Although he’s focused on preparing Kaiser for another run in the OIA Division II boys basketball tournament, second-year coach Branden Kawazoe would like to see the Cougars have a chance to compete at the Division I level next season.
The Cougars looked the part on Thursday.
The OIA regular-season schedule doesn’t differentiate between the divisions and Kaiser, classified in Division II, continued an impressive run in the OIA East with a 58-48 home win over No. 9 Farrington.
The Cougars led for most of the night, breaking out to a 16-point lead early in the fourth quarter, and held off a Farrington rally to improve to 6-3 heading into a matchup with No. 3 Kahuku on Wednesday.
“I think we’re fortunate that we’re playing these tough teams because it gets us ready for the Division II tournament,” Kawazoe said. “We have a bunch of solid teams in Division II and just getting a chance to play against great competition every night helps us become better.”
Kaiser captured the OIA White title last year and finished fifth in the Division II state tournament. Whether the Cougars move up next year isn’t a high priority for Kawazoe at the moment.
“However it turns out, we’re just trying to get better and if it happens it happens,” Kawazoe said. “I’d love to for my junior class to be seniors and have a chance to play Division I next year, but that stuff will take care of itself and we just have to continue to get better.”
Kaiser has nine juniors on its 13-player roster, including its two top scorers in Thursday’s win. Center Chance Kalaugher overcame early foul trouble to lead the Cougars with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Keoua Mahiko, a 6-foot-2 guard, hit two 3-pointers in the first half and helped stem Farrington’s comeback with six points in the fourth quarter.
Guard Kelsey Lewis II missed a chunk of his senior season due to an ankle injury, and Kawazoe eased him back into the rotation in recent games. Lewis drained three 3-pointers in the first half on Thursday and his ability to stretch defenses could create even more opportunities for the 6-5 Kalaugher inside.
After falling to fellow Division II and East Oahu rival Kalani to open the regular season, Kaiser’s only losses since have been to Moanalua and No. 1 Kalaheo while the Cougars posted wins over McKinley, Roosevelt and Farrington. The remaining schedule will be a challenge with Kahuku and Kalilua remaining, but the process remains the priority for Kawazoe.
“We came in trying to lay a new foundation and I think the buy-in is getting better and better from the freshmen all the way through to the senior class,” Kawazoe said. “I always say it’s a process and it’s a credit to the kids. They’re the ones putting in the work, they’re the ones having to go out and perform and this is all them.”