Girls Top 10: Kaimuki’s rise, Punahou’s slide

Greydon Espinda, Kaelyn Espinda and Tayler Espinda. Kaelyn scored 19 points in Kaimuki's playoff win over Radford on Saturday. Brother Tayler hit five treys in a win over Kailua, coached by his dad, Greydon. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser
Greydon Espinda, Kaelyn Espinda and Tayler Espinda. Kaelyn scored 19 points in Kaimuki’s playoff win over Radford on Saturday. Brother Tayler hit five treys in a win over Kailua, coached by his dad, Greydon. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

Is Kaimuki the Cinderella princess-to-be wearing a black dress with green and gold trim?

Mililani, a powerhouse from the OIA West, will have plenty to say about that. So will the other semifinalists: Farrington and Leilehua. The Lady Trojans have been down this road before, and this year’s crew has endured just enough bumps in the road to be battle tested. They’ll face a hot Kaimuki team (10-1) that has transformed since its early season turbulence in the semifinals of the OIA playoffs tonight in Waipahu. The Bulldogs are now a grizzled bunch that refuses to give up an easy shot despite having one of the smallest rosters in the state.

Coach Mona Fa‘asoa gives her shooters the green light, and they could miss 10 in a row from the arc, then swish three, four, five, six in a row — as they did in a massive third-quarter run against Kalani recently — to turn a close game into a blowout.

One of the gunners is sophomore Kaelyn Espinda, who rained in four trifectas during that third quarter. A couple of days later, her older brother Tayler sank five 3-pointers in a big win over Kailua for Kaimuki’s boys team — which is coached by their father, Greydon Espinda.

Kaelyn had her chance to top her brother when Kaimuki met Radford in the OIA quarterfinals. She made only one trey this time, but scored a team-high 19 points in a 47-36 win that guaranteed the Bulldogs a berth in the D-I state tournament.

It’s all in the family, certainly. Greydon Espinda was a three-sport athlete who was a stellar defensive stopper on the hardwood during his playing days in the early 1980s at Kaimuki. He admits both his children are better shooters than he is. They’ve been around the game all their lives, playing and helping run the youth league (Compete and Learn/CAL) that their dad runs year-round.

Here’s today’s Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10, followed by how I voted.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10
Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017
Rank School (first-place votes) Points [previous rank]
1. Maryknoll (7), 115 [1]
2. Konawaena (5), 109 [2]
3. Kamehameha, 93 [5]
4. Lahainaluna, 85 [3]
5. ‘Iolani, 73 [4]
6. Hilo, 52 [6]
7. Kaimuki, 44 [8]
8. Leilehua, 37 [7]
9. Farrington, 29 [9]
10. Mililani, 14 [NR]
Also receiving votes: Punahou 7, Waiakea 2

Below, how I voted this week.

Pupule ballot 1/23/17
1. Maryknoll Spartans (24-2, 11-1 ILH)
> Won at Sacred Hearts 55-14; lost at Kamehameha 46-45.
> If the matchup with Kamehameha had actual consequences in the ILH and state-tournament, maybe the Spartans win. But they didn’t, and Kamehameha is playing closer and closer to its potential. The resume favors Maryknoll by far, but the gap has closed significantly.
Sumo rank: Yokozuna.

2. Kamehameha Warriors (17-4, 8-4 ILH)
> Beat Punahou 55-45; won at ‘Iolani 49-35; beat Maryknoll 46-45.
> This is a classic 1A and 1B scenario. Yes, the Warriors have been so, so, so close to beating the ILH’s elite, and now they are ripping through those barriers. If they’d won by double digits, I would cede to my usual head-to-head criteria. But a one-point win at home, coupled with the overall resume of both teams, the edge goes to Maryknoll. Just barely.
Sumo rank: Yokozuna.

3. Konawaena Wildcats (22-3, 10-0 BIIF)
> Beat Hilo 55-30; won at Pahoa 73-3.
> Against common opponents, the Wildcats don’t stack up as well as ‘Iolani and Maryknoll. But this is late January, and the Wildcats are on a roll in BIIF play. The road win at Waiakea over the weekend is their 102nd consecutive victory in league play.
> The difference between a dominant BIIF champion, Konawaena, and a dominant MIL champion, Lahainaluna: 1) Konawaena is defending champion with three starters back; 2) If Celena Jane Molina plays close to her potential, she is a major matchup problem for any big; 3) Pedigree. The Wildcats have won seven of the last 13 state championships. Coach Bobbie Awa coaches her players up year after year.
Sumo rank: Yokozuna.

4. ‘Iolani Raiders (12-7, 7-5 ILH)
> Lost to Kamehameha 49-35; beat Sacred Hearts 79-35.
> Opponents — Kamehameha and Maryknoll — have diminished the scheme that the Raiders mastered early in the season. With a small roster, height-wise, and a heavy reliance on transition and 3-point scoring, the Raiders haven’t been the same since finals week. The pendulum, though, is with them now. Failure leads to evolution and innovation.
Sumo rank: Yokozuna. On the verge of demotion to Ozeki.

5. Lahainaluna Lunas (17-3, 13-0 MIL)
> Won at Baldwin 61-20.
> No fault of their own, but the Lady Lunas have no challenge in the MIL. Baldwin is in last place in the D-I standings — never imagined that would happen. Maui isn’t a force, either. It’s almost impossible to improve significantly without tough games in league play. Even Konawaena is getting some competition in the BIIF.
Sumo rank: Yokozuna.

6. Kaimuki Bulldogs (14-8, 10-1 OIA)
> Beat Radford 47-36.
> The past two weeks, I had Farrington ranked ahead of Kaimuki. That changes now. Why? 1) The Bulldogs are perimeter oriented and dependent, but after beating a tall Radford squad, they’re proving that a team of mostly 5-foot-5 players can keep marching in the playoffs; 2) They already have a 50-35 win over Farrington, and though it was more than a month ago, it still makes a difference here.
Sumo rank: Ozeki.

7. Farrington Governors (12-4, 10-1 OIA)
> Beat Nanakuli 61-37.
> Moli Heimuli. You can’t stop her. You can only hope to contain her.
Sumo rank: Ozeki.

8. Hilo Vikings (15-1, 9-1 BIIF)
> Won at Waiakea 46-45; lost at Konawaena 55-30.
> And there you go. The pecking order of the BIIF remains Konawaena, then Hilo and Waiakea, then everybody else.
> Telling win: The Viks beat Leilehua 56-47 in preseason at Waiakea’s tourney.
Sumo rank: Ozeki.

9. Punahou Buffanblu (9-9, 4-8 ILH)
> Lost at Kamehameha 55-45; beat Sacred Hearts 39-28.
> Still a team capable of beating anyone in the state, but the resume hasn’t improved in some time. Life in the ILH… Coach Liz Kam resigned three weeks ago, assistant Shawna-Lei Kuehu took over with Assistant Athletic Director Tita Ahuna as co-head coaches. It’s clear that the dynastic years may as well be ancient history; Maryknoll’s ability to draw top-shelf talent by the busload is apparent. But there’s enough experience and skill on the Punahou roster to make a late-season run. Let me put it more simply: If this Buffanblu team was in the OIA, it would be definite title contender with a fair chance to win the crown.
> Do the Buffanblu deserve to be out of the Top 10? In conversations with other voters, we can’t remember the last time they were. Maybe the early 1990s or ‘80s? It’s been incredibly long. Obviously, I don’t think they should be out of the Top 10, but I’m not going to press for them to be a lock, either. Not right now.
Sumo rank: Sekiwake.

10. Leilehua Mules (15-9, 10-1 OIA)
> Routed Campbell 39-17 (OIA playoffs).
> The difference in the Lady Mules from early preseason — 51-35 loss at Waiakea, 50-23 loss to Konawaena, 56-47 loss to Hilo, 51-37 loss at Lahainaluna, 52-46 loss to Kalani, losses to Long Beach Poly, Maryknoll and Konawaena at the ‘Iolani Classic — to now is considerable. They’ve learned to incorporate more of their personnel as their players improved. The balance is much better. The defending OIA champions haven’t been tested by a Top 10 team since beating Mililani 46-41 on Dec. 27. Farrington will provide a big test on Tuesday.
> The playoffs are always awesome. The same team that Kaimuki beat, Radford, beat Leilehua 31-26 — but that was five weeks ago. We get to see the metamorphosis of title contenders and how they handle matchup challenges.
Sumo rank: Sekiwake.

* * * * *

On the Cusp (no particular order)

Mililani Trojans (15-4, 9-2 OIA)
> Beat Kahuku 57-44.
> The playoff win over Kahuku clinched a state-tourney berth for the Lady Trojans.
Sumo rank: Sekiwake.

Waiakea Warriors (13-3, 8-2 BIIF).
> Lost to Hilo 46-45; lost to Konawaena 51-46.
> The Warriors have been steady and ready all season long. They lost at Hilo 35-32 and to Mililani 49-44 in preseason. They also beat Leilehua 51-35, Sacred Hearts 42-39, and also beat Kaiser and KS-Hawaii. There’s an argument to be made that they belong in the Top 10, especially after nearly ending Konawaena’s 102-game win streak in BIIF play. A win over Hilo would have made that argument much stronger, but the Warriors are very close.
> Waiakea has probably improved since preseason, like most teams. But without the wins over ranked teams to provide merit, it’s a tough call between the Warriors, Leilehua and Mililani. For me, Leilehua is one of the most improved teams in the state from preseason to now, and the Mules have beaten Mililani head-to-head.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Sacred Hearts Lancers (7-14, 0-12 ILH)
> Lost to Maryknoll 55-14; lost at Punahou 39-28; lost at ‘Iolani 73-35.
The Lancers are a D-1.5 team in the brutal ILH. Some fans might argue that they belong in D-II, but a 43-28 win over reigning ILH D-II champ Hawaii Baptist in November is enough proof that SHA is somewhere in between. They have wins over some solid teams: Kalani (55-52) and Farrington (45-40) in addition to the game against HBA.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Campbell Sabers (13-7, 8-4 OIA)
> Beat Kaiser 51-44; lost at Leilehua 39-17.
> Playing back-to-back nights only happens in the OIA during the playoffs, and it did the Lady Sabers no favors. They’re still alive, though. They will play at Nanakuli tonight with a state-tourney berth at stake.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Nanakuli Golden Hawks (12-6, 9-3 OIA)
> Beat Roosevelt 57-32; lost at Farrington 61-37.
> The Golden Hawks were explosive against Roosevelt, blowing open a close game after halftime. But the difficulty of playing back-to-back nights is undeniable. The Golden Hawks need a win over Campbell tonight to qualify for the state tournament.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Radford Rams (11-6, 9-3 OIA)
> Beat McKinley 39-32; lost at Kaimuki 47-36.
> The late-season injury to center Shaelie Burgess, early in a 40-29 loss at Mililani, has proven to be pivotal. If she hadn’t gotten hurt, maybe the Lady Rams win the game and finish high enough in the West standings to earn a first-round bye. Instead, they traveled out to Kahuku, beat McKinley, and less than 24 hours later drove to Kaimuki and lost by 11. The good news is that Radford can earn a state-tourney berth by beating Kahuku tonight.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Mid-Pacific Owls (14-3, 11-0 ILH D-II)
> Beat St. Francis 43-37.
> With more games and results, we have more data to use for comparisons. MPI beat Campbell (45-35) and Moanalua (47-37), and lost to Farrington (52-47), Maryknoll (45-29) and Kamehameha (44-19). That puts the Owls in a higher echelon, somewhere Komusubi or even Ozeki range. Minus points for jumping ship and moving down to D-II, but plus points for running the table so far. Every win has been by a double-digit margin, which means MPI is really a D-1.5 team in ILH, similar to Sacred Hearts. The Owls beat HBA by 14; SHA beat HBA by 15.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Hawaii Baptist Eagles (17-4, 9-2 ILH D-II)
> Won at Hanalani 60-31; won at La Pietra 48-10.
> The Eagles beat Kaimuki in preseason before Kaimuki became Cinderella. They’ve rolled against D-III competition, and the only two losses in league play were against MPI (58-44) and St. Francis (47-46). Have the Eagles improved? Are they the same team that lost to MPI in mid-December? The ILH has often been about iron sharpening iron, much more so in D-I than D-II. But with D-II becoming more competitive, the real test lies ahead in the playoffs for HBA.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Kamehameha-Maui Warriors (8-3 MIL)
> Lost to Lahainaluna 49-24.
All three losses have been to the Lady Lunas. Unlike the first two meetings that were decided by margins of 11 and 10 points, this one was a rout. It’s difficult to make a strong case for the Warriors to be in the Top 10 with no other ranked teams to face in the MIL.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Kahuku Red Raiders (8-4 OIA)
> Lost at Mililani 57-44.
> The physical talent is there. Coach Latoya Wily’s first year has been invigorating. If her dream comes true, the Lady Raiders will have a core of players who will train through the offseason and raise the bar. For now, their focus is on Radford. A home win tonight against the tough Rams will send the Raiders to the state tourney.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Kaiser Cougars (9-13, 7-4 OIA)
> Lost to Campbell 51-44.
> The Lady Cougars won four of their last five in regular-season play before falling to Campbell.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Damien Monarchs (10-5, 9-3 ILH D-II)
> Beat Island Pacific 54-21; beat Christian Academy 58-18.
It’s not easy to compare the Monarchs. They had a limited preseason slate. We know they lost to Mid-Pacific (57-45), St. Francis (41-28) and Hawaii Baptist (61-34). They’re getting close to elite status in D-II, not quite there yet.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

‘Iolani II (11-1, 9-0 ILH I-AA)
> Beat Kamehameha II 56-28.
> One game left, Maryknoll II tonight. The D-II Raiders were flawless in league play, but a non-counting 52-29 loss to HBA puts a damper on the overall season. This team beat St. Francis 40-35.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

St. Francis Saints (12-2, 10-1 ILH D-II)
> Beat St. Andrew’s 42-30; lost at Mid-Pacific 43-37.
> The Saints already played this week, beating Island Pacific 72-28 on Monday. They’re the first team to stay within single digits against unbeaten MPI. The Saints also beat Kaimuki in preseason, but the way Kaimuki has improved over time, all those Bulldog losses are carrying less weight. Or maybe I’m completely underrating the ILH D-II elite.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Kalani Falcons (13-8, 7-3 OIA D-I)
> Beat Castle 66-40.
> The Falcons are now in the D-II playoffs, but what a season Coach Chi Mok and his team had against all opponents in East play. Their only losses were to D-I playoff teams: Kaiser, Farrington (semifinalist) and Kaimuki (semifinalist). The Falcons do fit in D-II with a smaller enrollment and not a lot of size, but they should be a state-title contender at the D-II state tourney.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Kamehameha-Hawaii Warriors (12-6, 7-3 BIIF)
> Won at Ka‘u 58-26; beat Hawaii Prep 55-26; beat Honokaa 44-37.
> The Warriors are still the cream of the crop in BIIF D-II basketball. One game left against Pahoa, then the playoffs begin. The Warriors are in new territory with the Poe sisters all graduated and gone. I’ll never forget the lamentations of coaches around the Big Island about the way Kamehameha’s Hawaii Island campus in Keaau generally usurped many of the top athletes in many communities. My take on it is this: Welcome to the rest of the world. It’s cruel for a small community to lose homegrown — and beloved — talent to the big boys (or girls), but unless there are compelling reasons to stay in the neighborhood — school pride, deep roots, outstanding academic opportunities — most families opt to send their child to KS. Oahu’s Kamehameha program has reaped the benefits since the beginning, and even the girls program there struggled for a time when the Maui and Big Island campuses opened. The Oahu campus Warriors benefited from great basketball players from Molokai and the Big Island for years. In time, talent re-emerges. It’s an opportunity for more players to step up in every community. ‘Nuff said.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

University Junior Rainbows (8-4 ILH D-II)
> Won at Le Jardin 32-22; beat La Pietra 30-16.
> All four losses have been to teams ahead of the Jr. ‘Bows in the standings, and all four were by wide margins: 29, 17, 39 and 35 points. If the Jr. ‘Bows are going to reach the D-II state tourney, it’s going to take some remarkable mojo, but surprises are what the postseason is often about.
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Kaimuki’s Sonia Palik took aim at the basket during the first half of Wednesday’s game against Kahuku. Jan. 11, 2017. Cindy Ellen Russell
Kaimuki’s Sonia Palik took aim at the basket during the first half of Wednesday’s game against Kahuku. Jan. 11, 2017. Cindy Ellen Russell


  1. Education First January 25, 2017 11:10 am

    Punahou is out for 2 reasons, the old HC and the current HC. Coach Kam was fired (yes her contract was now renewed at MPI after 3 years). During her tenure at MPI, I don’t think they ever won more than 1 game during the ILH Regular Season every year. Kids didn’t want to play for her which is why they got rid of their JV team for 2-3 seasons. And parents complained a lot.

    Fast Forward to 2016-2017…..Parents are still complaining, albeit at a different school. Varsity returnees threaten to quit or try out for Varsity 2. Hardly any kids want to play for the program which is why around 10-12 kids came out for the entire program. That caused Punahou to cancel both the intermediate and jv summer league teams. Coach Kam slowly has her powers taken away from her and handed to former star Kuehu.

    Coach Kam is fed up and resigns via email. Kuehu is interim co-head coach. She get promoted to head coach. Their only wins have been over a bad Sacred Hearts team (3 times). They cannot beat anyone else. Kuehu has zero coaching experience.

    She is seen screaming on the sidelines, but nothing ever make sense. She makes no adjustments whatsoever and cannot identify match-ups. Her normal yelling includes, “play harder, move the ball, pass the ball.” But there’s nothing specific.

    Her teams are known to get front cut, play with their back to the ball, and get screened on simple flex cuts. It’s borderline elementary basketball being taught and run.

    But it’s not all Kuehu’s fault. She has no high school or even middle school coaching experience. How are you supposed to take over a top program with no experience and really no known-how to do anything correct?

  2. Rams33 January 25, 2017 3:08 pm

    Hopefully we’ll have some good playoff basketball to watch. I’m not yet convinced anyone will challenge Maryknoll, but the loss to Kamehameha might indicate a bit more parity than expected.

    On the D2 side, it’ll be interesting to see who gets the #1 seed. I expect it to be Mid Pac, but putting Mid Pac #1 would put all 4 of Kalani, KS-Hawaii, HBA, & St Francis on the other half of the bracket giving Mid Pac a cake walk to the championship game.

  3. Education First January 26, 2017 10:17 am

    Watched the Maryknoll vs. Punahou Girls Game last night where Maryknoll beat Punahou 70-38. It looked like a Varsity Team playing an average to below average JV Team. That is how bad it was.

    Punahou has a player who has already signed to play NCAA D1 Basketball. They have 3 players (Kandiah, Uyeda, Aplaca) who were starters or heavy contributors on their 2014 State Championship team where they upset a very talented Lahainaluna team. I believe Uyeda was a starter.

    You have all that talent and you lose by 32? I mean, I can see why they parents are all upset. You pay $22,000 tuition and the only coach you can find to coach these kids are a coach who got run out of Mid Pacific and a former Wahine who hasn’t proven she can win games at the KAC or KBA Level.

    That is a travesty and injustice to these kids.

    Now granted, Maryknoll is an outstanding team. But they are not 32 points better. But when you have 4 year players playing with their back to the ball, when you have coaches that cannot even recognize that their opponents are running flex and they have no counters to it, and they do not know how to defend the dribble weave on the perimeter, it’s going to be a very long day.

    I can make a strong argument that any adult could have walked into the gym last night and did a better job than Kuehu did. I mean, does she ever yell anything that include detail or a specific instruction? There is a HUGE difference between yelling to instruct and yelling just to yell.

    But then again, she never was trained to coach and never coached high school before, so I am guessing her resources of knowledge is limited. From what I have seen this year on Oahu, she is the worst basketball coach in Hawaii.

    I really hope Punahou opens the job up and they can find someone qualified, or even half-way competent to coach these kids.

  4. UH Hoops January 27, 2017 12:23 am

    Education First,

    Do you come on this site just to talk negatively? Can’t we highlight the good in Hawaii Sports instead of talking negatively about coaches who donate their time to the game? I’m surprised you’re not on a bench based on your need to evaluate these coaches. Do you not want to apply or perhaps you have a criminal record or sketchy past?

  5. Education First January 27, 2017 1:02 pm

    @UH Hoops, this is a blog. It should have opinions., both positive and negative. If you want to visit a blog that only offers positive remarks where everyone gets along, may I recommend and click on chat room. Go and enjoy yourself.

    I notice that you have yet to refute my opinions. I am guessing you don’t have any. But I forgot, you are an avid MPI Owls fan and never winning and having 1 league win through half the season is okay for you.

    Haha. But you are entitled to your opinion.

  6. Education First January 27, 2017 1:28 pm

    UH Hoops January 27, 2017 at 12:23 am
    Education First,

    Do you come on this site just to talk negatively? Can’t we highlight the good in Hawaii Sports instead of talking negatively about coaches who donate their time to the game? I’m surprised you’re not on a bench based on your need to evaluate these coaches. Do you not want to apply or perhaps you have a criminal record or sketchy past?


    Please tell me what is good about having a talented team lose by 30+ points with a coach who couldn’t make simple adjustments that most i9 dads who coach could?

    As for coaching, why would I want to coach for $3.00 an hour? If you really want to make a positive change, then donate real money. Go and check out Weinberg and see what they do since I often donate money to their fundraisers.

    Good luck with the rest of your season Owl Dad.

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