The last two undefeated teams in the OIA East girls basketball race are Roosevelt and Kaiser, which meet in the regular-season finale on Jan. 22.
It’s nothing new for the Rough Riders, who are the defending OIA champions and have won three league titles since 2006.
That’s not the case for Kaiser, which hasn’t won an OIA championship in girls basketball since 1989.
The streak could end soon under head coach Simon Bitanga, who is building something special in Hawaii Kai.
Only three of the 10 players listed on Kaiser’s roster are seniors and four out of the five in his starting lineup are juniors, led by guard Rose Shimaoka, who had 26 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and three assists in a 53-39 win over Moanalua on Thursday.
Kaiser (6-0), currently ranked No. 10 in the Star-Advertiser girls basketball poll, has won all six games by double digits heading into Saturday’s matchup against Kailua (5-1). The Cougars already own a win over the other 5-1 team, Farrington, and a victory over the Surfriders should set up a season-ending showdown with the Rough Riders for the East’s top seed.
With five seniors gone from last year and only three currently on the roster, Bitanga admitted he’s a little surprised by the Cougars’ success.
“Yeah, kind of surprised with where we’re at but we’re just going to go with it for now,” Bitanga said. “These girls work hard.”
Shimaoka and post player Brooke Ho are the top two returnees and combined for 29 points in a 49-32 win over Farrington on Dec. 23. The real key for Bitanga could be the play of another junior, Brandi Baker, who made varsity this year for the first time and is starting to come into her own as a player.
Baker had 10 points against Na Menehune and got to the free-throw line eight times, which is one of her biggest strengths.
“We’re grooming Brandi,” Bitanga said after the Moanalua victory. “She did very well for us tonight. I thought she had more points than what was on the book but she played her heart out and her defense was stellar. She does a great job taking it to the basket and has been working hard on her free throws.”
Bitanga didn’t want to take anything away from the success of this year’s team, but admitted his team is ahead of schedule by a year. Not only will he have seven juniors back for another year in 2016, but he currently has one sophomore who is just working her way back from injury and will likely play with the junior varsity team once healthy to get more playing time.
He also has two girls from his Eastsidaz basketball club team that will be freshmen at Kaiser next year and could play right away.
“It’s all about the girls and how hard they work,” Bitanga said. “Right now we’re focused on this team and we have another tough game coming up (against Kailua on Saturday) so we’re just going to continue to keep trying to do what we’ve been doing.”
Bitanga, who graduated from Kaiser in 1986, is one of the special Kaiser alumni athletes who have their pictures hung on the wall in the gym as a repeat OIA all-star. He played receiver for the Kaiser football team and still holds the single-game record for receiving yards with 189 against Kahuku nearly 30 years ago.
“I’m surprised it’s still (the record) with all of these run-and-shoot offenses nowadays,” he said.