The Maryknoll Spartans are looking more and more like a team without a major flaw.
They look a lot like last year’s squad, which reached the final of the HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships and lost to the dynastic Konawaena Wildcats. That’s because most of the team is back, a core group of juniors now in their third season of playing for a coach who is sometimes Santa Claus, sometimes not.
Chico Furtado‘s team took command during the second quarter on Saturday night against visiting ‘Iolani, breaking open a tight game for a 32-23 halftime lead. After the lead stretched to 37-25, the Spartans held on for a 60-52 win. The Spartans are 6-0 in nonconference play, including a close win over Lahainaluna. Furtado was pleased with the win on Saturday, but not overly jolly. Yet.
“It’s just one game. The ILH is so brutal, the last three champions were not undefeated. ‘Iolani always causes problems with their guard play. I thought we did a decent job,” Furtado said.
That’s right. The Interscholastic League of Honolulu girls basketball regular season opened on Nov. 26. November. Furtado is a bit baffled by the early start, considering the girls’ season began 26 days before the league opener. Meanwhile, the boys season will start seven weeks after their first practice. That’s a topic for another time (on video, actually). For now, the Spartans can bask in the glow of a season-opening win, and they can be grateful they’ve got 6-foot-1 Isabella Cravens in their circle.
The junior was roof-alicious with seven points, 17 rebounds and five blocks. She was clutch with 3-for-4 shooting from the free-throw line after ‘Iolani pulled within five points in the final 2 minutes. From one side of the key to the other, she was omnipresent, triggering several Spartan fastbreaks with her defense.
“You have to choose your poison with them. ‘Bella got some and she didn’t get some. It’s a matter of her guiding that (offensive player) and not committing with her body or her jump,” Furtado said.
Of course, these Spartans, the Lady Spartans, aren’t just built around one superpowered center. This group is elite, no question, full of promise from the day they enrolled at Maryknoll, signaling the start of the Furtado era. After decades of counseling students at the school, but coaching elsewhere — Kalaheo’s boys and girls championship teams — the once-boisterous young coach is a mellower version of that young dude with the semi-big hair. The gray shade of his locks hasn’t completely diminished his intensity, though.
Furtado questioned the officials enough to draw a technical foul during the third quarter, and was in chill mode the rest of the way as Maryknoll struggled at the foul line — one of their few lowlights — before closing strong at the stripe. The Spartans finished 15-for-30 at the FT line.
Rhianne Omori, their point guard, was a menace defensively and balanced offensively with a team-high 13 points. Moe Notoa and Chayse Milne scored 10 points each, and the defensive prowess of Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole (three steals) and Kodee Viena (five boards, two blocks), along with Cravens, made life difficult for the visiting Raiders in the paint.
“All preseason, we didn’t see that kind of height,” said Camy Aguinaldo, who led ‘Iolani with 16 points.
Another factor was Maryknoll’s 2-3 matchup zone, which Aguinaldo said the Raiders hadn’t really anticipated. That’s understandable because Furtado is a coach who has preached man-to-man defense for all these years. His brother and assistant coach, Dave Furtado, mentioned before the game that the one-dimensional look on defense is long gone. It paid off because of the length of Maryknoll’s defenders, from Milne to Kamakawiwo‘ole to Viena.
” ‘Iolani poses the kind of difficulty that, for us, in order to play our sides, we have to adjust. I don’t want Bella and Moe and Kehau and all our post guys chasing around pseudo-forwards that are actually guards on the perimeter,” Furtado said. “They did a pretty good job of getting the ball to the high post.”
The Raiders shot a decent percentage, 38 percent (5-for-13), from downtown. Furtado, the head coach, wanted to limit ‘Iolani to anything less than 20 long-range attempts.
‘Iolani was content to play man defense all night, even though they were significantly shorter. The Raiders limited Maryknoll to 39-percent shooting from the field (22-for-56), but were jolted in the second quarter as the Spartans turned takeaways into transition points.
The Raiders had nine turnovers in the opening quarter and three more in the second. Maryknoll had its share of nerves or too much adrenaline early on, as well, with six turnovers in the first quarter.
Still, the Raiders were within 18-17 in the second quarter when Maryknoll went on a 12-2 run. Omori scored on a reverse layup, a lefty layup, and then a layup off a steal during the big run.
From that point on, it was tough to get a clean look from deep for ‘Iolani, and their drives with a 4-out offense were mostly futile against Cravens.
“We had so much chances on layups,” Raiders coach Dean Young said. “The big girl (Cravens) pushes our girls under the rim. That’s still displacement. They’re so long, but we still can’t stay away from contact.”
The natural progression for their rematch later in the season would be for ‘Iolani to go 5-out on offense, forcing Cravens to leave her normal patrol near the basket. But it would take the Raiders getting a lead and pulling Maryknoll out of its zone, a scenario that was available only in the first quarter when the visitors led 3-2 and 6-5.
“We’ve been working on that and preparing for it,” Cravens said.
Then again, Maryknoll could stay in that sticky matchup zone.
” ‘Iolani is the one team where your throw out all conventional defense. You teach help defense, but against ‘Iolani you have to change it. It’s a tribute to them, and it makes it a thinking man’s game,” Furtado said.
The nature of the earlier-than-ever start to the ILH regular season means league games will be mixed with a slate of tournament games. Maryknoll will play in the ‘Iolani classic in early December, as well as Kaiser’s tourney.
One oddity is that Maryknoll and ‘Iolani will meet again just nine days after their first matchup: Monday, Dec. 5, at the Raiders’ gym.
It will be that much closer to Christmas, and though his locks and goatee may be a few shades whiter, Furtado might not be in such a jolly mood. That is, unless they can endure the ILH gauntlet and stay atop the standings.