Injury to Kamehameha’s Christmas Togiai a ‘huge’ game-changer as Maryknoll takes back-to-back titles

Maryknoll handed Kamehameha its first loss since preseason to win a second straight Division I boys basketball championship. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

The shape of the 2020 boys basketball state final changed on Thursday night.

Maryknoll overpowered Kamehameha, 46-33, for the state championship on Friday, but the Warriors lost their glue guy on Thursday. When Christmas Togiai hit the deck with 2:20 left in a close battle with Kahuku, nothing would ever be the same for No. 1 Kamehameha.

Scorer. Long-range shooter. Arguably the toughest penetrator in the state. Knowledge. Skill. Courage. But none of it could bring the talented court leader back onto the court.

No. 2 Maryknoll already had plenty of motivation. The Spartans beat Kamehameha in preseason, but lost three times in the regular season and playoffs, all to the Warriors. Defending champions, yes, but they entered the Snapple/HHSAA State Championships as ILH runner-up, unseeded like the rest of the state’s first-round entries.

On top of that, Liko Soares was playing through pain, the kind that was a “12” on a scale of 0 to 10, he said. A partially-torn meniscus that needs surgery after the season — Soares played through it. An ACL, different story, different ending for Togiai and the Warriors.

“It’s huge. I couldn’t sleep last night because usually when I prepare for a team, I make one game plan,” Spartans coach Kelly Grant said. “But I had to make two. I didn’t know if Christmas was going to play or not. In the morning, I got word that he had a torn ACL. My heart goes out to the guy. Four years of tremendous basketball. It is what it is. It makes a big difference.”

Maryknoll senior Niko Robben felt for Togiai, who sat next to his coaches on the bench.

“We know Chris is a great player. He’s excellent defensively and offensively. Him being gone opened up a lot of things for us. I know he got injured yesterday and it’s pretty bad. I just hope he has a fast recovery so he has a good future,” Robben said.

After a 35-year hiatus between titles, Maryknoll (30-4) now has back-to-back championship trophies.

“The last title was really special to our school and our program because it was our first one in about 30 years,” Robben said. “To go back-to-back after losing five seniors, and four starting seniors, just shows how good coaching and good effort off the court, hitting the weight room can really pay off.”

Kamehameha played its hearts out, limiting Maryknoll to 41-percent field goal shooting. The Warriors kept a lid on Robben, who finished with three points and seven rebounds. Kamehameha, however, had no scoring punch without Togiai. The Warriors shot 4-for-27 from the 3-point arc and 23 percent from the field overall (11-for-47).

With 7-foot sophomore Sage Tolentino playing his best basketball and protecting the rim like no other Hawaii hoopster in recent memory — he was selected the most outstanding player of the tournament — Kamehameha’s opportunities in the paint were limited and difficult.

“Coach (Larry) Park having to come up with a game plan 24 hours after knowing that his star player cannot play, that’s difficult,” Grant said.

Maryknoll put pesky, persistent defender Noah Furtado on the explosive Kordel Ng, and Ng finished with 14 points and five rebounds. He also shot 4-for-19 and was under duress from start to finish.

“We already played three or four teams this year where we take away one player, so it wasn’t something that was real difficult for us,” Grant noted. “If you watched Noah play defense last year, he couldn’t guard my grandmother. This year, because of all of his hard work and dedication, he became our best defender.”

Grant pulled Soares aside as the team cut the net down. They talked for a minute, maybe two, facing away from the crowd. Grant shook Soares’ hand. They hugged. Grant, as a player at Maryknoll, was a superb shooter and decision maker, but ran into knee injuries in college. Soares felt the appreciation.

“It hurts a lot,” he said of the meniscus injury. “I knew I was going to get back on the court no matter what. It’s my last year.”

Soares credited his mother, Lehua.

“It’s this Hawaiian leaf, and ice. I don’t know what it’s called, but my mom wraps it around my knee. It takes out all the bad blood,” he said.

The best medicine from day one, though, was the leadership of seniors Robben, Reggie Eiland and Soares. Eiland came up with three key plays, including standing strong to take a charge, and tipping a Kamehameha dribble out of bounds to stop a fast break. Three low-key elders guiding a team of talented, but relatively inexperienced new contributors.

“I was confident in this group. Last year, we were just bigger. This year, we have Sage, Niko and this coach right here,” Soares said, pointing to assistant coach and former player Payton Grant. “He had a big part in our team. As leaders, we did what we had to do, just guide them.”

Robben is hoping to attend Rice in the fall. After running the point as a junior, he embraced a new role as a primary scorer and attacker from the top and wing.

“It was a big role to step into after losing a lot of the seniors, but I had Parker (Grant) behind me to fill in as a distributor and make good passes, get people open, so that was really helpful,” Robben said.

Ultimately, climbing up the mountain week after week, day after day — chasing Kamehameha — did not frustrate the Spartans. They had each other to push and be pushed by.

“It’s about team bonding first of all. The team’s motivation and hunger, a hunger to win, a hunger to be aggressive. Reggie stepped us for us today and he did excellent,” Robben said.

HHSAA Division I State Tournament

Match #DateMatchupTime/ScoresSite
1Feb. 17Waiakea vs. LeilehuaLei, 82-53Waiakea
2Feb. 17Kahuku vs. KaiserKah, 56-37Kahuku
3Feb. 17Lahainaluna vs. DamienDMS, 58-49Lahainaluna
4Feb. 17Maryknoll vs. KalaheoMryk, 49-41 (OT)Maryknoll
5Feb. 19(1) Kamehameha vs. LeilehuaKSK, 72-43McKinley
6Feb. 19(4) Baldwin vs. KahukuKah, 64-53McKinley
7Feb. 19(2) Moanalua vs. DamienDMS, 64-57Moanalua
8Feb. 19(3) KS-Hawaii vs. MaryknollMryk, 61-32Moanalua
9*Feb. 20Moanalua vs. KS-HawaiiMoan, 73-61Stan Sheriff Center
10*Feb. 20Leilehua vs. BaldwinBald, 73-54Stan Sheriff Center
11Feb. 20Damien vs. MaryknollMryk, 57-40Stan Sheriff Center
12Feb. 20Kamehameha vs. KahukuKSK, 48-39Stan Sheriff Center
13*Feb. 21Moanalua vs. BaldwinMoan, 64-52Stan Sheriff Center
14*Feb. 21Damien vs. KahukuKah, 50-49Stan Sheriff Center
15Feb. 21Maryknoll vs. KamehamehaMryk, 46-33Stan Sheriff Center
* — consolation


  1. 88 February 22, 2020 9:41 am

    The final rankings should be interesting.. They used the flu as an excuse for the girls side I wonder if they are going to use this injury to keep Kamehameha at #1… Only in Hawaii.

  2. Coach Taylor February 22, 2020 11:01 am

    The only game that matters in the final one. No one cares about the others. I should know. I have won 9 final games myself.

  3. Big dog February 22, 2020 11:01 am

    Definitely the best team in the state hands down with Togiai playing.
    Great attitude, leader and respectable young man. Prayers for a speedy recovery.

  4. My Opinion February 22, 2020 12:17 pm

    That was the worst championship game in recent memory. Both teams regardless of injuries were sloppy and played careless basketball. It’s hard to believe that these were the two best teams in the state. Come on Hawaii we gottah do better, it all starts at the club ball level.

  5. Warrior 1 February 22, 2020 1:21 pm

    Kamehameha with Togiai is the best team in the state hands down and it really isn’t even close. Tough to see, tough for Kamehameha. Hats off to Maryknoll.

  6. EastParent February 22, 2020 2:58 pm

    Congratulations to Maryknoll. Period!

  7. Tokotoko February 22, 2020 3:40 pm

    Interesting to see what could have been if Togiai played, but congrats to Maryknoll as they were able to capitalize on their opportunities to secure back-to-back State Titles.
    In my opinion, Maryknoll should be the odds on favorite to win it all next year too as they have a lot of youth and depth on that squad .

  8. SweatyMurphy February 22, 2020 4:12 pm

    This game surpassed my expectations as I expected a final score of 18-23 in favor of whomever.

  9. LC February 23, 2020 8:44 pm

    Injuries happen. This was so unfortunate, poor young man. Maryknoll did what they had to do and congratulations. Kamehameha battled and didn’t quit. They got hot near the end there. They should be proud.

    Speaking of quitting why was that Hayden player allowed back on the Damien squad? You quit, you quit, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I know, we all don’t know the story blah, blah, yada yada. Stop already. Noticed he didn’t suit up for the third place game. What’s the latest, greatest excuse as he wasn’t injured. Small school, big drama.

  10. For the love of the game February 24, 2020 12:19 pm

    Prayers to Christmas for complete healing and a speedy recovery. My heartbreaks for him and his team;

    As for DMS, yes quitters can quit then come back. Hayden didn’t suit up but was there in street clothes; a few parents when asked said his dad thinks he’s too good for 3rd place but it was good to see their bench get to play the last game maybe if the coach just trusted one to play defense it could have been different for them. I hope DMS cleans up their entire basketball program and get rid of everyone and start new; go back to D2 and give those who pays full tuition a chance;

    Heard Boogie is coming back but playing for another ILH school. Small school with lots of drama only in the basketball program; coaches are losers and showed they couldn’t coach kids with talent because they are a bunch of clowns who recruited only to get bit in their asses by Hayden and the D1 6’7 recruit to Georgetown as their water boy NO where near D1 quality.

  11. Haters Gonna Hate February 24, 2020 1:55 pm

    Wow rumors and more rumors. Why all the hate on Damien… everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but all the assumptions. Really? Damien definitely showed why they deserve to be in D1. They fell short but they still did good making it to the Top 10 each time. Damien ignore the “real clowns” that are hating and can’t keep Damien out of their mouths with their negtivity. Congratulations to all the teams!!! And speedy recovery to Togiai.

  12. ILoveHawaii February 25, 2020 9:58 am

    Such sour grapes.

    You cannot, with a straight face, say that the RR girls team is better than Maryknoll and deserves to be ranked higher.
    You look at the season and strength of schedule like, I am assuming, the people who voted on it.

    I know you love your team but come on.

    Look at football, Puns wasnt even in the state tournament but ended the season ranked higher than teams that were in the tournament even the runner up. Did they have it wrong then? Nope, because we all knew that Puns was better than those teams.

  13. Back to Back! February 25, 2020 9:59 am

    glad someone posted about Hayden, i was wondering why he didnt play in the third place game. Damien tried to be like Maryknoll, small school, baller program. but in the end you need a strong foundation that takes a while to rebuild so that drama doesn’t poison the program. Damien wanted to do it the quick way, and they failed. Look how long it took Maryknoll to get where it was. There were many failures in the states and ILH tourneys before these back to back titles.

  14. Spartan 78 February 25, 2020 6:39 pm

    The roles were exactly reversed in 1976… except Marty played, but on a badly injured ankle…

  15. Paul Honda February 27, 2020 8:23 am

    I was told Hayden Bayudan did not play in the third-place game due to a hip injury.

  16. 88 February 28, 2020 9:39 am

    @ilovehawaii- Punahou was ranked higher than Kahuku at the end of the football season because they BEAT Kahuku and NOT because they were the better team. Maryknoll is ranked higher than Kamehameha NOT because they are the better team but because they BEAT them. Kahuku girls team BEAT Maryknoll with ALL their regulars playing but are ranked lower at the end of the year… That’s bull$h!t!

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