To go full circle, Maiki Tihada reached back to square one.
The former Lahainaluna standout is now the girls basketball coach at Maui Preparatory Academy. The challenge of building a program from scratch, particularly in the highly competitive Maui Interscholastic League, isn’t a preferred situation for a lot of coaches.
The program will begin with junior varsity. Tihada, 27, embraces it.
“I’m excited. What interested me most is building from the ground up. The school in general is changing the narrative to bring more local kids in to get a good education,” Tihada said. “I feel like this is a good fit.”
Tihada was known as Maiki Viela during her high school years, a point guard with a penchant for attacking the lane. She was voted Star-Advertiser All-State player of the year as a junior, teaming up with future Indiana Hoosiers forward Milika Taufa as the Lady Lunas won the state crown in 2010. Tihada was selected to the Hawaii Hall of Honor in 2011.
She played at Gonzaga for three seasons before finishing her career at Morehead State. She started Heads UP basketball, training young hoopsters as young as 6, and several who are high schoolers. Some players, like Susi Namoa of Lahainaluna, are playing in college.
“When I was in college, girls sports on Maui was booming. Now you see the shift of more boys wanting to play. Hopefully, we can get more girls interested,” Tihada said. “We have a good variety of players. Players who never touched a basketball before, players with experience.”
Maui Prep’s boys team is already established. Though the 2020-21 winter season was cancelled, Na Pueo hosted a club tournament for clubs representing Lahainaluna, Maui, Baldwin and MPA. The home team, MPA, won the tournament.
“The gym is beautiful. They have everything they need in there. They just built and completed it during the quarantine time. They’ve been able to have two or three tournaments, and they have a big performing arts center. This year, their enrollment is about 250. They used to have just seven or eight people per grade. They’re steadily getting a little bigger,” Tihada said.
The opportunity for success is there even though Lahainaluna has thoroughly dominated the MIL under Coach Todd Rickard for decades. In the 2019-20 season, the Lunas’ incredible win streak in league play came to an end as King Kekaulike and Maui rose to a new level. With Kihei High School set to open its doors soon — and draw talent away from Maui and Baldwin — even more parity is very possible in MIL hoops.
Tihada believes the private school, located in Lahaina, will be competitive in bringing student-athletes in.
“Maui Prep has a lot to offer. A STEM program, a robotics program. There is more perspective and different opportunities you won’t get in public school. I’m excited about it,” Tihada said.
She is rooted in her basketball life. As a youth, she grew up playing in the Menehune program in Lahaina, which was run by Rickard and his staff.
“When I was playing, there were no clubs. We just practiced with Coach Todd 24/7,” Tihada recalled. “We had Team Aloha, coached by Auntie Bobbie (Awa). When I came home from college, there were eight different club teams.”
Auntie Bobbie, of course, is nine-time state championship coach Bobbie Awa of Konawaena, who also coached the selected team of players who traveled and played for Team Aloha.
One of the people Tihada conferred with about the Maui Prep position was Coach Rickard.
“I’m still close with Coach Todd. He’s been a huge part of my life and my success. Talking with him, getting his support and his blessing went a long way. I still look up to the guy and what he’s done to help these kids get to college. It’s bigger than basketball,” she said.
The principles of her program at Heads UP will also apply to the team at Maui Prep.
“I just want to give you the tools that you need to be successful. It’s tough. I don’t think people realize how tough it is to play at any level,” she said. “Whatever happens, they’re set up for success in the long term.”
Some of her earliest memories were with her grandfather, Lanny Tihada, who has been involved with Lahainaluna football for decades.
“Pops put every type of ball in the crib when I was a baby. Football, basketball, soccer, and the basketball was the first one I grabbed. I would lift weights with the football team when I was 5. My grandpa was able to lay that foundation and blueprint when I started. By the time I was seventh grade, I was kind of doing what he taught me,” she said.
The growth of basketball clubs for girls and boys came much later. Instead of constant island-wide competition, Tihada grew within her stomping grounds.
“The (football) body were always encouraging and cheering me on in the weight room. It was a good experience and set me up for success. I like to say my grandpa brainwashed me from a young age,” Tihada said. “He still lives and dies football. I think it keeps him young and on his toes. He loves it.”
Top 3 movies/shows
1. “The 100” (CW)
“It was great until the third season and fell off after that, but I finished it.”
“I like him (Dr. Gregory House). He’s cranky, but he figures it out.”
3. “The Amateur” (Netflix)
“It’s about an AAU basketball player who gets recruited.”
Top 3 foods/snacks/drinks
1. Mushroom chicken, homemade
“My girlfriend (Cathy Nava), she’ll put it in the oven and I have no idea what type of sauce she uses. It’s nice and juicy. Lots of sauce.”
2. Lupulu (Tongan-style laulau).
“Corned beef, coconut milk (and taro leaves). You have to get it fresh. I have a lot of Tongan friends who make some and bring it over.”
3. Hi-Chew (strawberry)
“It’s kind of like Starburst. I’ll pick the strawberry out if it’s mixed. I love my sweets.”
Top 3 music artists
1. Meek Mill – “Dreamchasers”
“He’s inspirational, kind of hard core, from Philadelphia.”
2. Justin Bieber
“He’s changed his sound a little bit, matured into it.
3. Maoli – “Mercy”
New life skill
“I’ve been trying to be more organized. That’s probably one of my weaknesses. I’m very laid back, go with the flow, so I’m trying to be a little more organized. I’ve been doing Heads UP full time since October, 2019, so I’m trying to run the business side of things. In Hawaii, everyone’s so laid back. Sometimes that doesn’t really mesh with business, so I’m trying to learn that balance right now. It’s a learning process.”
“I’m not a big go-back-and-try-to-change or have those regrets or what-ifs. Everything I went through because I had to. I needed it. There isn’t anything I’d change. If anything, I wish we could’ve brought another (state title) back to Lahaina.”
2. Germany, Ireland
“I have some (former teammates) who are playing there (in Germany and Ireland). Australia is so big. That’s someplace I want to explore. I love to travel. That’s one of the reasons I went to Morehead State. When I was at Gonzaga, we traveled to a lot of places. We went to California, BYU and Vegas for the conference tourney. Having new experiences with people was great.”
“My Pops, my mom (Laurie Viela), my girlfriend, and of course, Coach Todd.”