Tipping off: A look at top girls teams and players

Maryknoll girls basketball coach Chico Furtado enters the 2018-19 season with no seniors on this squad. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to Star-Advertiser (Dec. 9, 2017)

Sometimes, the seasons arrive too soon.

Unless it’s basketball. It’s never too soon for prep basketball, even if it feels like the 2017-18 season was an overnight dream. Yes, as we enter Year 12 of girls basketball in the Hawaiian winter — rather than spring — the change of seasons combined with the earlier-than-ever start date makes this week phenomenal.

Maryknoll has already played Moanalua, last Saturday (Nov. 1) and the Lady Spartans won. Preseason is never neat and tidy, but Maryknoll and its posse of new players — nearly every returnee has graduated or transferred — ran away, 85-39.

For the Spartans, four-time defending Interscholastic League of Honolulu champions, the promise of last year’s JV squad is taking root on varsity.

“I start four sophomores and a junior. Two more sophomores and three freshmen come off my bench,” longtime coach Chico Furtado said. “I don’t have any seniors. I may lose more hair this year.”

Of course, that’s unlikely as long as his players listen. That won’t guarantee that Furtado’s hair won’t turn silver and gray. If they don’t listen to him and his staff, well…

“We’ll see. They’re very athletic, but young. It should be fun,” he added.

Two nonconference games are on the slate Tuesday: Campbell at Kalani, and Sacred Hearts at Waipahu. Kalani lost some major contributors to last season’s run-and-gun squad, but has the fortune of welcoming former Maryknoll player Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole. The talented, long wing nearly attended Kalani as a freshman, but opted to join the Maryknoll program, where she was a Star-Advertiser All-State selection by coaches and media. She transferred to Kalani earlier this year.

The Lady Falcons also have a deadly sharpshooter in sophomore Alayna Akiona, who stepped up in the postseason with 20 points against Waiakea. She finished the season with an injury against ‘Iolani.

Sacred Hearts returns two outstanding players in All-State guard Dallas Martinez and forward Te’Hiwa Medeiros.

Martinez averaged 15 points per game last season and was one of the state’s top free-throw shooters with an 81-percent rate. Defenses may try to contain Martinez, but she is one of the headiest playmakers in the islands and will find open teammates for easy buckets. Eight-plus assists per game is realistic.

On Wednesday: University at Kaimuki and Kalaheo at Radford. Kaimuki features All-State guard Kaelyn Espinda, one of the state’s premier shooters and playmakers. Now a senior, she averaged 19 points per game last season, including 25 with seven treys against Kahuku.

Three tournaments tip off this Thursday. The McKinley Classic is a four-day event, with a day off on Sunday, and includes several of the state’s top teams. On Thursday, Maryknoll meets Lahainaluna at 5 p.m., ILH favorite ‘Iolani challenges Kahuku at 6:30, and rising Mid-Pacific takes on host McKinley, 8 p.m.

Kahuku has the No. 4 player from last season’s All-State Fab 15, 5-foot-9 post Sisilia Kaufusi. The mobile, quick senior averaged 21 points per game in OIA play. When Kahuku lost to ‘Iolani in last year’s state tourney, Kaufusi poured in 25 points.

‘Iolani guard Tori Maeda, left, is one of the top returning point guards in the state. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

‘Iolani is completely stacked with speed and skill. Tori Maeda returns as possibly the top point guard in the state. She was especially terrifying for Kamehameha, scoring more than 16 points per game. As a junior, she shot 81 percent from the free-throw line.

(Update: We just learned that Maeda suffered a knee injury during the summer and is out for the season. This is a major loss for the Raiders. They’ve got the depth to still compete for ILH and state titles, but losing Maeda is massive.)

Another blur in the lane is Raiders guard Lily Lefotu Wahinekapu, who was a phenom at times last season as a freshman. After averaging 12 points per game, she’s due for a bump higher as the Raiders continue to race up and down the court against all competition. With Taylor Wu, ‘Iolani has three players capable of playing with pace, long-distance range and air-tight, full-court defense.

Mid-Pacific had its struggles last year off the court, but returns with a talented core that includes quick swingman Brilie Kovaloff, who averaged 15 points per game in ILH play.

Lahainaluna lost its starting backcourt, including All-State selection Braeanna Estabillo-Donato. However, forward Susitina Namoa is a senior who was borderline spectacular in MIL and state-tourney play. Despite a knee injury that sidelined her in preseason, she had 16 points, nine rebounds, 1.3 steals and one block per game at the big dance.

The annual Moanalua Peek tourney has four games on Thursday, including King Kekaulike and Maui of the MIL.

The Hanalani Lady Royals Challenge also has four games on tap and includes Molokai and King Kekaulike, which means Na Alii are playing six games in three days at the two tourneys.

On Friday, Sacred Hearts rides to McKinley gym to take on Mililani. The Lady Trojans have point guard Dahlis Sablay, an unstoppable force with the ball, ready for her junior season. She scored 14 points pre game in OIA play.

That game will be sandwiched by Lahainaluna-‘Iolani and Kamehameha-Kalani. That’s right. Some of the best preseason girls basketball games this season will be on the same night as the state football tournament. That’s not the sound of paper being crumpled. It’s just my soul being crushed a tiny, tiny bit.

Kamehameha has Kalina Obrey back for her senior year. The 5-11 post was devastating during preseason last year, then suffered a broken hand. She came back to score 15 points per game, easily the top double-double performer in the ILH. She just completed a standout season for the Warriors in girls volleyball.

On Saturday, the McKinley Classic has five games starting at 10 a.m. If you’re all about getting your money’s worth, there you go. Bring your fan and a seat cushion.

Some teams and players not listed — we don’t have all the team schedules yet — that will be compelling viewing.

>> Mata Sagapolutele, St. Francis
The Saints reached the Division II state championship game before losing to Kamehameha-Hawaii. Sagapolutele’s leg injury — she tried valiantly to play through it in the state final — was a major factor. If she’s back at full strength, the 6-2 junior might turn out to be the best rebounder in the state.

>> Kelsie Imai, Waiakea
Easily one of the top guards in the state, Imai was a potential triple-double every time she took the court for the uptempo Warriors. Now a junior, Imai and her team are a year older, stronger and wiser. They lost to Maryknoll in the state semifinals. A run to the title game is not out of the question.

>> Kaylen Kamelamela, Leilehua
There may not be a smoother pull-up jump shooter in the state than Kamelamela, who has been lighting it up for the Mules in her first two seasons. She scored 15 points per game in OIA action last season. At 5-9, she looks and moves a lot like former Punahou point-guard ace Rachel Kane.

>> And finally, Caiyle Kaupu, Konawaena
Without the agile 5-9 post, the Wildcats don’t have the scoring, rebounding and defense to counter the bigs from Oahu. But Kaupu expanded her shooting range last year and hit a crucial corner 3 as the Wildcats pulled away from No. 1 seed Maryknoll in the state final. The graduation of guards Mikayla Tablit (UH-Hilo) and Cherilyn Molina (Washington State) leaves a number of questions about the Wildcats in 2018-19, but Coach Bobbie Awa won’t have to worry about the post.

See the rest of the schedule on our girls basketball preseason page.

COMMENTS

  1. HI HS FAN November 6, 2018 12:25 pm

    Hmm. Don’t see anything about players from Konawaena. Predicting a down year for them? Heard that in a tournament in Vegas they balled out against some faster, taller teams. They played tough defense, boxed out well, ran their breaks, and had some good 3-point shooters. I guess they’ll just lay low and peak at states, as they always do.


  2. Casual Observer November 6, 2018 11:41 pm

    Yes, what about Konawaena? They aren’t on any of the preseason tournaments also. Isn’t that unusual?


  3. Paul Honda November 7, 2018 12:01 pm

    My bad, fellow hoopsters. I scrolled too fast on my list of last season’s best ballers. I added Caiyle Kaupu this morning. HOW COULD I FORGET???


  4. BIIF FAN November 8, 2018 10:13 am

    Kona’s guard???


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