CLOSING THE BOOK: Dean Young reflects on ‘Iolani’s back-to-back state titles

State champion 'Iolani had three players in the top 5 of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 in Alexis Huntimer (11), Jovi Lefotu (21) and player of the year Lily Wahinekapu (23) posing with coach of the year Dean Young. Photo by Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser.

Closing the Book: No. 1 ‘Iolani Raiders (25-2, 11-1 ILH)
vs. Top 10: 20-2 (.909)
Top 10 wins: LAH, KON, KAH, PUN, KS, S. Medford, MS, PUN, KS, MS, PUN, KS, KS, PUN, KS, MS, PUN, MS, WAIK, KON
Top 10 losses: Mater Dei (USA Today #18), MS
Non-Top 10 losses: None
Playoffs: 2-0
HHSAA: 3-0

The ‘Iolani Raiders closed the season with their second consecutive state championship, extracting all they could out of a roster of just nine players.

Junior guard Lily Wahinekapu was, like her teammates, often positionless and a master of all positions. The 5-foot-7 playmaker scored 16 points per game, but it was more than just the key rebounds and defensive stops and steals and assists. Her clutch gene was in full effect in the biggest games, whether the foe was Mater Dei or Konawaena.

Wahinekapu was voted player of the year in the Star-Advertiser All-State voting.

Sophomore Jovi Lefotu, Wahinekapu’s sister, was voted No. 4. The 5-8 guard/forward ran the floor, rebounded against bigger posts, covered the perimeter and played the passing lanes as a ball hawk.

“I believe (Lefotu) is ‘Iolani’s most improved player. She plays well beyond her sophomore status,” Maryknoll coach Chico Furtado said. “She has a very well-rounded game which makes her a matchup nightmare.”

The long-armed, unselfish Alexis Huntimer was voted No. 5, giving the Raiders three of the top five players in the balloting. Huntimer was a chameleon who gave the Raiders whatever they needed from on-ball defense to shot blocking to rebounding to floor leadership to scoring to passing.

Since Konawaena’s run of nine state crowns in a 15-year span, ‘Iolani has disrupted the force by using a similar concept of constant man-to-man defense, explosive transition offense and constant motion in the halfcourt game. No other team, with the exception of Konawaena, is trained to run the backdoor cut so well.

“People don’t realize how much coaching it takes for players to move in spots with spacing,” Young said.

Young and his staff were honored again when he was voted coach of the year for a second year in a row. ‘Iolani is 48-8 in the past two seasons. Here’s a post-season chat with ‘Iolani girls basketball coach Dean Young.

This season was ________.
> Special.

This was the movie _________.
> Diehard.

Coach Young on the three Raiders all-state selections.

Vital skill
Wahinekapu — “Her ability to hit the big shots at key moments in big games.”

Lefotu — “Her development as our second leading scorer with her ability to take big defenders off the dribble or knock down treys was huge for our success.”

Huntimer — “Being a true point guard running the team, taking care of the ball and looking to pass first was invaluable as well as her uncanny ability to get her hands on everything with deflections or steals.”

Intangible skill
Wahinekapu — “Her inner Mamba. She’ll make a play or get you a bucket when you desperately need it.”

Lefotu — “Her infectious smile. Always relaxed and happy.”

Huntimer — “Her completely unselfish mentality is vital to our team culture. It starts with her.”

Wahinekapu — “When we were down late against Konawaena in the championship game and she told the girls in the team huddle ‘I believe in you,”’then she takes an offensive charge against Caiyle Kaupu late in the fourth quarter of that game to kill their momentum.”

Lefotu — “Her 18 points against Punahou to start the ILH season was a moment when us coaches knew she was ready for big things in her sophomore year.”

Huntimer — “Getting tripped and cutting her head open against Waiakea, then running back on the court from the locker room to seal the victory with 10 straight free throws was pretty special.”

The lone departing senior, Kylie Yung, was voted to the All-Defensive Team.

Young: “I’m so happy for her. She’s the hardest working player I’ve ever coached. She was always asked to guard bigger stronger players but was always up for the challenge. I’m so proud of how she worked on her offense in the off-season and turned into a reliable scorer for us.  She inspired the rest of our team with her work ethic.

Kyra Tanabe provided persistent defense on the perimeter and came up with plenty of takeaways on double-teams in the post. Her 3-point shot and heady effectiveness going to the basket were key in the title run.

Young: “I think she shored up her defense this year, so it allowed us to play a little smaller and allowed us not to worry about defense and giving up a size advantage. She brings so much speed and offensive power, transition to our offense. I’d like her to be more aggressive. It’s so easy to defer when you’ve got girls like Lily and Jovi. When she’s with her Eastsidaz team, she’s their leading scorer.”

Alexsandra Huntimer, Alexis’ sister, returned from an injury to add depth and defense to the Raiders in the paint. Young has big expectations of the southpaw.

Young: “She’s going to step right in and take over that post player for us. She was actually a starter her sophomore year. The only reason she didn’t start (this year) is she was injured for a bunch of the preseason. She’s also a team player. A captain. She never complained. Came to work every day. She was my most improved player last summer, so I was really excited about her this season, but then she got hurt. I’m just hoping she gets back on track. She’s turning more into a guard. Her outside game last summer was really coming on, and her ability to put the ball on the ground really improved. If she can continue that, she’ll be matchup nightmare for the centers.”

Biggest surprise
Young: “Probably Jovi. She took the biggest step from freshman to sophomore year. Her confidence, her aggressiveness.”

How much more can sisters Lily and Jovi improve?
Young: “They’re always working. They work hard all the time, all offseason, so I know they’re going to improve. It’s kind of scary to think how much they’ll expand their game. They’ll get better with leadership, not just with basketball IQ, but sharing it with their teammates. They’ll become more smart leaders.”

Young: “Injuries. We weren’t the deepest team, so injuries were always a challenge. And the ILH schedule. That was really difficult to deal with, playing tough teams four times, and then a fifth time in the ILH tournament. Three of them were in the Top 10.”

Young: “I don’t think we necessarily had a peak this year. We had a little bit of a lull in the middle of the season. We played really well in preseason and played really solid at the end. I’ve had seasons before where we definitely peaked at the end.”

Mater Dei. ‘Iolani nearly upset the nationally-ranked squad from California during the ‘Iolani Classic, falling 60-57.
Young: “That was one of our best games of the year, the intensity, the focus, the teamwork. We didn’t match that level for most of the rest of the season.”

What will you miss?
Young: “I’ll miss how tight they are. How close they are and love each other. We only lose one, but Kylie was a large part of that. That glue.”

Young: “Most years, they will travel with their club teams, but because of what’s happening this year, some girls have cancelled their travel already. Summer leagues are talking cancellation. We haven’t cancelled yet. We’re just waiting.

“We could stretch our summer league out or start a little later. Maybe add more games. Maybe add more practices. Four or so practices in May, and none after that. They love it. They always come back to us saying they miss playing with their ‘Iolani teammates.”

Next season
The Raiders have some extremely skilled players coming up from the intermediate program. Young is taking a patient, long-term view. With nearly the entire roster returning, coaches and media voted ‘Iolani the top team for the 2020-21 season.

Young: “Because we’re going to have a veteran group, we’ll add more to our bag of tricks. We’re still have our base. We’re not going to change our base.”


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