Hoopbook: Kahuku flourishing despite departure of Kaufusi

Kahuku's Sisilia Kaufusi, an All-State Fab 15 selection last year, has transferred to a school in Utah and is no longer with the team. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had a hit song back in 1970 that proclaimed, “Cecilia, you’re breakin’ my heart. You’re shakin’ my confidence daily. Oh Cecilia, I’m down on my knees. I’m beggin’ you please to come home.”

Kahuku knew that feeling well a month ago, though the Lady Raiders have roared to success since. Kahuku is unbeaten in the OIA East at 8-0 after a 1-4 preseason. The Lady Raiders are without All-State Fab 15 post Sisilia Kaufusi, who played with Kahuku in week one preseason. They opened with losses to ‘Iolani, Mid-Pacific and Sacred Hearts in the Matsumoto Law Group Black and Gold Classic, and later lost to Maryknoll — three losses to Top 10 teams out of four defeats. (Note: Kaufusi suffered an injury and did not play against Maryknoll and her former coach, Chico Furtado.)

Since then, Kaufusi did not play another preseason game with Kahuku. Her Twitter page lists Provo High School in Utah as her current home. In her profile pic, she is standing in front of the school’s entrance. She has family members who recently played women’s basketball and football at BYU.

Without Kaufusi, the Lady Raiders won at Kalani 51-48 two weeks ago in a game that had two teams without their leading scorers of preseason. On Saturday, Kahuku hit the road again and rallied past Kaiser 40-33, and now Big Red is 8-0 in the East.

“Being a close-knit team we knew it might be emotional for them,” Kahuku coach Latoya Wily said. “None of them knew until Sisi left. When they found out, they were emotional. When they came back to practice, they knew it all made sense. It doesn’t matter who comes and goes. I had a meeting with the girls after she left. I wrote a note that our goals are not going to change. They all stepped up. They didn’t let it affect them.”

Sophomore guard Leiah Naeata has stepped up with four games of 20 or more points, including 22 in the victory at Kalani. Naeata is averaging more than 18 points per game in OIA play. Aja Tapusoa and Tati Kamae have also stepped up, scoring nearly double figures in regular-season action.

“Leiah is only a sophomore and she continues to work on everything. They feed off each other. It’s nice to see their bond,” said Wily, a former all-state player of the year at Kahuku.

The final three games in the regular season: Roosevelt on Thursday, at Farrington on Saturday and home against Kaimuki next Monday. The win over Kaiser is key. That gave the Lady Cougars their third loss in league play and also gave Kahuku the head-to-head tiebreaker in case they finish the regular season with the same record. However, Kaiser would have to run the table in its next three games for that to happen, and Kahuku would have to falter in these last three regular-season games.

In other words, Kahuku can clinch second place with one more win. The top two finishers in the East will get first-round byes in the playoffs. Kahuku can seal that playoff bye with a win over Roosevelt, which currently shares third place with Kaiser and Moanalua at 5-3.

Kaufusi, a 5-foot-10 senior, began high school at Maryknoll before transferring to Kahuku, where she was No. 4 in the Star-Advertiser Fab 15 last season as a junior. She averaged 21 points per game in OIA play and 19 points per game overall. Her regular-season high was 30 points with 8-for-9 shooting at the foul line against Moanalua. In a state-tourney loss to ‘Iolani, she had 25 points and nine rebounds.

“We love her, we miss her, we wish the best for her wherever she’s at,” Wily said. “As a coach, all my eggs were never in one basket. I want every single girl to be part of the building of this program. We’re going in the right direction, and we definitely have some kinks to work out.”

The numbers that Kahuku likes most, though, are 8 and 0. Life after Sisilia hasn’t been so heart-breaking after all.

Test week for unbeaten Rams
Radford was a solid 7-2 in preseason, beating Roosevelt, splitting with Hawaii Baptist and losing to Sacred Hearts. In OIA West play, the Lady Rams are 7-0, posing wins by at least 21 points in six of those games. The close game was at Campbell, 40-34.

This week is the biggie with a home game against Mililani (8-0) on Thursday and a road trip to Leilehua (7-0) on Saturday. Of the three unbeaten in the West, only Mililani has beaten a Top 10 team, Sacred Hearts. The Lady Trojans were ranked No. 10 in last week’s poll.

Voracious Vikings
The Vikings of Hilo have done it again.

A month after stunning Waiakea 88-75 in preseason play, Hilo edged the Warriors 49-43. The victory in Warriors Gymnasium puts Hilo in position to stay right on the heels of first-place Konawaena — the mighty dynasty of the BIIF and the state.

Keani Midel scored 11 points and Tamilla Collins-Ebanez added 10 for No. 9 Hilo. Kelsie Imai led No. 8 Waiakea with 15 points. Destynee Williams tallied 12 points.

With two wins over Waiakea, ranked No. 8, and a close road loss at No. 5 Konawaena, the VIks are due for a rise in the Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10.

Hilo (5-3, 4-1 BIIF) lost at Konawaena 46-44 three weeks ago.

Waiakea (12-4, 5-1 BIIF) can throw a heavy wrench into the chase on Jan. 10, when Konawaena comes to town.

Wildcat freshman has a breakout game
The going was bumpy to begin preseason for three-time defending state champion Konawaena. Coach Bobbie Awa has guided the Wildcats to nine Division I state championships in the past 15 seasons, but never has her roster been this young.

After losing to powerhouses Lahainaluna and Kalani in the Konawaena Invitational, the Wildcats slipped in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 from No. 2 to No. 6. But the potential for a four-peat remains.

The talk in Kona had been about freshman Kaliana Salazar-Harrell. She hasn’t disappointed. She poured in 26 points in Konawaena’s 57-21 win over Kamehameha-Hawaii on Wednesday, a career high.

Her contribution is key with the absence of guard Tanniya Uchida, who was expected to take a key role in the backcourt with the graduation of All-State player of the year Cherilyn Molina and Fab 15 No. 2 Mikayla Tablit.

Konawaena (7-2, 6-0 BIIF) has gained momentum gradually with a roster of new additions and a few veterans like All-State wing/post Caiyle Kaupu. The 5-foot-9 junior scored 12 points in limited playing time against KS-Hawaii.

“When you look at (Salazar-Harrell), you will look twice as she has an uncanny resemblance to Uchida. She’s always latent,” longtime Big Island sportswriter and columnist Bobby Command said.

Kaupu showed her 3-point range in the state final against Maryknoll last season, but is laying low in the post for now.

“I think she’s the best post player in the state, if not the best overall,” Command added.

On a senior-less team, there may be two more freshmen ready to break out.

“If one of the other freshmen like Kayla Pak or Juliana Losalio-Watson starts scoring,” Command added, “they will be very hard to beat.”

Until then, the ‘Cats have been their usual dominating selves in BIIF play, winning by margins of 54, 42, 49, 32 and 36 points in five of their wins. The exception was a 46-44 home win over Hilo.

Spartan underclassmen overachieving
With a 67-41 win over visiting Hidden Valley (Ore.), No. 4 Maryknoll is doing something unique and rare. They’re winning games, 14-2 overall, with a roster that doesn’t have a single senior.

Sure, the Spartans were ILH champions two season ago with a junior-heavy lineup, but that team had height and size. This year’s squad is small by ILH standards, and coach Chico Furtado has depended on his team’s athleticism and aggression. Normally a staunch halfcourt man defense team, Maryknoll has utilized fullcourt pressure extensively this season.

In the win over Hidden Valley, Aloha Akaka drilled three treys and led all scorers with 21 points. Lilly Koki added 12 points. Jalen Tanuvasa, one of the top scorers in the state, had just six points, but remains a powerful force with the ball.

“Jalen is really learning to be a complete point guard, trying to find a balance between scoring and running the team,” Furtado said. “She is so gifted and I’m happy with her overall progress. Our twins (Aloha and Mahalo Akaka) are very athletic and we are trying to find ways to get them more offensively involved. Serenity Moananu is giving us some good post toughness and can get to the basket. She just needs to take her time and finish consistently.”

Maryknoll is 3-2 in league play.

“We played pretty well, shot the ball better,” Furtado said. “We tried to work on some different things in preparation for the second (half of the ILH schedule).”

If ‘Iolani (14-3, 5-1) holds on to first place, there will be a fight for second place. In the ILH format, the regular-season runner-up has a significant advantage in the battle for the league’s second and final state-tourney berth.

“We’re in a decent position. Obviously, we need to stay close. Our starting group is good to go, but we need to get some help from our bench,” Furtado said. “Our Punahou win was huge for us and, hopefully, will drive us through the second (half). The ILH continues to be a gauntlet, but we’ll be ready to compete.”


  1. 88 January 2, 2019 6:18 pm

    What’s going on BigRed? It seems like when things get hard you hit the road… I hope this is not the case and mind set with our kids. Go through the fire, fail, get ur @$$ kicked. Than stand up, dust yourself off, LEARN from it and GET BETTER!

  2. RR4L January 6, 2019 9:27 pm

    Sisi left and it had nothing to do with what was going on at Kahuku.

  3. 1SLAND3RS January 9, 2019 4:56 pm

    Oh Was something going on at Kahuku? Hahahah

  4. 1SLAND3RS January 9, 2019 4:57 pm

    U ryt 808 😎

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