Go Bows: University Lab stuns 2-time D-I defending state champ Saint Louis

Last season's heartbreak in the Division II state title game doesn't hurt so much now. University Lab School pulled off one of its most memorable wins of recent memory with a 67-64 overtime win over two-time Division I defending state champion Saint Louis on Thursday. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Nov. 30, 2023)

University Lab coach Ryan Tong has seen a lot of basketball in his years as a Junior Rainbow player, then assistant coach, then head coach.

Like minds think alike, and when he succeeded former teammate Walt Quitan to oversee the boys basketball program, expectations were still high. Low-key high.

Don’t mind the Jr. ‘Bows for getting just a wee bit excited after stunning No. 1 Saint Louis in overtime, 67-64, on Thursday night in the opening round of the Surfriders Holiday Classic. The Jr. ‘Bows do all the little things — accountable, tough defense, cutting to the basket for crisp passes and higher-percentage shots, crashing the boards like a group of grizzled grandpas on game ball at the park.

It’s old school and it works. Trey Ambrozich, who had a quiet scoring night in ULS’ win over No. 10 Campbell earlier in the week, tallied 19 points against Saint Louis. Point guard Todd McKinney had 14 and sharpshooter Kenna Quitan had 12 on four treys.

Pupu Sepulona, the reigning Star-Advertiser player of the year, led the Crusaders with 19 points. Keanu Meacham added 12.

“The most satisfying aspect is knowing we came together as a team, a total team effort. It was great to see we had guys coming off the bench, filling in and having great moments,” Tong said.

Koa Laboy, who exploded for 21 points against Campbell, finished with four points. ULS could have crumbled without the rugged rebounder when he picked up his fifth personal foul.

“We lost Koa. He fouled out and didn’t play the majority of the fourth quarter. I was just happy to see that. It was a total team effort,” Tong said.

Ambrozich has been a precise shooter since his middle-school years while the players balled out together in offseason leagues He was around 6 feet, 3 inches as an eighth grader, but is now a 6-7 sophomore. He had at least four blocked shots against a tough Campbell squad.

“Trey is such a dynamic player. He can impact the game in so many ways. He doesn’t have to score to be effective. Last night, he took advantage of opportunities he was given. It’s hard because they’ve got big bodies in Pupu and big Jordan (Posiulai). He was able to pull them out of the post a little bit and work his mid-range shot, attack the gaps,” Tong said. “On the defensive side, he’s such a difference maker, altering shots. Just have to get him not to jump so much. Sky’s the limit for him. He’s got so much to work on still. He’s got basketball and volleyball. He’s traveling next week but luckily we have no tournaments or games.”

There were no surprises for Tong. There was confirmation.

“What surprised me was, it didn’t really surprise me because this team plays with a lot of heart and passion for the game. But it really, really showed last night. Losing Koa and we were down 11 to 12 points at one point. Just the grit, determination. It does surprise me, but it doesn’t. The fight that they showed last night. I was super proud of them for their determination and resilience to go against the best team in the state. It was a pretty good crowd on hand. It was a moment,” he said.

The win by last year’s Division II state-tournament runner-up over a two-time defending D-I state champion circles the conversation back to this: shouldn’t University Lab be in D-I? It’s a question that has hovered over the program since the team was dominant in ILH Intermediate league a few years ago.

“At the beginning of summer or end of spring, we really wanted to move up and play at the highest level. However, just looking at a school like ours, we always have to take into consideration the depth,” Tong said.

University Lab has an enrollment of around 200 students.

“Injuries, if something happens. We don’t want to be fear-based, but there was a chance Kenna might not play this season. Back injury, shoulder injuries,” Tong said

In a mild surprise, Saint Louis switched to zone during the game. Coach Dan Hale’s teams have almost exclusively relied on man defense. Much like other coaches in the ILH who were practically married to man defense, using zone with the shot clock is becoming a popular pairing.

“Our ball movement really got them on their heels. They went to a zone for a long time. That’s when we made our run. They were in kind of a stretch 2-3,” Tong noted.

Alika Ahu is a big x-factor. He was having a cold-shooting night against Campbell on Monday, but remained aggressive and hit some crucial shots down the stretch.

“Alika has really been a huge factor for us. It’s been a surprise for other teams how well he’s been able to adapt. In my opinion, he’s one of the best defenders in the state. That element means teams have to account for him. He doesn’t get rattled,” Tong said.

So the target just got bigger for ULS. Is there still an edge for the tiny school on the hardwood?

“It’s a mindset. I think for us being a Division II school, we’re always going to be kind of that underdog no matter who we play. We’re really, really embraced that underdog role. We want teams to overlook us,” Tong said. “It’s hard not to ignore stuff in the media and social media, but we really have to (embrace it). I don’t want it going to their heads. This is a blue-collar group so I don’t think it will. We look forward to challenges. I told them, this means nothing if we come out and lose to Campbell. They want their lick back.”

That’s right. Campbell outlasted last year’s D-II state champion, Kohala, 63-55. That sets up a rematch of Campbell and University in Friday’s semifinal round.

“We’re expecting a different Campbell team. Hopefully we’re ready,” Tong said.

In the ILH, girls volleyball had a blended schedule that allowed D-I and D-II teams to play during the regular season. In boys basketball, not so. They may have the freedom to schedule their own games, but University will have an exclusively D-II slate once the regular season begins.

“I would love to have that integrated schedule. Overall, it would be good, especially in years past when St. Francis and Damien had those strong teams. I’ve always felt the upper half of ILH D-II would be competitive,” Tong said.

There are friends who reminded Tong of this once news spread about the signature win over Saint Louis.

“I was getting texts and calls after. ‘I told you.’ For us, the depth thing is huge, but a lot of it comes down to winning our conference title and state title last year. That’s what we’re setting out to do this year,” he said.

A year from now, there will be no debating. The green and white take on the big boys for good, or at least the 2024-25 season.

:Whether we win or not this year, “ Tong said, “We’re moving up.”

No. 10 Campbell 63, Kohala 55
>> Cam: Rylan Sotelo 15, Josh Ellis 14, Royson Dacuycuy 11 (3 treys). Koh: Layden Kauka 26 (6 treys), Jayden Hook 10.
No. 5 Kamehameha 67, Baldwin 38
>> KS: Christian Togiai 14, Cain Kahahawai 11, Shyne Salvador 11. Bal: Laa Manangan 14.
University 67, No. 1 Saint Louis 64, OT
>> ULS: Trey Ambrozich 19, Todd McKinney 15, Kenna Quitan 12 (4 treys). STL: Pupu Sepulona 19, Keanu Meacham 12
No. 5 Kailua 60, Waipahu 38
>> Kai: Maddox Pung 16. Wai: Kyan Uganiza 16.

Friday’s games
No. 10 Campbell vs. University, 6:30 p.m.
No. 5 Kamehameha vs. No. 5 Kailua, 8 p.m.
Kohala vs. No. 1 Saint Louis, 3:30 p.m.
Baldwin vs. Waipahu, 5 p.m.

Saturday’s games
Championship, 7:30 p.m.
Third place, 6 p.m.
Fifth place, 4:30 p.m.
Third place, 3 p.m.


  1. Kari Ambrozich December 2, 2023 7:00 am

    Dear Paul,

    Thank you for highlighting the amazing kids playing for the Jr. Bows this year. One correction, Trey Ambrozich is a sophomore, not a junior as listed in the article.

    With aloha,
    Kari Ambrozich
    Trey’s mom

  2. Paul Honda December 13, 2023 12:45 pm

    Yikes! My apologies. Thought I wrote sophomore.

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