Alameda’s heroics underscore Hilo’s blue-collar grit

The 2017-18 Hilo Vikings take pride in their teamwork and toughness. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Dec. 30, 2017)

Most of the Hilo Vikings weren’t born yet the last time the program won a state championship in boys basketball.

It was 2000, when Jason Mandaquit and his blonde hairdo ran the point for the team that carried 13 sticks bound together from one gym to the next. With Wes Martinez fortifying the team, leaving his beloved rooster behind in Ka‘u to play with childhood pal Mandaquit, the Vikings were a team of destiny. It was the final state title for legendary coach Larry Manliguis and his veteran staff.

The ’91 state title team was no slouch either, a pressing, fastbreaking team that had less of the halfcourt mastery of the ’00 squad, but great passing, defense and energy. Playing for the Big Island Interscholastic Federation’s dynastic program meant running the floor, stifling opponents with great zone presses and halfcourt man defense, and being prepared to rotate in and out. It was an era that in earlier years had similar DNA to teams like Farrington under Harry Pacarro, who rotated five in and five out. Pushing opposing teams to their endurance limits.

Hilo’s Jason Mandaquit holds up the 2000 State High School trophy following their victory over the St. Louis Crusaders. SB photo by George F. Lee

Hilo today is rebuilding. There’s a new gym. Ben Pana was the coach in recent years, taking over after serving as the girls varsity coach during an amazing run that featured his daughters, Aliyah and Alexis. Pana is now an assistant coach with the Kamehameha-Hawaii boys varsity program. Now, it’s Bruce Ferreira, one of Hilo’s standouts during the mid-’80s, at the helm for Hilo’s boys.

As a player, Ferreira was a strong, powerful and, most importantly, incredibly explosive guard. A blur. Now, in his second year as head coach, he is exercising considerable patience. He is building on what Pana started, and the current Vikings are clearly all in. They began the Punahou Invitational with losses to Punahou (89-39) and South Anchorage (59-48), but hung tough and eked out two buzzer-beater wins in the last two days. In the 51-50 win over Sequim (Wash.) and today against Mid-Pacific, Kekaukahi Alameda sank the winning shot.

“It gives our team more confidence for the season. This means nothing, but it gives us more confidence and that’s all we need,” Alameda said. “All we care about is doing what our team needs.”

The team’s road trip is now in its fifth day.

“We’re growing a bond. We’re ready to go home. I miss the space. It’s too crowded over here,” Alameda said.

Ferreira is glad his team is full of spirit. He’s rubbing off on them.

“We’re so undersized. We’re trying to get back to fundamentals. We’ve got to box out and focus on fundamentals,” he said.

They have toughness across the board. Liko Medeiros, a guard/forward, took a big spill after being fouled during a layup attempt and cut his chin badly enough to spill blood. He got his chin taped by a trainer and returned in the second half to help ignite Hilo’s comeback.

The BIIF race will be tight again. Ferreira is a realist with a lot of hope.

“In Division I, we’re between fourth and sixth. Anybody can beat each other. The 6 could become the 1,” he said. “We’re hoping some of the D-II teams upset the D-Is.”

The opening stretch of BIIF games will be a gauntlet with road games against Honokaa and Konawaena, followed by a home game against Kamehameha-Hawaii.

“Even the blowout loss to Punahou taught us a lot, especially on our press breaker,” Ferreira said. “This has definitely been a great experience for us.”


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