See Part 1 here
This is where Mike Taylor is a master. He had his share of outstanding skill players like Janelle Nomura and Shanna-Lei Dacanay. Shawna Kuehu was the finest prep player of her generation, and it was a heck of a generation. (We haven’t seen so many talented players in the girls game here since, really.) But Taylor also had some years when the skill level wasn’t quite elite. Close, but a notch down, though he usually had 10 or more outstanding athletes, multi-sport kids.
What did he do? He had his teams play as physically and forcefully as possible on the defensive end. And he got these young players to buy into a mentality that was truly about team first, sacrificing for the good of the team. They probably led the state in bruises accumulated, along with points scored.
Konawaena? Adjusting to the contact that Oahu officials permitted — BIIF officials back then had to pay their way to states, and most balked at that — took time. And I wonder if that fact is one reason why Awa’s teams buckled down and devoted themselves to great man-to-man defense. She’s probably always preferred playing man defense, but seeing how games are called on Oahu, whether it was in preseason or postseason, probably made an impact.
Taylor stepped down some years back, and it’s been a chain of different coaches since. But defense remains a constant at Punahou, and though the Buffanblu fell short against Konawaena last night, it’s unfair to compare the current team to those state-title squads of the past. It was a different era — remember the Saint Louis teams a decade-plus ago that relied on chest-to-chest man defense under assistant coach Duke Aiona? — that rewarded teams who had a surplus of hearty kids willing to sacrifice their bodies to make a stop on every possession.
If the rules allowed that kind of physicality, Konawaena and its thin roster of thin players might not get quite as far in most years. The current incarnation of Konawaena champions is built for basketball more than rugby or MMA fighting. They started winning state trophies long before the “emphasis” was made by the national federation, but it’s clear right now: precision, finesse and teamwork matter more than ever. A willingness to attack the rim and take advantage of the rules is a must for every team’s go-to scorer.
Punahou is in good hands. Liz Kam is the program’s fourth coach since the Taylor era. Given time to implement her system through the intermediate program on up, the Buffanblu will remain an ILH powerhouse and has a chance to claim state titles. Konawaena did this with Awa, and that worked out pretty well.