game — similar to what Sacred Hearts G Dallas Martinez does — to keep her team competitive. Though it would seem that spectators would love to see Wada, who connects from NBA range and has a strong drive to the rim, dominate competition.
Kamehameha-Maui Warriors (3-2, 0-1 MIL)
Skinny: After a 40-point loss to Lahainaluna on Tuesday, the Warriors arrived on Oahu and won three of four games to regain momentum. Kimani Fernandez-Roy is strong and athletic in the post, a daughter of former UH volleyball player Cecelia Goods. In their win over Mililani, four different Warriors hit from downtown, including two treys from C Angel Pauole.
Plus: They also gave Kamehameha (Kapalama) a tough battle, so the question remains: can the Warriors overcome the aura of Lahainaluna? Physically, KS-Maui has the talent. Mentally? Winning three on Oahu might be the tonic.
X-factor: Pauole. She’s got very good hands for a post, and she could become a factor in the press breaker against Lahainaluna.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10
|Updated: Dec. 11|
ALSO RECEIVING VOTES: Kalani 5, Hawaii Baptist 4, Kamehameha-Maui 4, Mililani 3, Hilo 2, Kamehameha-Hawaii 2, Campbell 1, Moanalua 1.