Kailua’s lockdown defense stifles University for Surfrider Classic title

During Coach Walter Marciel's era at Kailua, there have been explosive offensive teams, but with a tall, long squad that buys into ultimate defense, they have finally won their Surfrider Holiday Classic for the first time. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Dec. 2, 2023)

The run-and-gun unit at Kailua has gone defensive.

With Noa Donnelly, Dylan Kunz and Maddox Pung — and help from Sebastian Ledda — battling in the trenches — Kailua used a suffocating 2-3 matchup zone to repel upstart University Lab, 45-37, in the championship game of the Surfrider Holiday Classic on Saturday night at Kailua.

It was the first loss of the nonconference slate after five wins for unranked University. They had beaten Campbell twice, on Monday and Friday, and No. 1 Saint Louis this week.

“They made it difficult for us. We were 7-for-18 at the free-throw line, 2-for-12 from three. Tough shooting night for us, but it happens,” ULS coach Ryan Tong said. “We had our opportunities. The deficit was the same when we played Saint Louis. We were down six.”

After several runs to the tournament final, fifth-ranked Kailua (6-1) finally broke through and won the title.

“This year, I feel like we’re gelling as a team more. We have a lot of confidence in each other to knock down shots even if we’re missing,” said Pung, a 6-foot-3 sophomore.

Defense is becoming a cornerstone for the Surfriders. Most nights, most quarters, Kailua is in man defense, but Marciel is resourceful. His players are hungry.

“I’m defensive minded. We all are,” said Kunz, who has one of the quickest 3-point releases in the state.

At 6-4, he was a force in defending the rim against Trey Ambrozich, Koa Laboy and Alika Ahu. So was Pung.

“Defense wins championships,” Pung said.

With their length and ability to contest most shots, Kailua looked a bit like the long, stingy defenders at Syracuse.

“I think we can beat anyone with that defense. That’s all it takes. Defense and knock down shots,” Pung said.

Coach Wally Marciel stuck with the zone through most of the second half, then switched back to man once they got a five-point lead.

“We really want to work on our 2-3 zone and make teams kind of work on getting a shot off. I think we did a good job this weekend. That’s a very, very good team. That University High is solid,” Marciel said. “It showed when they beat Saint Louis. It showed when they beat Campbell. Those type of teams will be in the state tournament. The field that we had this weekend, it’s a state-tournament type of field.”

The game was tied at 32 when Pung sparked a game-closing 13-5 run. The sophomore splashed a wing 3, and after ULS sank a free throw, Skyler Unten connected from the arc for a 38-33 lead.

Pung then banked in a 10-footer near the right block to keep the Surfriders ahead by two possessions, 40-35, with 2 minutes left.

The Jr. Bows pulled within 40-37, but Unten hit one of two FTs, and after Laboy missed a tough layup trying to draw contact from Donnelly, Kailua sealed victory.

Unten hit two free throws and Pung knocked down two more down the stretch to put the game away.

Kailua played its normal man-to-man defense and had a 28-22 lead at halftime. Then came a surprise switch to 2-3 zone, which could’ve been risky. Turns out, ULS was ice-cold from the field the rest of the night.

Their double-double force in the paint, Laboy, struggled and finished with 3 points. The normally efficient free-throw shooter was 3-for-10 from the charity stripe. The fatigue of beating No. 1 Saint Louis and No. 10 Campbell with a limited rotation may have taken a toll on a third-consecutive night of action.

Ambrozich finished with 18 points, but no other Jr. Bow scored more than four points.

“We’ve got things we need to work on, but I’m satisfied with our defense,” Marciel said.

Donnelly’s defense on ULS’ bigs in the paint was hawkish in the fourth quarter. Blocking shots. Altering shots. It’s team defense on a different level.

“It’s really just trusting your teammates to cover your back. A lot of hadging and stuff like that, you’ve got to trust the guys behind you to cover that backdoor for you,” Donnelly said. “ULS is a great team. They put up a hell of a fight. I give them props for that.”

As for beating a team that beat the No. 1 team, there’s no way to know how the Top 10 coaches and media will vote this weekend.

“I don’t see us as a No. 1 team yet,” Donnelly said. “We still got a lot to prove. We’re still a very young crew. We have a lot tucked away for the season and the playoffs.”

Saturday’s scores
No. 5 Kailua 45, University 37, championship
>> Kai: Maddox Pung 9, Skyler Unten 9. ULS: Trey Ambrozich 18
Koa Laboy 3 (3-10 FT). No other Jr. Bow with more than four points.

No. 5 Kamehameha 60, No. 10 Campbell, third place
>> KS: Kainoa Wade 15, Christian Togiai 10. Cam: Josh Ellis 12, Miles Hornage 12.
The Warriors opened their lead to 33-23 by halftime and kept pulling away. The Sabers have been non-stop moving since going on their trip to Japan. A break will be a blessing.

No. 1 Saint Louis 67, Baldwin 13, fifth place
>> STL: Pupu Sepulona 18, Jordan Posiulai 12, Corey Bailey 10. Bal: Nathaniel Sanchez 4.
Since halftime of their semifinal game with Kohala, the Crusaders have allowed just 20 points in six quarters of play.

Kohala 62, Waipahu 45, seventh place
>>Koh: Layden Kauka 28 (3 treys), Landon Kauka 14. Wai: Isaih Galisa 14.
Kohala led 32-28 at the half, then broke away with a 22-9 third-quarter run.


  1. ILoveHawaii December 8, 2023 9:05 am


    HPW is back.
    Great win for Kailua.
    I was interested to see how they would fare this season with Philbrick leaving.
    He was a scoring machine.

    Is that Eazy E’s son for ULS?

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