It’s a strange, fascinating world of basketball when the boys playoffs in the OIA and ILH converge with the start of the girls state tournament.
If you’re old enough to remember when the girls hoops season flourished in the spring, playing entire days (plural) of the state tourney in the Stan Sheriff Center, you probably miss being able to see high-level boys and girls basketball from November to May.
Basketball returned, and some say it should never have left last year, and the preponderance of protocol-related cancellations in preseason ruined what would have been a truly full season for the girls and boys. That’s why fans lament a girls hoops season that is already near its end. We barely got started!
Monday’s Valentine’s Day play-in openers in the Heide & Cook/HHSAA State Championships all leaned in favor of the favorites. BIIF runner-up Waiakea, which stunned Hilo last week in the league semifinals, routed Moanalua, 51-31 in a mid-afternoon matchup. At Maui High, the MIL runner-up Sabers got a scare from Kaiser before prevailing, 51-45.
On Oahu, Mililani overwhelmed Roosevelt, 40-17. Raini Mayo (eight points, seven rebounds) and Mahealani Choy Foo (nine points) came through as the Lady Trojans played stingy defense from start to finish. Roosevelt shot 6-for-42 from the field and simply didn’t have the same energy level it had during the regular season. Maybe it’s a lack of depth and the toll taken by injuries. Perhaps it was a stifling Mililani defense.
Roosevelt freshman Makalah Richardson’s standout first season came to a quiet end with two points on 1-for-11 shooting from the field. She endured and played with her right ankle taped up, and hustled for eight rebounds, three steals and one block.
Mililani played without point guard Jovi Funakoshi, who delivered the game-tying layup with 6 seconds left to force overtime in the OIA semifinals against Kaiser last week. The junior has a stress fracture in her foot and is done for the season, Lady Trojans coach Michael Oyama said.
Freshman Akemi Kawamata stepped up with eight rebounds (four on the offensive glass) and three steals in a gritty effort. Kawamata said she had stomach pains during the game, probably the result of eating her Raisin’ Cane’s meal just two hours before tip-off.
“I wasn’t there speed-wise,” she said.
During the regular season, varsity games normally begin around 7 p.m. — plenty of time to digest a 3 p.m. snack. But the way Kawamata gave her team great energy and extra opportunities, maybe pre-game fried chicken is the way.
“I usually eat Taco Bell,” Kawamata said.
At Hemmeter Fieldhouse, Punahou closed strong for a 47-35 win over Radford, the OIA’s third-place team. Laynee Torres-Kahapea scored 22 points and is as healthy as she’s been in some time.
Kuualoha Lloyd finished with nine points on three 3-pointers, and Keilani Stewart added seven. Whether it was fullcourt pressure or tough halfcourt man-to-man defense, the Buffanblu were energized by a robust home crowd.
“We did all of the above. This is a state championship so we did things differently than we do in the ILH. A little more ball pressure fullcourt,” Pacarro said.
“It was a great game. Both teams played very very hard. It was nice to have the homecourt advantage. The crowd was good. We were very fortunate with a lot of supporting fans. They got the kids jacked up to play. A lot of the student-athletes stayed around after practice and supported the girls. We had the support of the Punahou ohana.”
Thursday’s Division I quarterfinal matchups:
(#4 seed) Campbell vs. Waiakea, 5 pm
(#1 seed) ‘Iolani vs. Maui, 7 pm
(#2 seed) Konawaena vs. Mililani, 5 pm
(#3 seed) Lahainaluna vs. Punahou, 7 pm
There are fewer iconic hoopsters in this year’s field. Maybe it’s cyclical. Maybe it’s a trend. But the ones who are balling are clearly with the top two teams.
>> Is ‘Iolani untouchable?
The Raiders have turned it up a notch in the past three weeks, unveiling their fullcourt press, a highly effective boa constrictor of a weapon. They do it without losing any intensity in halfcourt man-to-man. If anything, their halfcourt defense has also ramped up a gear.
Jovi Wahinekapu Lefotu doesn’t get every shot she wants, but she could. For many great players, finding that sweet spot — being the ultimate, unpredictable cog in a smooth-running machine while efficiently getting high-percentage shots from all the right places — is not a given.
Mele Sake’s length and strength in the post is a luxury ‘Iolani hasn’t seen in years. But what really makes the Raiders go aside from defense is the perimeter marksmanship. For a good chunk of the season, they were very good on offense, but those marksmen have been at their best in recent weeks. When the perimeter is defended, it’s not just Lefotu and Jaety Mandaquit who attack the rim.
The Raiders have been consistently able to teach their guards to get to the rim, take the contact and get to the foul line. It sounds so simple, but simple is rarely easy. Is ‘Iolani untouchable? Of course not. But there isn’t a team tougher. That matters in crunch time at the state tournament.
Maui, led by Kayla Thornton, is in its first official MIL season under coach Victor Aguirre. The Sabers are ranked No. 4 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, but the format of the state-tournament brackets and pairings has them lined up with the top-seeded, two-time defending state champion Raiders.
>> Six shooters
Legendary coach Bobbie Awa doesn’t have an army of 15 on her roster. Ever. For a variety of reasons, over the past two decades, young Kona Stingrays grow up and somehow, not all of them want to be Wildcats. The commitment, the dedication, they’re not for everyone, even in a program that has earned an incredible nine state championships since 2004 under Awa.
This year’s squad traveled to Arizona in preseason to play in the Nike Tournament of Champions. The ‘Cats went 2-2 against, arguably, the toughest preseason schedule in the state. Yet, it has been ‘Iolani that coaches and media give the edge to every week in the Star-Advertiser Top 10.
Absence does not make the heart fonder, apparently. It’s more out of sight, out of mind. Have voters forgotten about Kaliana Salazar-Harrell? The slashing guard made an impact as a freshman and sophomore. As a senior, she has posted multiple 30-point games in BIIF play. Braelyn Kauhi has bounced back from injury to provide Konawaena with the ultimate counter to more traditional opposing lineups. Kauhi’s 3-point stroke and ability to bang in the paint are much more rare in 2022 than expected. She is the queen on any chess board.
The Wildcats have played as few as six players, which always seems preposterous until they show up in Honolulu and carve up defenses without needing a lot from their bench.
Mililani prefers to play man defense, but against Konawaena, and especially without Funakoshi, nothing is out of the question. The Trojans feel like they have nothing to lose.
“It’s Konawaena,” Oyama said. “There’s nothing more to say.”
>> Live by the 3…
The addition of the Pahukoa cousins, including mad bomber Ledjan, has been quite the experiment for the Lady Lunas of Lahainaluna. First-year head coach Iolani Kaniho has kept the tradition alive as the Lunas lost to Maui early in the season, went to the Sabers’ gym and won later, and then topped them again for the league crown.
Ledjan Pahukoa was a logo-launching gunner for King Kekaulike two seasons ago and landed on the Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15.
With both MIL representatives paired with the ILH’s two qualifiers, one Top 10 voter bellowed: “No breaks for the MIL.”
At the 2020 state tourney, top-seeded ‘Iolani played the Moanalua-Kaiser winner (Moanalua) and unseeded Maryknoll played Kalani before facing Kahuku.
Lahainaluna was the fourth seed that year and played the Waiakea-Mililani winner (Waiakea). The Lady Lunas lost to Waiakea, 37-26.
King Kekaulike, featuring the Pahukoa sisters in ’20, routed Radford in the opening round, 61-35, before losing a nail-biter to Konawaena, 40-37.
The BIIF’s reps get matchups with the OIA in Thursday’s quarterfinals. Did the BIIF get the better deal? Are Campbell and Mililani better matchups for the MIL than ‘Iolani and Punahou?
The brackets can’t make everyone happy every year. It just so happens that Lahainaluna is ranked third and Maui is fourth in the Top 10 rankings, which have zero bearing on the HHSAA committee’s process.
>> The Scanlan sisters
One of the most intriguing tales is at Pearl City, where sisters Lishae and Shilee Scanlan helped spark the Chargers to third place in OIA D-II and a state-tournament berth.
The 4-9 overall record doesn’t quite mirror the grit of the Chargers, who lost five games by at least 29 points during the regular season. The return of Lishae Scanlan from an injury has been major. She was an All-State Fab 15 pick as a sophomore at Hanalani two years ago.
With sophomore Shilee Scanlan providing dynamic scoring ability from deep and in the paint, and Cordelia Seei bringing strength and hustle on the post, Pearl City might be a sneaky-dangerous squad.
Hawaii Baptist was 9-1 at one point in ILH D-II play before losing three in a row. If the Eagles are healthy again, they have the edge over the Chargers. The big x-factor is Lishae Scanlan, of course. If she is back to form — no other sophomore was voted as high in the 2020 Fab 15 — it could be a stunning purple reign this week.
A win by HBA would set up the possibility of three ILH teams in the D-II semifinals, just like 2020. A win by Pearl City could set the table for a matchup with Hanalani, the Scanlans’ old school.
Wednesday, Feb. 16
HHSAA State Championships
(#5 seed) Seabury Hall vs. Kamehameha-Hawaii, 5 pm
Honokaa vs. Sacred Hearts, 7 pm
Kalaheo vs. Hanalani, 5 pm
Hawaii Baptist vs. Pearl City, 7 pm
>> D-II’s hottest and coldest
In “Book of Boba Fett”, the lead character sleeps in a bacta tank after each day to heal. HBA’s recovery from injuries is crucial coming into Wednesday’s opener. Can the Eagles get back to the health and hoop wealth of the first half of the season? HBA is cold, but warming up again.
Sacred Hearts, on the other hand, has been on a tear since losing five of its six games during an early stretch of the ILH D-II schedule. Coach Dr. Richard Kasuya’s team won its last five games en route to a state-tournament berth, including an astounding 48-28 win over Mid-Pacific. The Lancers are hot.
Kalaheo won six of its last eight games in OIA D-II play, but the OIA East was certainly down again this season. The Lady Mustangs put up a strong fight in a 31-24 loss to Kailua for the OIA title — they had lost by 19 to the Surfriders during the regular season. Is Kalaheo hot? Very warm, they are.
Hanalani won seven of eight games late in the ILH D-II season and closed out with a 52-48 loss to league champion Damien. That includes a 47-33 win at SHA. The Royals are hot.
Kamehameha-Hawaii lost two Hawaii Prep by three-point margins in both of their meetings. Otherwise, they dominated BIIF D-II foes. Warm and dangerous.
OIA champion Kailua has won its last six games, including the league title battle with Kalaheo. A 59-46 semifinal win over rejuvenated Pearl City also added to the Surfriders’ momentum. Longtime coach Mandy Llamedo literally marches to the beat of a different drum. She is a professional drummer and her team hasn’t missed a beat after a tough start to the season. Definitely hot.
Second-seeded Hawaii Prep and fifth-seeded Seabury Hall weren’t tested much during the regular season, dominating most of their D-II opponents. HPA’s 69-39 loss at Konawaena nearly two weeks ago would indicate Ka Makani are less than hot, but the test should make them better.
Damien, the top seed in D-II, is more than hot. The Lady Monarchs are en fuego with a six-game win streak. At 15-1, the lone loss was to Kamehameha in preseason before two of their key post players returned from protocols. Among their wins, a 52-50 battle with Campbell and a 50-28 victory over Kapolei.
>> No longer a beast: the OIA East
In the span of a few hours, Kaiser, Moanalua and Roosevelt went down in defeat on Monday in play-in games. Two of them, Kaiser and Moanalua, took the tough road and lost to neighbor island powerhouses before flying back to Oahu.
Kaiser, which was 12-0 in the East, gave Maui the toughest challenge in a 51-45 loss. There was a time not so long ago when the thought of these three programs losing in the opening round was unthinkable.
Numbers are down for many rosters. Much of the talent pool in Central and East Honolulu, and Windward Oahu, gravitates to the ILH. Most, if not nearly all, of the top volleyball players who played multiple sports at a young age shift into club mode by November. Basketball isn’t even a consideration.
Volleyball’s gain is basketball’s loss. All-State player of the year Devin Kahahawai played hoops at Maryknoll until seventh grade. Elena Oglivie, the former ‘Iolani All-State POY, still had a smooth jump shot as a senior. Waianae junior Haiti Tautua‘a considered playing basketball this year. Another ‘Iolani POY, Saige Kaahaaina-Torres, briefly tried basketball as a senior, but halted that plan after a minor injury.
Who knows how many more multi-sport athletes stayed out of hoops? In the East, however, population shift is the root. Like most other sports, the West side is finally ahead of the East in public-school roundball.
Not long after Kamehameha-Hawaii opened its campus in Keaau roughly two decades ago, some coaches at outlying areas of the Big Island began to complain. They were losing their top two, three female athletes, the kind who played three sports. In other words, the league’s smaller communities and schools saw their athletic programs lose six to nine key positions combined.
No one forced the student-athletes to make the long haul to Keaau daily. The lure of Kamehameha tradition and prestige is immeasurable to all. Even a former Kona Stingray is at the Kapalama campus and was a key player for the Warriors this season.
But in all that shuffling, with parents renting out apartments in Hilo so their children could co-habit for a short drive to campus rather than drive hundreds of miles every week, opportunities opened up.That would the theory, at least, that there would be one or two or three more roster spots for the volleyball, basketball, soccer, softball teams at Ka‘u and Honokaa and Kohala and Pahoa and Laupahoehoe. Even Hilo and Waiakea.
Did it happen? Not exactly. There are more roster spots open than ever in the OIA East, to the point that Kaimuki had to cancel its season due to lack of numbers. Maybe it is, as some say, a COVID effect. Perhaps, it is cyclical. Or maybe it’s the lack of gym time available to communities because budget-challenged P&R facilities offer such limited open-gym time for keiki. A lack of coaches for club teams is another factor.
The beauty of basketball is that it doesn’t take an army. On Oahu, there hasn’t been another Nani Cockett or Shawna Kuehu or Alohi Robins-Hardy in some time. Will there be another Iwalani Rodrigues in the East? Latoya Wily? Bridgette Tatupu-Leopoldo? Brandy Richardson?
Do today’s best young prospects all simply shift to an ILH program by middle or high school? Or is there still room for an East powerhouse?