Changes abound, but defending champ ‘Iolani in driver’s seat

Kyra Tanabe will help make sure Iolani keeps up its frantic pace in the new season. Cindy Ellen Russell / Star-Advertiser

This basketball thing seems to be arriving earlier every year.

Sure enough, the girls basketball preseason is here. It began last weekend with the Hanalani tournament, and resumes this week with a mix of one-offs and tournaments. The Black & Gold Invitational at McKinley tips off on Wednesday, and will likely provide the most compelling action between some of the state’s behemoths in roundball.

Here are big questions about the 2019-20 wahine season.

>> Is ‘Iolani prepared for life after Taylor Wu? The all-state guard didn’t have to carry the Raiders last year as they outraced foes en route to their first state championship since 1996. Wu’s presence and poise were key for a relatively young, talented group that includes sharpshooter Kyra Tanabe, hustling Kylie Yung, sisters Alexis Huntimer and Alexsandra Huntimer, and sisters Lily Lefotu Wahinekapu and Jovi Wahinekapu Lefotu.

>> How will Kamehameha contend without Kalina Obrey? The 2019 All-State Player of the Year was phenomenal as a senior as a virtual 20-10 producer each night. Her 3-pointer at the buzzer was wiped off after replay scrutiny, ending a thrilling 52-49 win by ‘Iolani in the state final.

>> Can Kalani regain the OIA crown? The graduation of key players, including Utah State recruit Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole, leaves some huge shoes to fill. However, the arrival of former Maryknoll scoring leader Jalen Tanuvasa is another big score for the Lady Falcons and coach Chi Mok.

>> Are the Maryknoll Spartans ready for the next move up? The Spartans lost Tanuvasa, who nearly moved to the mainland with her family. Maryknoll returns nearly its entire roster from last year, using a fullcourt press and quick tempo.

>> Is Kahuku prepared to keep control of the OIA? Two-time all-state guard Leiah Naeata is primed for a huge senior season.

>> Can Konawaena bounce back? The Wildcats saw their string of consecutive state titles end at three last season. Coach Bobbie Awa’s team will be among those in the Black & Gold this week.

>> Lady Lunas set to launch? Since winning the state championship in 2010 with Maiki (Tihada) Viela and Milika Taufa leading the way, Lahainaluna has returned to the state final twice, in 2014 and ’15. The Lunas have won 15 consecutive MIL titles, and their win streak in league play is at 162.

There are plenty more questions and scenarios. Waiakea returns a talented group led by senior Kelsie Imai, who is committed to Hawaii. Alika Smith, the former boys coach at Kalaheo and Punahou, is in his first season with the Warrior girls squad.

Hawaii Baptist, the defending Division II state champion, is off to a strong start after sweeping through Hanalani’s tournament. Mid-Pacific and Sacred Hearts have dropped down to D-II in the ILH.

Punahou’s 6-foot-4 center, Tama Fonoti, departed and is now at powerhouse Sierra Canyon (Calif.). Mililani point guard Dahlis Sablay is now at Liberty (Nev.).


  1. Typo November 12, 2019 3:16 pm

    Kahuku is the defending OIA champ, not Kalani.

  2. Jerry Campany November 12, 2019 4:55 pm

    thanks, it has been corrected.

  3. GoWarriors November 12, 2019 9:26 pm

    Coach Chi is no longer at Kalani. Alayna and Kakena are both out for the season, and Jalen Tanuvasa is at Faith Lutheran in Las Vegas.

  4. really November 12, 2019 9:40 pm

    Chi Mok is not the coach at Kalani. Justice Sueing, former UH Men’s Basketball player is the coach. Chi Mok resigned about 3-4 weeks ago.

  5. really November 12, 2019 9:42 pm

    >> Can Kalani regain the OIA crown? The graduation of key players, including Utah State recruit Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole, leaves some huge shoes to fill. However, the arrival of former Maryknoll scoring leader Jalen Tanuvasa is another big score for the Lady Falcons and coach Chi Mok.

    Can someone please do their research. Jalen Tanuvasa moved to Las Vegas a while ago. Kalena tore her ACL is out for the season. Alayna transferred to Kaiser.

  6. really November 12, 2019 9:43 pm

    OMG! Leiah @ Kahuku is not a senior. She is a junior. Does anyone proof these articles?

  7. Magnus November 13, 2019 10:31 am

    Isn’t it the job of the writer and newspaper to make sure the information being reported is accurate? I’m reading comments and it seems rosters are wrong. Coaches are gone and it’s reported they are still there. Players class years are wrong. I would think this is basic stuff that an intern can check on. When you allow inaccurate information to go live, you really compromise the integrity and accuracy of the newspaper.

  8. A Fan November 13, 2019 6:56 pm

    This is my early season rankings with brief synopsis.

    1) Iolani – defending champs until they lose. Returns arguably top player in Hawaii, Lily Wahinekapu. She will be surrounded by her sister Jovi Lefotu, the Huntimer twins, Kylie Yung, and Kyra Tanabe. Iolani at times like to go 5 guards which gives other teams fit. They like to play fast and spread the floor. Huntimer the pg creates for others and is surrounded by an abundance of scorers. 3 of their players have D1 offers, so this team is stacked. Wu graduated so let’s see who steps up as leaders for this team.

    2) Waiākea – the defending BIIF champs brought it championship caliber Alika Smith. Coach Smith is surrounded by tons of talent. Everything starts with all state and UH commit, Kelsie Imai. She creates pace well and is Uber competitive. She can get to the hole, create shots for others, and hit timely outside shots. Her spirits rubs off on teammates. Waiakea has Destynee Williams, a very athletic slasher, and posts Keeli Smith and Jazzie Dorser surrounding her. Smith and Dorser are battle tested. This team is deep with Cabutbut and Honma. Assistant Coach Meyer’s daughter Alexa Meyer adds some extra outside shooting. Coach Smith’s winning pedigree could push this team over the top after being eliminated early last year in states.

    3) Konawaena – Caylie Kaupu worked on her game and now steps out to 20+ feet. She is arguably the best player inside the post in the state. PG Salazar had an outstanding summer and has some D2 colleges looking at her. Her fearless play will help them in the top heavy BIIF. Freshman Braelyn Kauhi will bring an extra offensive dimension to this team. She can step out to 30 feet and is 5’11. That’s a mismatch for most teams. Coach Awa is the winningest coach in Hawaii history. Their kids compete, are never overwhelmed by the moment, and could possibly win states.

    4) Kamehameha – Kapalama – Malie Marfil is in my opinion a top 3 player in the state. She can step out and hit 3’s. She can also take smaller guards inside and finish at the rim. Lagi is a nighmare for other posts. She competes, is versatile, and has a motor. She can score at the rim and defend multiple positions. Kapalama is loaded on the perimeter. Feary is an unsung player who stuffs the stats sheets and makes winning plays. Masaki, Pratt, and Naum compliment Marfil nicely and can all play a multitude of wing positions. They are long and can make significant offensive contributions at times.

    5) Maryknoll – This team is still loaded without Tanuvasa. Had Tanuvasa returned, this is a top 3 team with as good a chance to win states as anyone else. They are still solid. Serenity Moananu is set to have a break out season. She can play inside and outside. She is sturdy enough to take girls into the block and nimble enough to step out to the perimeter. The Akaka twins have been improving every year. Both have college interest and it’s not surprising. They are a nightmare to guard. They are athletic, skilled, have a high level motor, and just make plays. A player to watch is Lily Koki. She traveled with 808 Basketball and had a really nice summer. She will be thurst into the PG position. I believe she will do well over the season. Faleafine from Maui brings some size. Other players like Neuman provide much needed depth.

    6) Punahou – This team is loaded and deep. Tati Reyes is one of the top players on this team and arguably a top 6-8 player in the state. You can go 5 out or 4 around 1 with her in the game. When she is on, she has to be double teamed. She can shoot beyond the 3, has a nice mid range game, can handle the ball, and can score inside with traffic. Last year she played under 10 minutes. Hopefully their coach will feature her in their offense. She is that good. Mel Lum is one of the pg’s in the state. She has a gas tank that never gets empty. She plays 94 feet and is an outstanding ball handler. She can shoot and finish among the trees. Defensively, she can hound the opponents guards. There are tons of young players that should contribute. Tanea, Laynee, Shania, and Kuualoha. All 4 should get meaningful playing time to make their rotation much deeper. A nice guard they have is Hannah. She is physical for her size and might breakout this year.

    7. Lahainaluna – Todd Rickard is a winner. That alone makes Lahaina a team to beat yearly. The Akamine Twins are outstanding. They can dribble and hit open j’s. They play uptempo, push the ball, and get after it defensively. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lahaina in the final 4.

    8. Hilo – Keirstyn Agonias might be the best player many people haven’t heard about. She is long and athletic. When dialed in, she can get to the hole against anyone. PG Kawaha is solid. She takes care of the ball and plays fast. Defensively she gets after it. Collins is a really good outside shooter if you leave her open. And Galimo makes plays outside and at the rim. She is a really nice complementary scorer to Agonias. Finally, Midel bring senior leadership and can also score at times.

    9. Kahuku – Leiah Naeata. 33 points in the OIA title game last year. Divison 1 interest from several schools. Plays with a chip on her shoulder. She is surrounded by athletes and she is pretty much a one woman team. She will make plays and will bring another OIA title back to Kahuku.

    10. Kaiser – New coach, new roster. Pretty solid roster. Blakeney is solid in the post. When she’s on, she is a tough guard. New PG from STF is not bad. Tsue and Hill can make plays and provide some outside scoring. Akiona would have been huge for this team before her injury.

  9. Wainakea November 13, 2019 10:51 pm

    As much as I respect Paul for all of his work over the past few decades, a lot of the editing on HPW these past 2 years have been FULL of errors. It’s not even like they’re reporting on neighbor island teams where there’s room for excuses. With the limited staffing and football states on the brink, it might be tough to churn out lots of articles on different sports, but why sense release an article full of errors as it defeats the whole purpose of journalism to begin with?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email