Lahainaluna’s three straight Division II football state championships have gotten people talking.
Will the Lunas — who went undefeated against D-I and D-II competition this season — move up?
Co-head coach Garret Tihada was asked for his thoughts right after Lahainaluna defeated Kapaa 34-32 in the D-II final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships on Saturday at Aloha Stadium.
His answer at the time — he still had some celebrating to do — was concise and ambiguous. Basically, he said the school has its own theory on that question.
On Wednesday via cell phone, Tihada got more specific and clarified exactly where the Lunas stand.
In a nutshell, Tihada thinks that the MIL champion should go to D-I at states and the MIL runner-up should go to D-II.
As it is now, the MIL has two D-I teams who fight during the regular season for the right to go to states. There are also three D-II teams vying for a state spot, and Lahinaluna is one of them.
“If Maui was able to send the champions to D-I and second place to D-II that would be the best situation for everybody,” Tihada said. “Then nobody has any questions. It’s cut and dry. It doesn’t matter the school size. On Oahu, in the OIA, a lot of large enrollment schools (like Lahainaluna) are in Division II.
“This has been our stance for a while, and we’ve gotten shut down (on that idea) for a few years now. We could elect to go to D-I on our own, which we did in the past. But it hurt our kids when we were consistently the second place team on Maui. We stayed home. The kids didn’t get as much exposure by not going to states. There are more eyes (by college recruiters) on you at states. We were in D-I for a bunch of seasons (the last time was in 2006).
“We decided that it was better to go down to D-II and give the kids more opportunities than they would have had in D-I and not making the tournament.”
The Lunas made two appearances in the Division I state tournament and went 1-2. They are 13-10 in 13 appearances in the Division II state tournament.
Tihada also pointed to the overall strength of Division II at the state level in 2017 (with ‘Iolani and Konawaena), which he felt was stronger than D-I.
For those who think it’s a no-brainer for Lahainaluna to go up to D-I, Tihada mentioned that in the three state finals, the Lunas won by an average of five points per game — 21-14 over Kapaa in 2016, 75-69 over Konawaena in 2017, and 34-32 over Kapaa in 2018.
“There’s been a lot of talk about people wanting us to move up and I’m not exactly sure why,” Tihada said. “There is great competition at D-II and it’s not like we’re dominating games. Most are really close games.
“We’ve brought it up (MIL champ goes to D-I and runner-up goes to D-II) at MIL meetings for a couple of years,” Tihada said. “I think it has to do with the HHSAA needing to do its scheduling and arranging sooner, and that it would be a nightmare for them to do it that late.”
“We understand. There is a reason for everything. And it was not just a straight no from them.”
Tihada said he would have no problem bringing the Lunas into the state D-I tournament if, like happened this year, they ended up in first place out of the five MIL teams.